With the news in that North Korea has sentenced Euna Lee and Laura Ling, the two American journalists it kidnapped in March from just across its border with China, to 12 years in prison, one is tempted to throw up one’s hands in frustration. There’s little the US, Europe, or Japan can do to punish North Korea that they haven’t already done, and no proportional measure is likely to free the journalists anytime soon.
But it’s ludicrous and unacceptable to let North Korea have the idea that it can go around kidnapping people abroad. That’s simply beyond all bounds of behavior that the rest of the world can live with. The appropriate target for a response, therefore, is China. China was clearly allowing North Korean security agents to operate on its side of the border. It is China that allowed North Korea to kidnap these women and take them back to Pyongyang. The US needs to make clear to China that it can’t allow North Korea to do that anymore, period. There’s a similar situation near the Tibetan-Nepalese border, where Nepal allows Chinese plainclothes security agents to operate on the Nepalese side of the border, harassing journalists. That has to stop. It’s one thing for countries to establish repressive legal regimes and harass journalists and activists inside their own borders. But people simply cannot be expected to live in a situation where even when they are in other countries, they may be kidnapped by secret service agents of a country they are reporting on and then accused of violating the laws of a country they never set foot in. This, among other things, is something the US should have been conscious of when it started applying “extraordinary rendition” policies.
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