PYONGYANG, North Korea A private delegation including Google’s Eric Schmidt is urging North Korea to allow more open Internet access and cell phones to benefit its citizens, the mission’s leader said Wednesday in the country with some of the world’s tightest controls on information.
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Wednesday that his nine-member group also called on North Korea to put a moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests that have prompted U.N. sanctions, and asked for fair and humane treatment for an American citizen detained there.
The visit has been criticized for appearing to hijack U.S. diplomacy and boost Pyongyang’s profile after North Korea’s latest, widely condemned rocket launch. Richardson has said has said the delegation is on a private, humanitarian trip.
Schmidt, the executive chairman of the U.S.-based Internet giant Google, is the highest-profile American business executive to visit North Korea since leader Kim Jong Un took power a year ago.
On Wednesday, Schmidt toured the frigid quarters of the brick building in central Pyongyang that is the heart of North Korea’s own computer industry. He asked pointed questions about North Korea’s new tablet computers as well as its Red Star operating system, and he briefly donned a pair of 3-D goggles during a tour of the Korea Computer Center.
Schmidt has not said publicly what he hopes to get out of his visit to North Korea. However, he has been a vocal proponent of Internet freedom and openness, and is publishing a book in April with Google Ideas think tank director Jared Cohen about the power of global connectivity in transforming people’s lives, policies and politics.
Richardson said in an exclusive interview in Pyongyang that his delegation was delivering a message that more openness would benefit North Korea. Most in the country have never logged onto the Internet, and the authoritarian government strictly limits access to the World Wide Web.