How Dumb Was Fleeing To Hong Kong?

Many bloggers have noted how foolish the NSA leaker was for choosing to hide out in Hong Kong, but:

[T]here is at least one reason it could be incredibly shrewd: Hong Kong’s asylum system is currently stuck in a state of limbo that could allow Snowden to exploit a loophole and buy some valuable time.

Simon Young, director of the Centre for Comparative and Public Law at the University of Hong Kong, told GlobalPost that a decision delivered by Hong Kong’s High Court in March of this year required the government to create a new procedure for reviewing asylum applications. Until the government does this, he said, asylum seekers are allowed to stay in Hong Kong indefinitely. “We’re still waiting to hear from government how they are going to implement this decision,” said Young. “Until that’s the case, you can’t return anyone until the law’s in place.” In other words, should Snowden apply for asylum, then even if the US made a valid extradition request and Hong Kong was willing to comply he could not be deported until the government figured out a new way to review asylum cases — a potentially lengthy process.

And on what grounds would get asylum? This seems a stretch to me. Meanwhile, Trey Menefee maintains that Fallows mischaracterized China’s control over Hong Kong:

He seems to fundamentally misunderstand and/or misrepresent the nature of “one country, two systems.” Or he does understand, but skips ahead three steps without articulating his meaning. The principle and reality of “one country, two systems” is that all of the critiques Fallows makes of freedom in China simply don’t apply to Hong Kong because we have a separate system. China’s spying on citizens and government control of media stops at the Shenzhen border – and is exactly where Hong Kong is legally and politically separate from “China.” Fallows knows this but is – very strangely – critiquing the mainland Chinese system as if that’s the political and legal system that Snowden fled to.

Worse, one gets the impression reading what he wrote that he’s saying that, at any moment, Beijing’s Standing Committee can snap their fingers and make facets (or the entirety?) of Hong Kong’s domestic system of freedoms disappear. That two systems become one. There’s really no evidence of anything like that ever having happened at any large scale* – though Hong Kong people are, perhaps correctly, fearful of this prospect and are on a constant guard against intrusions.

Where Fallows might be correct, but is being unhelpfully inarticulate, is that Beijing can snap its fingers and make or change policy on some issues. Specifically, Hong Kong stops being “two systems” and becomes “one country” in relation to foreign policy. If China goes to war with a country, Hong Kong goes to war with them too. So while Hong Kong does have relatively autonomous relations with the outside world, those relations can change “in a pinch” if they conflict with Beijing’s foreign policy.

And that’s the correct framing of an almost certain Snowden extradition request by the US government: it’s going to be a complex Hong Kong-China foreign policy issue, not an issue of freedom in Hong Kong.