Forget about Kim Jong Il’s bad hair days, and images of the dictator as an Asian Dr. Strangelove.
Today, my heart goes out to fellow Asian American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee.
They are now the human face of the North Korea/U.S. impasse.
The U.S. and North Korea have no diplomatic relations. Apparently, someone in Pyongyang thinks Ling and Lee may help force the issue.
North Korea has sentenced the two women to 12 years of hard labor, according to KCNA, the North’s official news agency.
The two were arrested in March while doing stories for Current TV about North Korean families desperate migration for food along the Chinese border.
Yesterday, in a closed session, the Central Court, the highest in North Korea, convicted the journalists for “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry.”
Their exact crime is irrelevant. Ling and Lee were simply too good and too convenient for the North Koreans to pass up. They’re now in place as the perfect tools to help solve the non-diplomatic “diplomacy that exists between the U.S. and North Korea.
Everything in this story is tea-leaf reading, with Ling and Lee up to their eyeballs in the muck.
It’s all rather surreal, where things aren’t always what they appear.
The State Department and Hillary Clinton have issued public statements condemning the convictions and say all that can be done is being done. Whatever that means.
Meanwhile, North Korea has been banging a loud drum, firing off nuclear tests in the past two months. The country wants to be accepted as a nuclear power and doesn’t mind alienating friends and foes alike. The U.S. response to the testing has been predictable. Beyond a perfunctory public condemnation, the world has been waiting to see a more forceful response from the U.S. to punish North Korea.
Pyongyang complicates matters by dangling Ling and Lee.
Pyongyang has put bait on the hook. Does the U.S. send an envoy? Does it lead to at least the beginning of the end of the long diplomatic impasse?
These issues take time, unfortunately. But the harsh sentence to Ling and Lee indicate the North Koreans mean business.