Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, will travel this
year to reclusive North Korea, where Internet use is subject
to some of the world's tightest controls, the Associated
Schmidt, one of the highest-profile leaders of the U.S.
technology industry, could visit as early as this month, the
The announcement was made days after North Korean leader Kim
Jong-un, the third member of his family to rule the country
since its inception in the Cold War, signalled a willingness
to improve relations with South Korea.
It was unclear whom Schmidt will meet or what his agenda
might be, the AP reported.
Internet access is largely restricted to all but the most
influential officials of the reclusive state. Media content
is also rigidly controlled, although basic 3G cellphone use
is said to be rapidly expanding.
Google did not directly respond to a question about whether
Schmidt was going to North Korea, although a spokeswoman's
response suggested a visit would not be for company business.
"We do not comment on personal travel," spokeswoman Samantha
Smith said when asked about the AP report.
Schmidt, Google's main political and government relations
representative, has also been a prominent supporter of
President Barack Obama.
Google famously espouses a "do no evil" philosophy and
campaigns for Internet freedom. It pulled its search service
from mainland China in 2010, relocating it to Hong Kong
because it said it could not conform with censorship
Last year, the company flew in North Korean defectors from
Seoul for a panel discussion at a summit it hosted focusing
on global illicit networks. It has also hosted North Korean
officials in Silicon Valley, according to the Asia
Foundation, which co-hosted part of a trip by the North
"I think this is part of Google's broader vision to bring the
Internet to the world, and North Korea is the last frontier,"
said Peter Beck, the South Korean representative of the Asia
Foundation, a non-profit organisation. "I suspect that
Google's visit is more philanthropic than financial."
Beck said the North Korea delegation had been shown a Google
Earth view of their capital Pyongyang.
Schmidt is writing, with former U.S. state department
official Jared Cohen, a book due in April called "The New
Digital Age." It will address how the Internet and technology
can empower people and drive fundamental social, political
and economic change.
"Perhaps the most intriguing part of this trip is simply the
idea of it. The restricted control of information lies at the
heart of the DPRK state and yet it is about to host one of
the West's greatest facilitators of borderless information
flows," said Victor Cha, a senior adviser and Korea expert at
the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
The DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of
Korea, the North's official name.
"If Google is the first small step in piercing the
information bubble in Pyongyang, it could be a very
interesting development," Cha wrote on the centre's website
Schmidt's visit will make him one of the most prominent
American businessmen to visit the country.
The AP cited two people familiar with his plans as saying the
ex-Google CEO will join a private group led by former United
Nations Ambassador and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, a
frequent visitor to North Korea.
Their visit follows a long-range rocket launch that has
triggered a drive for further United Nations sanctions. North
Korea is banned from testing missile or nuclear technology
under sanctions imposed after its 2006 and 2009 nuclear
A second aspect of Schmidt's visit as part of Richardon's
delegation could be to try to obtain the release of
Korean-American tourist Kenneth Bae, accused of crimes
against the state. Richardson has helped negotiate the
release of detained Americans in the past.
"Richardson has had a history of trying to jump-start
dialogue at low points in the U.S.-DPRK nuclear talks. He is
a well-known quantity to North Koreans and does have
credibility with them," Cha wrote.