Google executive chairman arrives in N. Korea
By Jean H. Lee, APPYONGYANG--Google's chairman wants a first-hand look at North Korea's economy and social media during his private visit Monday to the communist nation, his delegation said, despite misgivings in Washington over the timing of the trip.
January 8, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of one of the world's biggest Internet companies, is the highest-profile U.S. executive to visit North Korea — a country with notoriously restrictive online policies — since young leader Kim Jong Un took power a year ago.
Schmidt arrived on a commercial Air China flight with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has traveled more than a half-dozen times to North Korea over the past 20 years.
Richardson, speaking ahead of the flight from Beijing, called the trip a private, humanitarian mission.
“This is not a Google trip, but I'm sure he's interested in some of the economic issues there, the social media aspect. So this is why we are teamed up on this,” Richardson said without elaborating on what he meant by the “social media aspect.”
“We'll meet with North Korean political leaders. We'll meet with North Korean economic leaders, military. We'll visit some universities. We don't control the visit. They will let us know what the schedule is when we get there,” he said.
U.S. officials have criticized the four-day trip. North Korea on Dec. 12 fired a satellite into space using a long-range rocket. Washington condemned the launch, which it considers a test of ballistic missile technology.
“We don't think the timing of the visit is helpful, and they are well aware of our views,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters last week.
The trip was planned well before North Korea announced its plans to send a satellite into space, two people with knowledge of the delegation's plans told The Associated Press.
Schmidt, a staunch proponent of Internet connectivity and openness, is expected to make a donation during the visit, while Richardson will try to discuss the detainment of a U.S. citizen jailed in Pyongyang, members of the delegation told AP. They asked not to be named.
“We're going to try to inquire the status, see if we can see him, possibly lay the groundwork for him coming home,” Richardson said of the U.S. citizen.
Computer and cellphone use is gaining ground in North Korea's larger cities.
However, most North Koreans only have access to a domestic Intranet system, not the World Wide Web. For North Koreans, Internet use is still strictly regulated and allowed only with approval.