Google Chief Visits North Korea This Week
January 7, 2013

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt Making Controversial Visit To North Korea

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The head of one of the most prominent technology companies is part of a delegation that arrived in North Korea on Monday -- a trip that has stirred up some controversy, partially because of its timing.

Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, is visiting the East Asian country as part of a group that also includes former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, USA Today's Kim Hjelmgaard reports.

Richardson has described the visit as a "private humanitarian mission," Hjelmgaard said, but the timing of the trip -- which comes just weeks following a controversial North Korean rocket launch -- and Schmidt's presence on a journey to a place "where the use of the Internet is highly restricted" has earned the Mountain View, California company chief criticism from the US State Department.

"Frankly we don't think the timing of this is particularly helpful, but they are private citizens and they are making their own decisions," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last week in response to media inquiries about the trip, according to CNN. "They are well aware of our views."

On Monday, Richardson emphasized that the four-day journey "is not a Google trip," telling the Associated Press (AP) that he believed that Schmidt is "interested in some of the economic issues there, the social media aspect. So this is why we are teamed up on this."

He did not elaborate on exactly what he meant by "the social media aspect," but added that they planned to meet with political leaders, economic officials, and military personnel, as well as tour universities. "We don't control the visit. They will let us know what the schedule is when we get there," Richardson added.

Google has said that they do not comment on "personal travel," according to CNN.

"The visit is the first by a Google executive to North Korea and comes just days after Kim [Jong-un], who took power following the Dec. 17, 2011, death of his father, Kim Jong Il, laid out a series of policy goals for North Korea in a lengthy New Year's speech," the AP reported on Monday. "He cited expanding science and technology as a means to improving the country's economy as a key goal for 2013."

"Schmidt, who oversaw Google's expansion into a global giant, speaks frequently about the importance of providing people around the world with Internet access and technology," they added. "Google now has offices in more than 40 countries, including all three of North Korea's neighbors: Russia, South Korea and China, another country criticized for systematic Internet censorship."

As for the former Governor, the New York Times reports that he is visiting North Korea in an attempt to help secure the release of an American citizen who was born in South Korea and was arrested on charges of "hostile acts" while visiting North Korea back in November.

Richardson said that he had been contacted by the individual's son for assistance in bringing him home. He cautioned that he doubted he would be able to accomplish that feat during the current trip, but that he hoped to "lay the groundwork" for his eventual release. He and Schmidt are also joined by former State Department adviser and current Google employee Jared Cohen, the AP said.