Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Good News: North Korea Freed American Reporters

Laura Ling and Euna Lee are back in America. They're the reporters from Current TV, based in San Francisco, who (North Korea's version)
  • Entered North Korea
  • Illegally
  • Committed "hostile acts"
They say they hadn't intend to enter North Korea - legally or other wise - when North Korean border guards captured them. The idea that they actually strayed over the border is plausible enough, assuming that the China-North Korea border is as unmarked as the Canada-U.S. border is. As for those "hostile acts," I think the lead paragraph of a BBC article hints at what the reporters were up to:
"US journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee told their families they had no intention of entering North Korea when they went to the border with China to report on the plight of North Korean refugees...."
I could be wrong, but I think Kim Jong Il might regard anyone talking to someone who had escaped from his domain as a "hostile act." Without the threat of secret trials hanging over them, people who made it out of North Korea might say things that wouldn't meet with Dear Leader's approval. As I wrote earlier, "I think it says something about a country or organization, when people can reasonably be said to have 'escaped.' " (June 20, 2009)

American Reporters Out of Prison: Good News

I'm very glad that the two reporters were released from their 12-year sentences in North Korea. That's good news. The two women might have survived 12 years of "reform through labour" - but it would have been the opposite of a pleasant experience.

Smear Campaign or Straight Reporting?

I'm not quite sure what to make of this part of a BBC article:
"'Smear campaign'

"Initially, there were denials from the American side that they had gone into North Korea - and both South Korean media and diplomatic sources said the North's guards had crossed into Chinese territory to arrest them.

"But a few days after their trial, the North's state media said the two had admitted entering the North and accepted their sentences.

"Official news agency KCNA [Korean Central News Agency] also said they had admitted getting footage for a 'smear campaign' about North Korea's human rights...."
There are "smear campaigns," of course. Sometimes journalists or publicists decide that a person or organization is naughty, and then write articles with carefully-selected facts. Or, sometimes just write articles.

On the other hand, it's possible to imagine that the Kim Jong Il regime doesn't like negative publicity. Who does?

In countries like America, having reporters dig up embarrassing facts comes with the territory for public figures and government institutions. I don't think the same can be said for countries like North Korea, where state news agencies are careful to project the desired image of the nation's leaders and institutions.

For people who are accustomed to a well-run, tightly-controlled news media like North Korea's, reporters doing a professional job of collecting and reporting facts might very well look like a "smear campaign."

Then there's the reporters' confessions:
"... Last Monday, Lee and Ling were sentenced in North Korea's top court to 12 years of hard labor for what KCNA called politically motivated crimes. They were accused of crossing into North Korea to capture video for a 'smear campaign' focused on human rights, the report said.

" 'The accused admitted that what they did were criminal acts committed, prompted by the political motive to isolate and stifle the socialist system of (North Korea) by faking up moving images aimed at falsifying its human rights performance and hurling slanders and calumnies at it,' it said...."
I think it's possible that one or both of the reporters did confess and apologize. That doesn't mean that I take the confession(s) seriously.

People can be persuaded to do a remarkable range of things. A writer, chronicling his experiences during WWII, observed that the police of a particular American city had, at the time, a reputation for being able to get suspects to confess to anything from the Lindbergh snatch to the murder of Cock Robin.

According to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's official news, another American apologized, too:
"...The Korean Central News Agency said Mr. Clinton "expressed sincere words of apology to Kim Jong Il for the hostile acts committed by the two American journalists."..."
In this case, I'm quite sure that Mr. Clinton wasn't, ah, persuaded to apologize. There doesn't seem to have been enough time to work him over, for one thing.

The 'apology' may be wishful thinking on the part of the Korean Central News Agency, or a bit of creative memory based on official policy. Or, Mr. Clinton may have apologized for the "hostile acts." Whatever they were.

Diplomacy, prudent and otherwise, can make people do odd things.

What does this Mean?

The only thing I'm reasonably certain of is that the two journalists are back in America.

The assorted confessions and apologies may be fictional or real. The confessions may or may not have been made after the application of behavior modification techniques. I simply do not know.

There are plenty of opinions going the rounds, about what this release means. An op-ed piece in Reuters India impressed me by reporting opinions of a variety of experts: and identifying them. American journalism, at least, often refers to anonymous 'experts' - which can be impressive, if you have complete and unqualified trust in the news service.

Experts' opinions, from Reuters India:
  • Tadashi Kimiya, Associate Professor, University of Tokyo
    • " 'It's hard to believe that North Korea released the journalists just on humanitarian grounds. It probably had something to do with a package deal with the United States, to resolve the issues of denuclearisation and normalisation of ties....' "
  • Masafumi Yamomoto, Head of FX Strategy Japan, RBS, Tokyo
    • " 'The latest incident has not been much of a factor in the market as the situation regarding worries about a future change in (North Korea's) leadership and brinkmanship diplomacy remains unchanged....' "
  • Zhang Liangui, Chinese Expert on North Korea at Central Party School in Beijing
    • " 'The North Koreans have rejected the six-party talks and they won't give up their nuclear plans; both were important components of U.S. policy, so to cave to them would show the U.S. had failed.
    • " 'Bilateral talks can't solve the problem, because they leave out other countries...."
  • Narushige Michishita, Assistant Professor, Security and International Studies Programme at National Graduate Institute for Policy in Japan
    • " 'I think there will be a three-pillar approach, as we saw at the end of the Bill Clinton administration. The three pillars are tackling nuclear arms, missile issues and then moving toward a peace treaty (between the United States and North Korea). It is unclear what exactly the United States actually offered at the meeting, but I think Clinton at least tried to find out where North Korea stands on those issues now....' "
  • Bruce Klingner, Korea Expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington
    • " 'Clinton's visit has roiled the North Korean policy waters beyond their already tumultuous state. There are great uncertainties over North Korean and U.S. intentions, escalating the risk of miscalculation, confrontation, and crisis....' "
Those bilateral and six-party talks haven't been in American news much lately. I briefly discussed them earlier this year. (May 25, 2009)

At the risk of seeming simplistic, I think that there's good reason to think Kim Jong Il realizes that a policy of threatening other countries and insulting American officials (CNN) results in unenforced United Nations resolutions, and concessions from other nations. Particularly America.

I also think that there's a real risk that Kim Jong Il, or his successor, will eventually miscalculate: either by actually launching an attack on another nation, or by making a credible threat against China or Russia.

I could be wrong, but I think that China, whose capital is within 600 kilometers of North Korea, and Russia, whose only viable Pacific seaport is even closer, might take immediate and decisive steps in response to a threat - real or imagined. Granted, the dialog conducted with tanks and bullets in Tiananmen Square was in 1989 (a commemoration of a 1988 event); and Korean Air Flights 902 and 007 were in 1978 and 1983: but there hasn't been that much of a change in leadership since.

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Brigid said...

"I think a clue to what they were is in the lead paragraph" Might want to fix this.

Brigid said...

"...The Korean Central News Agency said Mr. Clinton "expressed sincere words of apology to Kim Jong Il for the hostile acts committed by the two American journalists."..."

You quoted this twice.

Brian H. Gill said...


Got it. Fixed it.

Brian H. Gill said...

Brigid #2,

"...The Korean Central News Agency said..."

"...The Korean Central News Agency said..."



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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.