London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

“Hostages in the Hermit Kingdom”

I can’t remember seeing any positive coverage of the two journalists (Laura Ling and Euna Lee) who managed to get themselves captured by the North Koreans on March 17, before getting released following a special visit by Bill Clinton. Here’s a random selection of some of the articles.

Home again: Euna Lee and Laura Ling

Bradley K Martin (Global Post, 18 June 2009): Imprisoned by Kim Jong-il: Politics, bad judgement, or something else?

Seeking and reporting the truth, however loathsome the reported truth shows the regime to be, is one thing … But it’s quite another matter if these two women gave Kim’s regime a new hold over their own country’s strategic policy-making for the sake of getting merely a better camera angle — or, more questionable still, just to be able to boast of their fearlessness.

Further, assuming the North Korean authorities were able to use the women’s captured notes, their testimony and the contents of their camera and cell phones to identify opponents of the regime who had helped the reporters on the Chinese side of the river, those helpers could now be in grave peril from North Korean agents who are tasked with hunting them down.

In an eerie precedent now three years old, viewers including myself wondered how Ling’s own elder sister, celebrity journalist Lisa Ling, and a Nepalese medical mission she teamed up with could justify pretending she was a humanitarian aid worker so that she could sneak into the country and make a 2006 National Geographic documentary.

The KCNA’s version of Clinton’s visit, 5 August 2009, Juche 98, Report on Bill Clinton’s Visit to DPRK Made Public

(with added emphasis)

Clinton expressed words of sincere apology to Kim Jong Il for the hostile acts committed by the two American journalists against the DPRK after illegally intruding into it. Clinton courteously conveyed to Kim Jong Il an earnest request of the U.S. government to leniently pardon them and send them back home from a humanitarian point of view. … Clinton courteously conveyed a verbal message of U.S. President Barack Obama expressing profound thanks for this and reflecting views on ways of improving the relations between the two countries.

Clinton and Kim

BR Myers, The Atlantic, 5 August 2009: The Korea Trap:

In short, the North Koreans wanted Bill Clinton only because he was the most prominent of the various emissaries suggested. The party organ, the Rodong Sinmun, has already given the domestic audience to understand that he came to Pyongyang not so much to free the two journalists as to pass on an oral message from President Obama. (The U.S. State Department has denied that any such message was communicated.) The newspaper, which usually takes weeks to report on events, also printed several large photographs of the meeting between Kim and Clinton. The latter’s reluctance to smile for the cameras will not prevent the North Koreans from misrepresenting him as having paid a groveling tributary visit.

Anahad O’Connor, New York Times 6 August 2009: Journalists Entered N. Korea, Sister Says

“She did say that they touched North Korean territory very, very briefly,” Ms. Ling said of her sister, adding later, “She said that it was maybe 30 seconds, and everything just got sort of chaotic. It’s a very powerful story and she does want to share it.”

A wonderfully bitchy piece in the Daily Mail by Sharon Churcher and Caroline Graham, 10 August: In peril in Pyongyang? How jailed female journalists were in greater danger sharing a plane with Bill Clinton

A Mail on Sunday investigation has unearthed some rather surprising facts about the pair – facts that show they were hopelessly ill-prepared for their ‘mission’ to the Chinese-Korean border, that they were working for a minor television organisation run by a former ambulance-chasing lawyer and, while they no doubt did not intend to be captured, the hapless twosome ended up as valuable pawns in an international game of bluff and double bluff.

Laura, 32, describes herself as a ‘Chinese American’, but a friend said: ‘She was brought up as a true Valley girl [an upper middle-class girl]. She’s about as Chinese as the cuisine at Chin Chin [a popular Californian-Chinese restaurant chain].’

Further Daily Mail coverage here (6 August) and here (5 August – Hillary Clinton denies husband Bill apologised to Kim Jong-il)

Choe Sang-hun, International Herald Tribune, 21 August 2009: In South Korea, Freed U.S. Journalists Come Under Harsh Criticism

Brief profiles of Euna Lee and Laura Ling in the NY Times.

China ‘Used U.S. Reporters’ Film to Crack Down on N.Koreans’ Chosun Ilbo, 21 August 2009.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee tell their story on CurrentTV: Hostages in the Hermit Kingdom.

Duncan Riley, Inquisitr, 2 September 2009: CurrentTV journalists detained in North Korea break out the violins and Christian Oliver, FT, 2 Septmebr 2009: Freed US journalists point to N Korean trap: they admit crossing into North Korea.

Associated Press, 3 September 2009: Beijing denies North Korea seized US reporters in China

The National, 27 December 2009: The North Korean border guards give their side of the story.

(HT to Tom Coyner for many of these links)

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