Obama: US disappointed, concerned with China’s handling of Snowden case

President Obama on Thursday criticized China’s conduct in the case of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden during a meeting with China’s special representatives to the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

According to a readout of the meeting at the White House, the president “expressed his disappointment and concern with China’s handling of the Snowden case” to Vice Premier Wang Yang and State Councilor Yang Jiechi, who are in Washington for high-level talks between the two countries.

P071113PS-0457(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

During closing statements for the talks, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns described U.S.-China relations as “a work in progress.”

“Our interests can differ, and so can our approaches. When we encounter differences or sensitive issues, we need to address them directly in consultation with one another,” he said, according to a statement. “And that is why we were very disappointed with how the authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong handled the Snowden case, which undermined our effort to build the trust needed to manage difficult issues.”

“Over the past two days, we made clear that China’s handling of this case was not consistent with the spirit of Sunnylands or with the type of relationship — the new model — that we both seek to build,” Burns added.

Obama in June met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Palm Springs, Calif., at a summit hosted by Sunnylands, the estate of the late publishing tycoon Walter Annenberg.

"With regard to the Snowden case, the central government of China has always respected the Hong Kong SAR [Special Administrative Region] government’s handling of cases in accordance with law," Yang said through a translator. "The Hong Kong SAR government has handled the Snowden case in accordance with law, and its approach is beyond reproach."

"Others should respect this, and I believe China and the United States have sufficient wisdom to tap the potential of cooperation between the two sides. We hope and believe the two sides have the wisdom to manage well our differences. Most importantly, we should stay firmly committed to the cause charted by our presidents, follow the principles of mutual respect and win-win cooperation, and advance the building of a new model of major country relationship," Yang said. 

The White House has upbraided China for allowing Snowden to board a plane out of Hong Kong, warning the move represented a “serious setback” in relations.

Press secretary Jay Carney last month blasted China in unusually blunt terms as the administration hunted for Snowden, dismissing Hong Kong’s legal justification for allowing Snowden to leave — “we do not buy the suggestion that China could not have taken action” — and said there would be consequences.

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“The Chinese have emphasized the importance of building mutual trust,” Carney said. “And we think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback. If we cannot count on them to honor their legal extradition obligations, then there is a problem. And that is a point we are making to them very directly.”

Snowden, who has been offered asylum in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, is believed to still be in the transit center of a Moscow airport. Officials in Hong Kong claimed they allowed Snowden to leave the country partially because the U.S. government got his middle name wrong on extradition documents.

Carney on Thursday reiterated the administration’s stance that Snowden should be returned to the U.S., where he faces felony charges. “And we believe that there is significant legal justification for him to be expelled from Russia and to engage in only the international travel necessary to be returned to the United States,” Carney said.

Obama’s meeting also touched on Chinese economic reforms, a bilateral investment treaty now being negotiated, the Korean Peninsula, cyber theft of trade secrets and human rights, the White House said.

--This report was originally published at 8:49 p.m. and updated at 9:55 p.m.

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