Hong Kong is suddenly ground zero for the NSA/PRISM whistleblower case. It finds itself de facto host to Edward Snowden, the American citizen who voluntarily revealed himself over the weekend as the source of the leaks. The situation could not come at a more awkward time for both China and America.
U.S. President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jingping just finished a summit in California this past weekend. The topic of technology security and electronic surveillance was high on the discussion agenda. At the same time they were talking in California, Mr. Snowden was doing the same in Hong Kong with reporters from The Guardian newspaper.
Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China in 1997. The SAR status means that Hong Kong is formally a part of China but maintains a separate administrative and legal foundation. The practical reality is that Beijing controls Hong Kong, particularly on issues of a national security.
A stable diplomatic and trade relationship between China and the United States is important to both sides. When conflict arises between China and the United States, the diplomatic resources in both countries tend to do a great job of quietly solving the problem.
Unfortunately for both sides, Mr. Snowden is now the largest news story on the planet.
Mr. Snowden’s choice of Hong Kong as a temporary safe haven might seem obtuse to the casual observer. Actually, the choice might have been a product of a highly coordinated thought process. China is one of the few nations that the United States does not have an extradition treaty with.
However, Hong Kong does have an extradition agreement with the United States (it entered into force in 1998). That agreement is basically subservient to the national security interests of the People’s Republic of China and Beijing can therefore waive the agreement if it deems a national security issue has arisen.
Over the coming days the senior leadership of both nations will most certainly determine the short-term fate of Mr. Snowden.
The long-term investment, trade, and diplomatic relationship between China and America will certainly influence the manner and speed in which China acts, if it chooses to act at all.
This story originally appeared on Forbes.com