NSA leaker could face long wait for asylum request

(CBS News) HONG KONG - It's not clear where Edward Snowden went after he checked out of his Hong Kong hotel room Monday, though he told Britain's Guardian newspaper why he came here.

"I believe that the Hong Kong government is actually independent in relation to a lot of other leading Western governments," he had said.

But former secretary for security, Regina Ip, said Hong Kong and the United States have a strong history of cooperation.

Edward Snowden: "I am not here to hide"
Sources: No signs Edward Snowden has left Hong Kong
Feds prepping charges against Edward Snowden: Sources

"I think it would be wisest for him to leave Hong Kong," she said, "because we do have these bilateral agreements with the U.S., and we are duty-bound to comply with agreements."

While Beijing technically has the power to overrule any decisions on extradition or political asylum made by Hong Kong, Chinese legal analysts tells CBS News it is unlikely that China's central government would try to do so in this case. "China will likely respect Hong Kong's administration," Wang Dong, a professor at Peking University, told CBS News. "China has insisted that it does respect Hong Kong's autonomy for some time. Beijing has to be very careful with how it handles this case."

But a recent court ruling may provide a legal loophole. Lawyer Simon Young sued the Hong Kong government, after several asylum seekers faced persecution in their home countries.

The court ruled the government must change its asylum system and ordered that the laws be standardized. Young told CBS News any asylum request would be in limbo until the legal changes are made -- and that could be years.

"We have a system that is slowly processing individuals," he said, "and in some respect has stalled."

And that could allow Snowden to stall and, for now, avoid facing charges at home.