Chinese cartoonists have field day with NSA revelations

The Chinese media have been particularly interesting to watch, given Edward Snowden’s decision to seek refuge in Hong Kong and China’s own history of state surveillance.

Kin Cheung/AP
The picture of Edward Snowden, bottom, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about sweeping US surveillance programs, is displayed on the front page of South China Morning Post at a news stand in Hong Kong Thursday, June 13, 2013. Snowden dropped out of sight after checking out of a Hong Kong hotel on Monday. The South China Morning Post newspaper said it was able to locate and interview him on Wednesday.

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The Chinese media are gleefully reporting recent leaks about widespread US surveillance programs, while a prominent Chinese dissident is expressing dismay that the US is "behaving like China." 

The top-secret programs came to light last week after contractor Edward Snowden divulged information about the scale of government reach into phone and online communication records.

Mr. Snowden’s journey has been covered by news outlets from Spain to Saudi Arabia, with headlines like “Obama Isn’t Bush, But He’s Like Him,” “Edward Snowden, Freedom Fighter,” “NSA surveillance: The US is behaving like China,” and "Dangers of blowing the whistle in the digital age" slapped on front pages and websites.

The Chinese media have been particularly interesting to watch, given Snowden’s decision to seek refuge in Hong Kong. Snowden told The Guardian he chose to flee to Hong Kong because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent” – and China’s own history of state surveillance.

"For months, Washington has been accusing China of cyberespionage, but it turns out that the biggest threat to the pursuit of individual freedom and privacy in the US is the unbridled power of the government," The China Daily quoted Li Haidong from China Foreign Affairs University.

A cartoon in the paper’s opinion section depicts a US emblem of freedom – The Statue of Liberty – trailed by a shadowy spy wearing headphones and carrying recording devices.

Mr. Snowden’s leaks now put Chinese media in an interesting position. They can speak out against the US program, but must walk the fine line of not drawing too much attention to China's own cyberprograms, reports The New York Times. They cite another Chinese outlet, The Global Times, which wrote this week: “We are not bystanders. The issue of whether the U.S. as an Internet superpower has abused its powers touches on our vital interests directly.”

The Atlantic posted a cartoon from The Global Times as well, depicting the US National Security Agency seal: but the bald eagle in the center of the seal is dressed as a classic spy.

China’s state media today implied the scandal could hurt US-Chinese relations, a comment that comes just days after President Obama met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in California. In the leadup to Mr. Xi’s visit last week, The Christian Science Monitor wrote that “Strategic trust between the world’s top two economies is at a dangerously low level, worn away recently in a number of ways.” Top on that list? Accusations from Washington that Beijing used “massive commercial espionage.”

The New York Times reports that the presidents seemed to “speak past each other” last week when it came to “American accusations that Chinese corporations linked to the military had pilfered military and economic secrets and property in cyberspace.”

Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei wrote in the Guardian this week that the US is “behaving like China.” He referred to the program, Prism, as “abusively using government powers to interfere in individuals' privacy. This is an important moment for international society to reconsider and protect individual rights.”

In our experience in China, basically there is no privacy at all – that is why China is far behind the world in important respects: even though it has become so rich, it trails behind in terms of passion, imagination and creativity….

[Prism] puts individuals in a very vulnerable position. Privacy is a basic human right, one of the very core values. There is no guarantee that China, the US or any other government will not use the information falsely or wrongly. I think especially that a nation like the US, which is technically advanced, should not take advantage of its power. It encourages other nations….

When human beings are scared and feel everything is exposed to the government, we will censor ourselves from free thinking. That's dangerous for human development…. We must not hand over our rights to other people. No state power should be given that kind of trust. Not China. Not the US.

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