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01-November 2013

Uproar in China and other Asian nations over 'US spies through embassies'

China and a number of South Asian governments have demanded an explanation from Washington over allegations that US embassies - as well as embassies of US allies - were used for NSA surveillance.

The diplomatic row has been caused by the Sydney Morning Herald's report, which said the NSA collected its data in Asian countries by having its equipment installed inside US embassies and also in the diplomatic missions of the other 'Five Eye' nations, which includes Australia, Britain and Canada.

Beijing said it was extremely concerned by the news and was seeking clarification from the US.

"We also demand that foreign embassies in China and their staff respect the Vienna Convention ... and other international treaties and not get involved in any activities which do not accord with their status or post and harm China's security and interests," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said on Thursday.

The news of the data collection facilities operating out of the embassies in Jakarta, Bangkok, Hanoi, Bejing, and Dili was based on the documents leaked by NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden.

The news that the US agency carried out espionage through foreign embassies has also provoked outrage in Indonesia, with the country's Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa, saying the issue had been raised with the US charge d'affaires in Jakarta.

"Indonesia cannot accept it and protests strongly over the report about wiretapping facilities at the US embassy in Jakarta," said Natalegawa cited by AP. "If confirmed, such action is not only a breach of security, but also a serious breach of diplomatic norms and ethics and certainly not in the spirit of friendly relations between nations."

Indonesia said it was summoning the Australian ambassador, Greg Moriarty, to come to the foreign ministry on Friday. The ministry added that he will face questions over the "totally unacceptable" activities reported in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The uproar was supported by other Asian nations. Malaysia's government promised to investigate the allegations, while the opposition party issued a statement calling for the lodging of a protest with the US and Australian embassies.

The government of Thailand informed the US that spying was a crime under the country's laws, according to Thai National Security Council secretary general, Lt.-Gen. Paradorn Pattanathabutr. The official blamed the US more than Australia, Thailand's closer neighbor.

When it comes to technology and mechanics, the US is more resourceful and more advanced than Australia, he said. So I can say that it is not true that the Australian Embassy will be used as a communications hub for spying. The outpour of criticism from Asia comes at a time when the US is already under severe pressure from European nations, following earlier reports disclosing the scale of surveillance there.

EU diplomats recently traveled to Washington to get explanations concerning NSA spying. The US insisted all the intelligence gathered in Europe was related to warzones in the Middle East and would continue.

In the wake of the NSA scandal, EU leaders have called for the suspension of a trade pact with the US worth billions of dollars.

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