Snowden Leaves Hong Kong

The Hong Kong government announced on Sunday afternoon that it had allowed the departure of Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who disclosed classified documents about U.S. government surveillance. Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin gets the latest update from NPR's Frank Langfitt in Hong Kong.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Edward Snowden has arrived in Moscow, reportedly on his way to Cuba and ultimately Venezuela. Russia's Interfax News Agency is quoting a source close to Snowden, saying he is taking the complex route to avoid detention.

Snowden is wanted by the U.S. government for revealing secret surveillance programs. He fled Hong Kong this morning after the U.S. asked authorities there to arrest him. NPR's Frank Langfitt has been following the story today from Hong Kong. He joins me now. Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So, if these reports are accurate, Frank, why would Snowden be heading to Venezuela?

LANGFITT: Well, Venezuela and the United States do have an old extradition treaty but relations between Venezuela and the U.S. haven't been all that good. As you remember, the late Hugo Chavez, when he was president of Venezuela, he was really seen widely, particularly in Latin American, as willing to stand up to the American government. So, Mr. Snowden may think he's going to be protected there.

MARTIN: Snowden had said he planned to stay in Hong Kong and fight extradition and that. Any idea why he changed his mind and fled?

LANGFITT: Well, you know, he had talked when he went to Hong Kong, he talked about their great commitment to free speech and those sorts of things. But as time wore on, his prospects weren't looking very good. It looked as though he certainly going to be detained here. He would have been in jail for months, if not longer. He could have applied for asylum. But ultimately, people thought he would be extradited back to the States.

So, instead of waiting here and ending up spending a lot of time in jail, he decided to go for what he thinks is a lot option.

MARTIN: So, China did not arrest Snowden. They essentially let him leave. What does this mean for U.S.-China relations?

LANGFITT: What's really interesting was ultimately China said this was up to Hong Kong. So it was the Hong Kong authorities who ultimately made the decision not to immediately act. They said that the United States, that there were some things that were - the request from the U.S. didn't fully comply with Hong Kong law.

From a political perspective, one gets the sense that both China and Hong Kong really wanted this off their plate. From a Chinese perspective, you know, the relationship with the United States is the most important relationship they have with any other country. These are the number one and number two economies. They both have to deal with a nuclear North Korea. They both need to be working on climate change. And the sense you got, as even though some people may seen Mr. Snowden as particularly valuable, in terms from an intelligence aspect, most people in Beijing that I talked to felt that the relationship was just a lot more important than one man. And they're probably pretty happy to see him go.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt, joining us on the line from the Hong Kong. Thanks so much, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Rachel.

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