China's top state newspaper praised fugitive US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden on Tuesday for "tearing off Washington's sanctimonious mask" and rejected accusations that it had facilitated his departure from Hong Kong.
The strongly worded front-page commentary in the overseas
edition of the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, comes after Washington harshly criticised Beijing for allowing Snowden to flee.
The exchanges mark a deterioration in ties between the two countries just weeks after a successful summit meeting between President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping.
But experts say Washington is unlikely to resort to any punitive action.
The White House said the decision was "a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the US-China relationship."
The People's Daily, which reflects official thinking of the government, said China could not accept "this kind of dissatisfaction and opposition".
The Chinese government has said it was gravely concerned by Snowden's allegations that the United States had hacked into many networks in Hong and China, including Tsinghua University, which hosts one of the country's internet hubs, and Chinese mobile network companies.
It has said it had taken the issue up with Washington.
"Not only did the US authorities not give us an explanation and apology, it instead expressed dissatisfaction at the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for handling things in accordance with law," wrote Wang Xinjun, a researcher at the Academy of Military Science in the People's Daily commentary.
"In a sense, the United States has gone from a 'model of human rights' to 'an eavesdropper on personal privacy', the 'manipulator' of the centralised power over the international internet, and the mad 'invader' of other countries' networks," the People's Daily said.
"The world will remember Edward Snowden," the newspaper said. "It was his fearlessness that tore off Washington's sanctimonious mask."
In another commentary in the Global Times, owned by the People's Daily, the newspaper also attacked the United States for cornering "a young idealist who has exposed the sinister scandals of the US government".
"Instead of apologising, Washington is showing off its muscle by attempting to control the whole situation," the Global Times said.