SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Google’s executive chairman is preparing to travel to one of the last frontiers of cyberspace: North Korea.
Eric Schmidt will be traveling to North Korea on a private trip led by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson that could take place as early as this month, sources told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The sources, two people familiar with the group’s plans, asked not to be named because the visit had not been made public.
The trip would be the first by a top executive from U.S.-based Google, the world’s largest Internet search provider, to a country considered to have the most restrictive Internet policies on the planet.
North Korea is in the midst of what leader Kim Jong Un called a modern-day “industrial revolution” in a New Year’s Day speech to the nation Monday. He is pushing science and technology as a path to economic development for the impoverished country, aiming for computers in every school and digitized machinery in every factory.
However, giving citizens open access to the Internet has not been part of the regime’s strategy. While some North Koreans can access a domestic Intranet service, very few have clearance to freely surf the World Wide Web.
It was not immediately clear who Schmidt and Richardson expect to meet in North Korea, a country that does not have diplomatic relations with the United States. North Korea has almost no business with companies in the U.S., which has banned the import of North Korean-made goods.
Schmidt, however, has been a vocal advocate of providing people around the world with Internet access and technology.
As Google’s chief executive for a decade until 2011, Schmidt oversaw Google’s ascent from a small California startup focused on helping computer users search the Internet to a global technology giant making inroads into mobile phone markets as well as mapping.
Google now has offices in more than 40 countries, including all three of North Korea’s neighbors: Russia, South Korea and China, another country criticized for systematic Internet censorship.
After being accused of complying with China’s strict Internet regulations, known as “the Great Firewall of China,” Google pulled its search business from the world’s largest Internet market in 2010 by redirecting traffic from mainland China to Hong Kong. The company maintains other businesses in China, but a recent transparency report shows Google’s services there sporadically are blocked.
Since stepping aside as CEO, Schmidt has served as Google’s executive chairman, largely responsible for the company’s external relationships with policymakers, business partners and governments around the world.
And in recent months, Schmidt had been working with Jared Cohen, a former U.S. State Department policy and planning adviser who heads Google’s New York-based think tank, on a book about the Internet’s role in shaping society. “The New Digital Age” is due to be published in April.
Schmidt’s message: The Internet and mobile technology have the power to lift people out of poverty and political oppression.
“The spread of mobile phones and new forms of connectivity offer us the prospect of connecting everybody,” he said in commencement speech at Boston University in May. “When that happens, connectivity can revolutionize every aspect of society: politically, socially, economically.”
The Richardson-Schmidt trip comes at a delicate time politically. In December, North Korea defiantly shot a satellite into space on the back of a three-stage rocket last month, a launch Pyongyang has hailed as a major step in its quest for peaceful exploration of space.
Washington and others, however, decry it as a covert test of long-range ballistic missile technology designed to send a nuclear-tipped warhead as far as California. The U.N. Security Council quickly condemned the launch, and is deliberating whether to further punish Pyongyang for violating bans on developing its nuclear and missile programs.
The visit also follows North Korea’s announcement that an American citizen of Korean descent has been jailed in Pyongyang on suspicion of committing “hostile” acts against the state. Conviction could draw a sentence of 10 years of hard labor under North Korea’s penal code.
Kenneth Bae, identified in North Korean state media by his Korean name, Pae Jun Ho, is the fifth American detained in North Korea in the past four years. The exact circumstances of his arrest were not clear. The Korean Central News Agency said he was taken into custody in Rason, a special economic zone in the far north near China and Russia, while on a tour of the area.
Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who often serves as an envoy to countries that do not have diplomatic relations with the United States, will try to meet with North Korean officials, and possibly Bae, to discuss the case, the sources said.
Richardson has been to North Korea at least a half-dozen times since 1994, including two trips to negotiate the release of Americans detained by North Korea. His last visit to Pyongyang was in 2010. As on many past trips, Richardson will be accompanied by Kun “Tony” Namkung, an Asian affairs expert and former Asia Society executive director. Namkung also serves as a consultant to the AP.
North Korea and the U.S. fought on opposite sides of a brutal, three-year battle on the Korean Peninsula before signing a truce in 1953. The Korean Peninsula remains divided by a heavily fortified border, and the U.S. stations 28,000 troops in South Korea to protect the ally.
However, even before late leader Kim Jong Il’s death a year ago, North Korea indicated interest in repairing relations with Washington.
Last year, a group of North Korean officials even paid a visit to Google headquarters in Mountain View, California.
AP tech writer Youkyung Lee contributed to this report. Follow AP’s Korea bureau chief at www.twitter.com/newsjean and AP Seoul’s tech writer at www.twitter.com/ykleeAP.
More Related Stories
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- UK Military: London attack victim was a "model soldier"
- Billionaire hedge funder: Babies, breast-feeding "kill" focus, keep women from succeeding
- "Bookless library" set to open in Texas
- 2 more arrested in London attacks
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
- Illegal construction, shoddy materials at fault in Bangladesh factory disaster
- Ahead of Obama's speech, U.S. acknowledges four American drone killings
- Must-see morning clip: Bill O'Reilly visits "The Daily Show"
- Lawsuit alleges anti-gay hiring practices at ExxonMobil
- Boy Scouts poised to vote, still greatly divided on gay youth
- House supporters of KXL received $56m from fossil fuel industry
- 80-year-old becomes oldest to climb Mount Everest
- Before FBI shooting man implicated self, Tsarnaev in triple murder
- Paul McCartney backs Pussy Riot
- UK emergency committee convenes after attack
- Brave scout leader tried to reason with London attackers
- If Alex Pareene were a cable news executive...
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11