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Google’s Schmidt Urges Open Web After North Korea Visit

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Google’s Eric Schmidt has urged one of the world’s least connected countries to open up to the Internet

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt has used a controversial visit to the pariah state of North Korea to urge that country’s leadership to open up more to the Internet.

Eric Schmidt was part of a US delegation led by former New Mexico state governor Bill Richardson, that visited Pyongyang earlier this week.

Open Internet

The US delegation had used the trip to talk with the leadership of North Korea over a number of topics, including its long range missile launches as well as its nuclear testing, both of which have prompted sanctions from the United Nations.

The delegation, described as a “private humanitarian mission”, also sought to obtain the release of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American held captive by North Korea.

“We enjoyed our trip to the DPRK, especially with the North Korean people, and we had a good opportunity to talk about expanding the internet and cell phones in the DPRK,” Richardson was reported as saying at Pyongyang airport.

“We strongly urged the North Koreans to proceed with a moratorium on ballistic missiles and a possible nuclear test, that it was important for this step to calm tensions in the peninsula,” Richardson, a former US ambassador to the UN, he later told journalists in China after returning from Pyongyang.

The delegation included Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt who, wearing his “champion of the Internet” hat, urged his North Korean hosts to open up more to the Internet.

At the moment, North Korea is one of the least connected countries in the world, with the vast majority of the population not owning a computer. Even if North Korean citizens are able to get online, it is understood that they are only capable of accessing an internal North Korean intranet, and not the global Internet.

Eric Schmidt in North Korea 

“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 was quoted as saying by the BBC.

“Once the Internet starts, citizens in a country can certainly build on top of it,” he added. “The government has to do something. It has to make it possible for people to use the internet which the government in North Korea has not yet done.”

Controversial Visit

The visit of the US delegation and Schmidt has proved to be controversial, especially in light of the recent actions undertaken by new leader Kim Jong Un, who took power a year ago.

Last month for example North Korea shot a satellite into space on a long-range rocket, a move that has potential long-reaching military implications in that region, and which prompted Japan to increase its military spending.

The State Department itself has reportedly criticised the trip by the delegation as “unhelpful” and ill timed, as it comes amid US efforts to secure support for UN Security Council action.

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