Google’s executive chairman is preparing to travel to one of the last frontiers of cyberspace: North Korea.
Eric Schmidt will travel to the country on a private, humanitarian mission led by former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson as early as this month.
The trip would be the first by a top executive from US-based Google, the world’s largest internet search provider, to a country considered to have the most restrictive internet policies in the world.
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.
He is pushing science and technology as a path to economic development for the impoverished country, aiming for computers in every school and digitised machinery in every factory.
However, giving citizens open access to the internet has not been part of North Korea’s strategy. While some North Koreans can access a domestic intranet service, very few have clearance to freely surf the web.
It remains highly unlikely Google will push to launch a business venture in the country, according to Victor Cha, a former senior Asia specialist in the Bush administration.
“Perhaps the most intriguing part of this trip is simply the idea of it,” said Cha, an analyst with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies thinktank in Washington. Kim Jong-un “clearly has a penchant for the modern accoutrements of life”, he said.
“If Google is the first small step in piercing the information bubble in Pyongyang, it could be a very interesting development.”
It was not immediately clear whom Schmidt and Richardson expect to meet in North Korea, a country that does not have diplomatic relations with the US.
North Korea has almost no business with companies in the US, 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.