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BEIJING (AFP) – Hong Kong can showcase its democratic pedigree by its handling of the Edward Snowden case, Chinese state media said on Wednesday, in comments appearing to distance Beijing from any decision on his possible extradition.
The semi-autonomous territory -- which has a separate legal system to mainland China -- has the opportunity of "proving itself a free society in front of the world" as Snowden vows to fight any attempt to send him back to the US, the Global Times newspaper said.
The editorial also said the territory -- which has an extradition treaty with the United States -- should decide without interference from the mainland on Snowden's fate.
"Things will go much easier if Hong Kong plays a leading role in resolving this incident, rather than being told by Beijing or Washington what to do," the editorial said.
"Hong Kong has the chance to expand its political freedom to a larger extent, setting an example for the rest of the world.
The editorial also criticised the US government, which it called "stuck in an embarrassing position", citing increasing "public sympathy" for Snowden.
"Public opinion will have a large impact on Snowden's destiny," the editorial said. "It seems that Snowden being extradited back to the US has become an inconceivable option.
"Selfishness has been pushing Washington to employ double standards in political affairs. If it doesn't readjust such policies, its international reputation will be permanently damaged," it said.
Experts have claimed that Snowden is testing Hong Kong's civil liberties under its "one country, two systems" framework by retreating to the former British colony, which was returned to China in 1997.
The former US intelligence technician leaked details of a vast US program which monitors private Internet traffic and US authorities have launched a criminal investigation.
Snowden has warned more leaks were on the way, declaring: "Truth is coming and it cannot be stopped."