News / Asia

Experts: American's Sentence a Bargaining Chip for N. Korea

A passerby watches a local television broadcast in Seoul on May 2, 2013 showing a report and picture of Kenneth Bae (L), a Korean-American tour operator detained in North Korea.
A passerby watches a local television broadcast in Seoul on May 2, 2013 showing a report and picture of Kenneth Bae (L), a Korean-American tour operator detained in North Korea.
Korean-American tourist Kenneth Bae has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea, in what analysts are describing as a familiar ploy meant to win concessions from Washington and boost Pyongyang's domestic credentials.

At least six Americans have been detained since 2009 in the notoriously reclusive state. While some were given similarly harsh sentences of hard labor, all were eventually released. In most cases, their release was won following much-publicized visits by high-ranking former U.S. officials.

"It's very clear to me that the intention of the North Korean regime is to use [Kenneth Bae] as bargaining leverage and to entice former high ranking U.S. government officials and maybe current high-ranking officials to visit North Korea and thus boost Kim Jong Un's credentials," said Greg Scarlatoiu of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

"This type of scheme is used not only to try to re-engage and restart some type of dialogue with the United States, but especially to boost the leadership's credentials at home," said Scarlatoiu.

Related - North Korea Sentences American to 15 Years' Hard Labor

That was the pattern seen in 2009, when ex-U.S. President Bill Clinton traveled to North Korea to secure the release of American television journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for what Pyongyang said was illegally entering the country.

North Korean state media at the time seemed to depict Clinton's visit as a trip meant to pay homage to North Korean leadership. It also said he offered a "sincere apology" to North Korea for what it said were the "hostile acts" of the two journalists, a claim later denied by his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

US Citizens Detained by North Korea

  • 2013 - Kenneth Bae sentenced to 15 years hard labor for plotting to overthrow the government.
  • 2011 - Eddie Jun Yong-su detained for apparent missionary-related activities. Released following visit by U.S. delegation.
  • 2010 - Christian activist Aijalon Mahli Gomes sentenced to eight years hard labor. Release secured by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
  • 2009 - Christian missionary Robert Park beaten and detained for 43 days before being released.
  • 2009 - Journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling sentenced to 12 years hard labor. Release secured by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Much like in 2009, the current issue is complicated by Washington's ongoing standoff with the North over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. But Korea analyst Mike Chinoy of the University of Southern California's U.S.-China Institute says tensions are now so high, that it is unlikely a government-sponsored trip can be quickly arranged.

"Moreover, the Obama administration has made very clear it's not comfortable getting into the same pattern of behavior we've seen between the United States and North Korea," he said. "I would be very surprised if the Obama administration on its own initiated any kind of high-level envoy."

"The only other question is whether in the normal course of events someone might end up going, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson or former President [Jimmy] Carter, separately from the administration," he said.

Chinoy said he does not know whether such a step would be seen as meaningful enough for the North to release Kenneth Bae. If not, he warns that the 44-year-old may be "stuck for a while" and may have to serve at least some of his 15-year prison term.

Although Americans held in North Korea have often described harsh conditions during their detention, all of the five others detained in recent years were released within a year of being arrested.

You May Like

Video British Fighters On Frontline of ISIS Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Multimedia Hit Song Delivers Ebola Message in Liberia

'Ebola in Town' has danceable beat, while also delivering serious message about avoiding infection More

Video New Technology Gives Surgeons Unprecedented Views of Patients’ Bodies

Technology offers real-time, interactive, medical visualization and is multi-dimensional More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid