On Monday, August 17th, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. departed for China to begin a much anticipated term as U.S. Ambassador to our largest creditor and the world’s newest superpower. Today, the South Korean newspaper @Chosun_Ilbo confirmed for many the worst possible fears in terms of fallout from the March 17th arrest at the Chinese-North Korean border of American journalists Laura Ling, Euna Lee and Mitch Koss: namely, that materials seized from the group led to a crackdown on North Korean refugees and those that help them.
It’s not the first order of business that Huntsman was expecting to have to deal with, but since the Chinese seized a camera and other belongings from an American citizen (56-year-old Glendale, CA resident Koss) working for an American network (@current) co-founded by a former American Vice President (@AlGore) – and that Koss was legally in the territory of China while doing so – it becomes paramount for Huntsman to do a couple of things:
– One: he must publically or through back-channel efforts demand an immediate update on the status of all those identified through the materials seized from Koss (25 additional North Korean orphans, female refugees working in the online porn business, activists);
– Two: he must officially request that all materials seized by the Chinese from Koss be returned immediately to the U.S. embassy in Beijing for forwarding to @current.
Huntman is someone who intends to make human rights a cornerstone of his term(s) in China, and although he certainly was not anticipating to have to engage in this area with an urgency that the current situation demands, he has little choice. The safety of dozens (not to mention the legacy of Ling, Lee and Koss‘ actions) hangs in the balance.
It will not be an easy task. A recent tally showed that China has more journalists in its prisons than any other country, while the realm of North Korean refugees is one that the country attacks with little mercy, so as to stem the flow of these individuals into its northeastern regions. But on this date – Friday, August 21st – the story of Ling, Lee and Koss has once again reverted back to those less fortunate people trying to escape the clutches of Kim Jong-il‘s brutal regime.
Update – 08/21/09: Though @current spokesman Bren Marcus disputes some of the details shared by Pastor Lee @Chosun_Ilbo, the Pastor’s Durihana colleague Reverend Chun tells @NYTimes that two of the women interviewed by Ling–Lee have now fled China in fear of North Korean repatriation, while a third is on the run within the country.