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Snowden Charges Further Complicate US-China Ties

  • Shannon Van Sant

A copy of the South China Morning Post newspaper, carrying the latest interview with Edward Snowden, is displayed on a newspaper stand along with local Chinese newspapers, in Hong Kong, June 13, 2013.

A copy of the South China Morning Post newspaper, carrying the latest interview with Edward Snowden, is displayed on a newspaper stand along with local Chinese newspapers, in Hong Kong, June 13, 2013.

China's state media have pounced on comments from former CIA analyst Edward Snowden that the U.S. government has been hacking computers in China for years, giving the issue prominent coverage. But when the Chinese foreign ministry was asked about the accusations Thursday, the response was slightly more muted.

State run Chinese media is reporting allegations from whistleblower Snowden that U.S. cyber attacks will weaken U.S.-China relations and stain Washington’s image overseas.

When asked about Snowden’s charges, China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying declined to comment specifically on his case, but reminded reporters that China also is a victim of cyber attacks. She said China strongly advocates cyber security and wants to carry out cooperation to maintain peace. Hua also said China will carry out constructive dialogue with the international community about cyber security.

Muted reaction

Snowden’s leaks came just days after a U.S./China summit in California, where U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to form a working group on cyber security. Wang Dong, a Professor of International Relations at Peking University, said China’s government likely will react cautiously to Snowden’s charges.
“President Xi Jinping and President Obama just had a very successful and very historic meeting in California. And they had talked over a broad range of issues, and agreed to build a new type of power relationship,” said Wang.

Snowden claims the United States has been launching cyber attacks against Hong Kong and China since 2009, hacking universities, businesses, government officials and Chinese citizens in Hong Kong and the mainland.

Whistleblower on the run

Snowden left the U.S. for Hong Kong in late May, where he said he has full faith in the local legal system and vows to resist extradition.

The state-run China Daily newspaper cites analysts saying the news of U.S. hacking could pose a challenge to growing good will between the two nations and that the Sino-U.S. relationship is constantly soured on cyber security.

Wang Dong said Snowden’s allegations will effect U.S. China talks on cyber security and may put the United States on the defense going forward. “It will shift the balance in the sense that the U.S. government, the American media and others have been accusing China of doing this, and that and all of a sudden you have to defend your own record about that.”

Snowden remains in hiding in Hong Kong after checking out of a hotel Monday morning in the city’s Kowloon District.

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