Laura and Lisa Ling dined last week with Bill Clinton at the Almond bistro in New York and lunched with Hillary Clinton over the weekend at a branch of the Korean restaurant Woo Lae Oak in Vienna, Virginia. Quite the culinary capper to a summer that thrust two sisters, a former President and a current Secretary of State into a very tight diplomatic corner.
If I were to apply the same questioning mentality to these meals as I did to other signpost events that led up to Laura and Euna Lee’s August 4th release, I would be asking things like: Did Bill and Hillary both personally pick up the tab? Did either restaurant offer their guests a meal on the house? At the Korean restaurant in Virginia, did Laura get a fortune cookie, and if so, what did it say?
But in these waning micro-days of the Ling–Lee case, as the macro level appears set to begin with bilateral sideline Six-Party discussions between the U.S. and North Korea, the crumbs worth mentioning lie far and wide from the welcome sight of a plentiful meal on home soil.
They Said, China Said: After Laura and Euna claimed in their September 2nd L.A. Times Op Ed that the North Korean border guards reached back into Chinese territory to seize them, China was quick to deny the accusation. Did it happen? Of course – North Korean border guards are known to cross the Tumen River for all kinds of different reasons.
But as it almost always does, North Korea silently acquiesced to its mighty and refugee-complicit neighbor. However, by cosmic coincidence, someone last week posted a 2003 Chinese police report confirming a massacre along the same border – in one night – of 56 North Koreans trying to flee the country. China apparently quietly cremated the bodies and kept the incident quiet, although it was referenced in a 2006 @WSJ article. But the point is, this is the bigger picture – Ling, Lee could easily have been shot, and as they themselves wrote, the story they were trying to tell needs to remain in the public consciousness.
Tracking the Guide: I have been urging a certain South Korean media outlet I am in touch with to keep a lookout for Kim Seong-cheol, the guide who fled back to the Chinese side on March 17th along with Mitch Koss. He was reportedly sentenced to six months in Sino jail, though it is not exactly clear when that sentence began. But by all rights, he should be a free man soon, and the exact circumstances of his apparent trickery are the one final piece of the crime scene puzzle.
The Soccer Squeeze: The North Koreans typically do not acknowledge the concept of a weekend. But in the case of the Ling–Lee trial, the proceedings were adjourned on Friday July 5th so that judge, interpreters, lawyer and everyone else other than the defendants could turn their attention to a World Cup Qualifying match being played the next day in Pyongyang between North Korea and Iran.
Thanks to a tie, North Korea made it into the World Cup for the first time since 1966. If the U.S. really wants the Hermit Kingdom to disarm, they should meet bilaterally with FIFA and make a case for the exclusion of North Korea from next year’s South Africa-hosted tournament until certain diplomatic and humanitarian conditions are met. It’s a bit of a dirty Yellow Card, but after all, that’s the way North Korea plays.