The remarks from the Chinese foreign ministry have underscored the strain in ties between the two nations since Edward Snowden, who is accused by the U.S. government of espionage, fled Hong Kong on Sunday.
The Obama administration said the decision by the Chinese government to allow the whistleblower to leave was “a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship.”
“The U.S. side has no reason to call into question the Hong Kong government’s handling of affairs according to law,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing. “The United States’ criticism of China’s central government is baseless. China absolutely cannot accept it.”
Hua also defended the China’s territory’s decision to let the former NSA contractor go, saying it “handled the relevant case completely according to law. This is beyond dispute. All parties should respect this.”
Experts said the tensions between two countries should quickly end, and that neither side would be keen to let ties deteriorate permanently just weeks after a successful summit meeting between President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping, reports Reuters.
“China does not want this to affect the overall situation, the central government has always maintained a relatively calm and restrained attitude because Sino-U.S. relations are important,” said Zhao Kejing, a professor of international relations at China’s elite Tsinghua University.
“The United States has no reason to exert greater pressure, otherwise it would lose moral support,” he added.
Snowden’s revelations of top secret spy programmes in China and Hong Kong have given Beijing considerable ammunition in the tit-for-tat exchange.
“In a sense, the United States has gone from a ‘model of human rights’ to ‘an eavesdropper on personal privacy’, the ‘manipulator’ of the centralized power over the international Internet, and the mad ‘invader’ of other countries’ networks,” said the local edition of China’s People’s Daily, which can reflect the government’s thinking.
“The world will remember Edward Snowden,” the newspaper’s article read. “It was his fearlessness that tore off Washington’s sanctimonious mask.”
Beijing was torn about keeping the now-famous whistleblower or letting him go, but decided that allowing him to leave was “the lesser of three evils”, a source familiar with the matter revealed to reporters on the condition of anonymity.
“If Snowden was handed over to the United States, China would be perceived to be a running dog of the United States and be criticized by (Chinese and foreign) Internet users sympathetic to Snowden,” the source said.
“Allowing Snowden to continue to stay in Hong Kong or come to the mainland would cause more trouble and headache,” the source said. “Allowing Snowden to leave was the only option”.
Snowden is a former CIA employee who later started working for the NSA. In his ost, Snowden obtained access to documents that he recently gave to The Guardian and The Washington Post to expose what he contends are privacy violations by an authoritarian government.