Google Inc. (GOOG:US) Chairman Eric Schmidt and ex-New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson arrived in North Korea on a visit that the U.S. said runs contrary to efforts to punish the totalitarian state for last month’s long-range rocket test.
The “Google delegation” flew into the capital Pyongyang, the official Korean Central News Agency said yesterday in a one- line dispatch. The group, which includes Google Ideas Director Jared Cohen, is on a “private humanitarian mission” that seeks to meet with a detained U.S. citizen, Richardson said Jan. 5.
The group visited a computer lab at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, where students were using the Internet on Hewlett- Packard Co. (HPQ:US) computers, the Associated Press reported.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland yesterday reiterated her criticism of the visit as “ill-advised” given the regime’s December rocket launch in defiance of global opposition. The United Nations Security Council condemned the North for violating its prohibition on ballistic missile tests and some Western countries are pushing to expand UN sanctions.
Schmidt is traveling as a U.S. citizen interested in foreign affairs and wants to understand some of North Korea’s economic issues and “the social media aspect,” Richardson told the Associated Press yesterday without elaborating. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a New Year’s address last week that improving the economy is the government’s top priority.
“We’re not representing the State Department, so they shouldn’t be that nervous,” Richardson said Jan. 4 on “CBS This Morning.”
North Korea confirmed last month it had detained a U.S. citizen it identified as Pae Jun Ho after he entered the country in November to lead a tour. The man confessed to committing a crime after entering Nov. 3, KCNA reported, without specifying the crime.
Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the UN who has led unofficial diplomatic missions in the past, said he and Schmidt were going there in part to seek the man’s release. While he has been dealing with North Korea for 15 years, Richardson told the AP that he doubted the delegation will be able to bring the Korean-American home “on this trip.”
The group will meet with political, economic and military leaders and tour some universities, Richardson said.
Google doesn’t comment on personal trips by company executives, Google Korea spokeswoman Lois Kim said on Jan. 3. The company’s stock fell 0.4 percent yesterday to close at $734.75 in New York.
In 2010, former President Jimmy Carter traveled to North Korea to win the release of an imprisoned American who had been sentenced to eight years of hard labor for illegal entry. Former President Bill Clinton in August 2009 flew to Pyongyang and secured the release of two American journalists detained for illegally crossing the border between China and North Korea. Unlike Carter, Clinton met with then-leader Kim Jong Il.
North Korea has long sealed itself off from the world, with an official state ideology of juche, or self-reliance, and a narrative that pits a resilient regime against a hostile world.
While the authoritarian regime has increasingly called for greater openness toward using modern technologies such as the Internet, few elites among the country’s 24 million have access to the Web. The regime offers an intranet service only, and heavily censors any flow of information to and from the outside world.
Richardson will give a press conference at Beijing airport on Jan. 10, his office said Jan. 5.
Schmidt’s daughter Sophie is also traveling with the nine- person delegation on the four-day trip, South Korean broadcaster MBC reported Jan. 6.
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