PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA (AP) - A private delegation including Google’s Eric Schmidt is urging North Korea to allow more open Internet access and cellphones to benefit its citizens, the mission’s leader said in the country with some of the world’s tightest controls on information.
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson also said his nine-member group called on North Korea to put a moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests that have prompted U.N. sanctions, and the delegation asked for fair and humane treatment for an American citizen detained. He spoke in an exclusive interview in Pyongyang with The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Before departing on Thursday, he told reporters his trip had been productive and successful.
“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 said at the Pyongyang airport.
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 the delegation is on a private, humanitarian trip.
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 Jared Cohen, director of the company’s Google Ideas think tank, about the power of global connectivity in transforming people’s lives, policies and politics.
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.
For years, the Mountain View, California, company has pushed for more accessible and affordable Internet connections and Web-surfing devices on the premise that its business ultimately will make more money if people spend more time online.
Besides the world’s most dominant search engine, Google also offers a variety of other services that rank among the most popular destinations on the Internet. More Internet traffic translates into more opportunities to sell digital ads, which account for most of its more than $50 billion in annual revenue.
Richardson told The Associated Press that his delegation was bringing 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.
“The citizens of the DPRK will be better off with more cellphones and an active Internet. Those are the … messages we’ve given to a variety of foreign policy officials, scientists” and government officials, Richardson said.