A US diplomat in Seoul has shocked a group of visiting Congressional staff members by allegedly making highly insensitive comments about two journalists — Taiwanese-American Laura Ling (凌志美) and Korean-American Euna Lee — now facing serious criminal charges in North Korea.
William Stanton, deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in South Korea and a candidate for the next director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), is said to have told the visitors during a briefing that the two young journalists were “stupid” and that their case was “distracting from bigger issues.”
Congressional sources said most of the nine visitors — all in their 20s and on a training trip to Asia — were particularly distressed because both Ling and Lee could be sentenced to long prison terms and there is strong evidence they did nothing wrong.
At least one of the visitors was so upset about Stanton's attitude that he wrote a memorandum to a member of Congress giving full details of the briefing, including Stanton's statements.
The memorandum has become a topic of hot discussion among senior Congressional staff and a copy has been sent to the US State Department. No officials would comment on the situation last night and it is not known if it will lead to a formal inquiry.
While the Taipei Times has not received a copy of the memorandum, a senior Congressional staff member read directly from it over the telephone.
A second source later confirmed that the memorandum was being widely discussed.
Stanton's briefing took place on either April 7 or April 8 — the two journalists were detained on March 17 — and according to the memorandum, he did not appear to be concerned that the young visitors were openly taking notes of what he said.
The visiting young Congressional staffers said that Stanton did not request confidentiality or indicate that he was speaking privately or off the record.
This is the second time that complaints about Stanton's behavior have gone to his superiors at the US State Department.
While Stanton has not been formally appointed, he is believed to be at the top of the short list for AIT director.
As the Taipei Times reported late last month, Stanton would be a controversial choice because of allegations that when he worked at the US embassy in Beijing in the mid-1990s, he was known for his strong support for Chinese policies and impeded internal reports critical of the Chinese regime.
Congressional sources said they feared that he would not look after Taiwan's interests but would be inclined to favor the Chinese side when reporting back to Washington.
The State Department is deeply concerned about the two female journalists, both in their 20s, who were taken into custody by North Korean border guards patrolling the Tumen River along that country's border with China.
Pyongyang officials said in a statement on March 22: “Two Americans were detained on March 17 while illegally intruding into the territory of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] by crossing the DPRK-China border. A competent organ is now investigating the case.”
Ling and Lee work for the San Francisco-based online news outlet Current TV, which was founded by former US vice president Al Gore and tycoon Joel Hyatt.
The two women were in the area to interview refugees who had fled North Korea and were living on the Chinese side of the border.
There is evidence that the North Korean guards crossed the river and grabbed the women on the Chinese side, forcing them into North Korea at gunpoint.
In a statement this week, North Korea said the women would be charged with “hostile acts” and would go on trial at some unspecified time in the future.
This comes amid mounting diplomatic tensions between Pyongyang and the international community, including the US, over its rogue nuclear program.
Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul, said in an interview, that the Americans had become another “negotiating chip” for Pyongyang as it embarks on negotiations with Washington and its allies over the nuclear impasse.
There is fear that North Korea might stage a show trial and sentence the two women to as much as ten years in a hard labor prison.
The Ling family emigrated from Taiwan to the US several years ago and now lives in Los Angeles.
Laura Ling's older sister, Lisa Ling, a former co-host of the US TV talk show The View and now a correspondent for National Geographic Channel's Explorer, has refused to comment.
It is understood that the families of both women have been advised by the State Department to keep low profiles and not to talk about the case.
The Lithuanian Ministry of National Defense recommended that consumers avoid buying Chinese mobile phones and advised people to throw away the ones they have now after a government report found the devices had built-in censorship capabilities. Flagship phones sold in Europe by China’s smartphone giant Xiaomi Corp (小米) have a built-in ability to detect and censor terms such as “Free Tibet,” “Long live Taiwan independence” or “democracy movement,” Lithuania’s state-run cybersecurity body said on Tuesday. The capability in Xiaomi’s Mi 10T 5G phone software had been turned off for the “European Union region,” but can be turned on remotely at any time,
CLOSE COOPERATION: A House of Representatives bill suggests inviting Taiwan’s navy to participate in the world’s largest international maritime military exercises The US House of Representatives on Thursday passed its annual defense policy bill, which includes provisions recommending that Taiwan be included in next year’s Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) and enhanced cooperation between Taiwan and the US National Guard. The House approved the US$777.9 billion National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 in a 316-113 vote. The 1,390-page bill includes three major provisions related to Taiwan under sections 1243, 1247 and 1248. Section 1248 recommends that the US invite Taiwan’s navy to participate in next year’s RIMPAC. Taiwan has never been invited to participate in the event, which is the world’s largest
‘FIGHT FOR VICTORY’: Eric Chu said his election victory would be the beginning of the DPP’s worries and that he would open all channels of communication with China Former New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) was yesterday elected Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman in a four-way race that included outgoing chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣). Chu, 60, garnered 85,164 votes, or 45 percent of the 187,998 KMT members who cast ballots. Sun Yat-sen School president Chang Ya-chung (張亞中) trailed behind with 60,632 votes, followed by Chiang with 35,090 votes and former Changhua County commissioner Cho Po-yuan (卓伯源) with 5,133 votes. Voter turnout was 50.71 percent. This will be Chu’s second time heading the party. He was elected KMT chairman in an unopposed by-election in January 2015 and resigned in January
BACK IN BUSINESS: Amusement arcades, Internet cafes, KTVs and board game venues could also reopen next week if the COVID-19 situation does not worsen, the center said The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday eased some COVID-19 restrictions for public transportation, performances, exhibitions and sports event venues, effective immediately, as it also announced its conditions for reopening some banned recreational venues, including KTVs and amusement arcades, from Tuesday next week. As the local COVID-19 situation is under control, some ministries have modified the disease prevention guidelines for the businesses they supervise, said Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center. “Starting from this week, eating and drinking will be allowed in the stations of Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp and the Taiwan Railways Administration,” Chen