Google Executive Urges North Korea to Embrace Internet

Eric Schmidt, Google‘s executive chairman, has returned from a four-day visit to North Korea on Thursday. He urges the reclusive nation’s government to embrace the Web.

The mystery-shrouded Scmidt’s tour of North Korea slowly unravels as he, along with a private delegation led by former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, returned to the United States. The visit was intended to press North Korea on humanitarian and diplomatic issues, telling its government that the country would risk falling further behind economically if it would not provide its people more access to cellphone service and the Internet.

Only a handful of North Korean citizens have the privilege to access the broadband Internet, consisting of software engineers, government officials, and well-connected members of the elite. Those who are allowed to use the Internet, however, are strictly monitored. The country also has an Intranet called Kwangmyong, providing users access to government-approved documents, books and archival newspapers. They also develop their own domestic hardware, even showing off a homegrown tablet and other gadgets to Scmidt and company. Most of the devices were developed with the help of Russia, China, and India.

The “hermit country” even has its own 3G cellular network, developed by Egypt-based Orascom, but a little over one million of its estimated 24 million citizens have cellphones.

North Korea’s newest leader, Kim Jong-un, was educated overseas and has emphasized in previous speeches the importance of science and technology to economic development.

The American State Department was not delighted about Richardson’s freelance diplomacy, although not publicly. A spokesperson has stated that Richardson’s group visiting North Korea was not “particularly helpful,” especially when the United States is trying to rally support for tougher international sanctions against the country that believes in self-reliance. Some experts in North Korean issues, meanwhile, have described the mission as “naive” and that it would only serve the North’s propaganda.

Source: New York Times

Photo credit: David Guttenfelder/ Associated Press
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