Chris C. Anderson
He may be a media genius and brave for blowing the whistle on the NSA, but he’s no financial wizard. How will a man who has supposedly maxed out his credit cards in under a month while staying at an expensive hotel get by in pricey Hong Kong? If he’s still there.
The Guardian journalist Ewen MacAskill told CNN, “He’s thought this out; he’s been thinking about this for a few years. He’s not impetuous, and this wasn’t a hasty decision.”
Snowden’s decisions look hasty, however, as fleeing to a foreign country and spending an exorbitant amount of money on an expensive hotel and running out of cash doesn’t hint at careful planning.
The fact is, there were much more economic choices Snowden could have made when it came to where to say in Hong Kong. In Kowloon, there are numerous smaller, cheaper hotels that he could have booked for a fraction of the cost.
Paying as much money as he did and staying at the Mira Hotel implies a quick retreat, a lack of research into his Hong Kong options, and little understanding about traveling overseas, especially on a budget.
This is a man who is planning on potentially seeking political asylum, and he doesn’t have the foresight to budget his first couple of weeks out just a little bit? Aside from coming across as extremely careless, it paints a worrisome picture as to what his next big decision might be, or what decisions he might have already made. Whatever he does now, it won’t be easy in Hong Kong with the media manhunt currently in full pursuit mode.
Assuming Snowden gets his financials in order, he’ll have to make even more tough decisions in the near future. At least if those decisions don’t get made for him.
Will he stay or will he go?
American passport holders don’t need a Visa to visit Hong Kong and can stay up to three months. After three months Snowden would either have to gain employment with a company that would sponsor his residency status, get “special political asylum status,” leave the country, or leave the country and return to renew the three-month status. The last option is frowned upon and, considering Snowden’s current visibility, not likely.
Getting employment as a “professional” might be difficult because the Hong Kong entry admissions make clear there must be “no security objection and no known record of serious crime in respect of the applicant” for a professional Visa to be assigned.
The fact that Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA could be considered something that might present a security objection, and it would also hamper him in getting a position in his field of information security engineering.
Hong Kong is the financial hub of Asia, so considering Snowden’s work experience, his possible job prospects would be in information security in the banking industry, potentially with HSBC. But unfortunately for Snowden, it has traditionally been extremely hard if not impossible for whistleblowers to get employment after the fact in the same field, as many have been blacklisted in their industry.
So what about teaching? Snowden could potentially teach at one of the Hong Kong colleges, and give talks about his experience. Or maybe he could become a super tutor.
Chris C. Anderson
Hong Kong can be a very comfortable place to live if Snowden decides to stay or doesn’t get extradited. Some even call Hong Kong “Asia Lite” because of its British influence and westernization. English is commonly spoken, it’s easy to get around, and it is a very international city with lots of people from around the world coming and going.
And while Hong Kong is technically under Chinese rule, it is a “special autonomous region,” which is why you’ll see massive vigils for events like the Tiananmen Square anniversary in Hong Kong. Despite Beijing’s continued pressure on Hong Kong media, Hong Kong doesn’t have the level of censorship that’s commonplace on the mainland.
Snowden himself has said that it is attractive to him and the reason he chose Hong Kong. Though that doesn’t mean he’ll be able to stay there indefinitely.
If Snowden is forced out of Hong Kong or decides to leave, his closest option isn’t the bastion of free speech he respects so much about Hong Kong.
Mainland on his mind
One possible destination, and one that would cause the most consternation with the U.S. Government, would be China.
If Snowden decides to try his luck on the Chinese mainland, he could get there by crossing the land border between Hong Kong and China, if he’s allowed and if he has a Chinese Visa.
One source we contacted who commutes across the land border daily between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China, said it would be “pretty hard” for Snowden to get into China illegally across the border, and that if Snowden was smart “he would have applied for a China visa before they made the announcement.”
Even with the potential difficulty of illegally entering China, goods are smuggled across the border all the time, and Chinese organization at the local level doesn’t always sync up with the National level.
Regardless, unless Snowden has any friends on the Chinese mainland who are willing help him, leaving Hong Kong for the Red State isn’t a real viable option unless Beijing wants him to come. And the only reason Beijing might want Snowden is so they can use him as a propoganda tool in the war of words with the U.S.
Snowden’s shrinking world
Barring Hong Kong and China, where else could he go at this juncture? As a known and very public point of interest to the U.S. Government, if he leaves Hong Kong his options are limited. Another country might flatly refuse to grant him entry and send him on the first plane back to the United States.
During his interview released Sunday, Snowden expressed interest in Iceland, but Iceland requires that you start the asylum process in country, not in an embassy, so that could present Snowden with some serious problems since he didn’t just go to Iceland in the first place.
He could try to get to Ecuador, the country that is harboring Julian Assange at their Embassy in London, England. Unfortunately for Snowden, there is no Ecuadorian consulate in Hong Kong. Getting a commercial flight out of Hong Kong to Ecuador would be difficult because the flights have multiple stops and are often routed through the United States or countries that might turn him over.
Then again, he could always just return to the United States, where he could face trial and serious jail time.
Tough choices ahead for Edward Snowden.
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