MOSCOW: China and Russia rejected US accusations they helped a former US spy agency contractor escape prosecution in the United States, deepening a rift between powers whose cooperation may be essential in settling global conflicts including the Syrian war.
Edward Snowden, charged with disclosing secret US surveillance programmes, left Hong Kong for Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Sunday. The US State Department said diplomats and Justice Department officials were holding discussions with Russia, suggesting they were looking for a deal to secure his return to face espionage charges.
An airport source said the 30-year-old American, who has asked for asylum in Ecuador, had flown in on Sunday and had been booked on a flight to Cuba on Monday but had not got on board. Journalists camped out at the airport have not spotted him inside, or leaving, the transit area, and say a heavy security presence has been relaxed for the past 24 hours. He has not registered at a hotel in the transit zone, hotel sources say. A receptionist at the Capsule Hotel ‘Air Express’, a complex of 47 basic rooms decorated predominantly with grey carpets and grey walls, said Snowden had turned up on Sunday, looked at the price list but then left. US officials admonished Beijing and Moscow yesterday for allowing Snowden to escape their clutches but the United States’ partners on the UN Security Council, already at odds with Washington over the conflict in Syria, hit back indignantly.
“The United States’ criticism of China’s central government is baseless. China absolutely cannot accept it,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in Beijing, also dismissing US criticism of Hong Kong, a Chinese territory, for letting Snowden leave.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied suggestions Moscow had helped Snowden in any way, including by allowing him to fly into Sheremetyevo. “He chose his itinerary on his own. We learnt about it ... from the media. He has not crossed the Russian border,” he said. “We consider the attempts to accuse the Russian side of violating US laws, and practically of involvement in a plot, to be absolutely groundless and unacceptable.” Lavrov’s insistence Snowden had not entered Russia implies he has not left the airport transit area, used by passengers flying from one non-Russian airport to another without going through passport control or requiring an entry visa. The transit area is Russian sovereign territory, but it could be argued that in staying there Snowden had not formally entered the country — a move that could implicate President Vladimir Putin in helping a fugitive.
Interfax quoted a source ‘in the Russian capital’ as saying Snowden could be detained to check the validity of his passport if he crossed the Russian border. Snowden is travelling on a refugee document of passage provided by Ecuador, the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said. Putin is not shy of celebrating people who challenge Washington, but has an interest in keeping relations with the United States on track as both sides try to improve security cooperation and arrange a peace conference on Syria.
Beijing rubbishes Washington claim
BEIJING: China called a US claim that it had facilitated the departure of former security contractor Edward Snowden from Hong Kong ‘groundless’ on Tuesday, after Washington said Beijing had chosen to release him.
“It is unreasonable for the US to question Hong Kong’s handling of affairs in accordance with law, and the accusation against the Chinese central government is groundless,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing in Beijing, adding: “China cannot accept that.” Her remarks came after White House spokesman Jay Carney lashed out at Beijing for letting Snowden go, despite a US arrest warrant.
“This 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 US-China relationship,” he said. Writing in the overseas edition of the People’s Daily,on Tuesday Chinese military researcher Wang Xinjun compared the US to a ‘robber’ who complains about the activities of its victim.