January 10, 2013
Google CEO Message To North Korea: Accept Internet Or Face Economic Decline
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt returned from a four-day visit to North Korea on Thursday with a challenge for the East Asian country and its leader, Kim Jong-un: accept the Internet, or risk further economic decline.“As the world becomes increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world, their economic growth and so forth and it will make it harder for them to catch up economically,” Schmidt told reporters after arriving at Beijing International Airport, according to Andrew Jacobs of the New York Times.
“For most North Koreans, using a computer, let alone accessing Google, is all but impossible. Although the country has global broadband Internet, few people are allowed to access it, and if they do, their surfing is strictly monitored,” Jacobs added. “Experts say fewer than a thousand people have such access, most of them software developers, government officials and well-connected party loyalists.”
The Times reporter added that the visit taught the Mountain View, California-based company´s chairman much about North Korea´s technological infrastructure, as Schmidt “spoke in some detail” about the country´s 3G cellular phone service.
That service, developed by Egyptian firm Orascom Telecom, services just over 1/24 of the population but had “the potential to provide Internet access” — a feature that Schmidt said would be “very easy” for North Korean officials to activate.
“The government has to do something — they have to make it possible for people to use the Internet, which the government in North Korea has not yet done. It is time now for them to start or they will remain behind,” he added, according to Bloomberg News reports.
Schmidt was part of a delegation that traveled to North Korea on Monday — a delegation that also included former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. Richardson has described the visit as a “private humanitarian mission” and emphasized that despite Schmidt´s presence, it was “not a Google trip.”
Richardson reportedly intended to attempt to negotiate the release of Kenneth Bae, an American citizen who was born in South Korea and was arrested on charges of “hostile acts” while visiting North Korea back in November. CNN reports that those efforts did not prove fruitful, as the delegation was not able to meet with Kim Jong Un.
However, the Wall Street Journal noted that Richardson said that he was able to meet with the 44-year-old Bae, who was said to be in good health, and that the former governor was “encouraged by their statements that judicial proceedings will begin soon.”
Richardson also met with the top vice minister in North Korea to discuss a potential moratorium on ballistic-missile tests in the wake of a recent satellite launch there. It was that launch that led the US State Department to voice their displeasure with the Richardson/Schmidt delegation´s visit, with spokeswoman Victoria Nuland saying that the agency believed the timing of the trip was not “particularly helpful.”