PYONGYANG, North Korea — 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 today 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.
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.
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 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.
Schmidt, who as chief executive of Google until 2011 oversaw the Internet search provider’s expansion into a global Internet giant, speaks frequently about the importance of providing people around the world with Internet access and technology.