By MICHAEL R. BLOODAssociated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that China damaged its relationship with the U.S. by allowing National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to flee from Hong Kong, despite a U.S. request to arrest him for extradition.
"That kind of action is not only detrimental to the U.S.-China relationship but it sets a bad precedent that could unravel the intricate international agreements about how countries respect the laws - and particularly the extradition treaties," the former secretary of state and possible 2016 presidential contender told an audience in Los Angeles.
Clinton's remarks echoed criticism from White House officials that Hong Kong's refusal to detain Snowden had "unquestionably" hurt relations between the two countries. Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy from the rest of China, although experts believe Beijing probably orchestrated Snowden's exit in an effort to remove an irritant in relations with the U.S.
Clinton said the former CIA employee engaged in "outrageous behavior" by releasing sensitive documents that he contends show privacy violations by an authoritarian government. Snowden is now in Russia, and the White House wants him sent to the U.S. to face espionage charges.
Clinton's remarks on Snowden came during a 90-minute appearance sponsored by the American Jewish University. She talked at length about the U.S. relationship with China, which she said shows the complexity of a rising world power dealing with an existing one.
Clinton has not said whether she will seek the White House again, and she gently sidestepped a moderator's question about a possible 2016 candidacy. If she entered the contest, she would become the Democratic Party's leading contender to succeed President Barack Obama.
Since leaving the State Department in February, Clinton has been taking steps that could enhance a possible presidential bid, including public speaking and launching a new early childhood initiative.
Just last week, Clinton told a women's conference in Canada that she hoped the U.S. would elect a woman to the White House because it would send "exactly the right historical signal."