PYONGYANG, North Korea – Google’s chairman wants a firsthand look at North Korea’s economy and social media landscape during his private visit Monday to the Communist nation, his delegation said, despite misgivings in Washington over the timing of the trip.
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. His visit has drawn criticism from the U.S. State Department because it comes only weeks after a controversial North Korean rocket launch; it has also prompted speculation about what Schmidt hopes to accomplish.
Schmidt arrived on a commercial flight with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has traveled more than a half-dozen times to North Korea. Richardson called the trip a 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, Richardson said without elaborating on what he meant by the social media aspect.
Richardson expects the men will meet with North Korean political leaders, economic leaders and military.
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.
Schmidt speaks frequently about the importance of providing people around the world with Internet access and technology.
Google now has offices in more than 40 countries.