Google’s executive chairman was heading to North Korea today, on a controversial visit to a country considered to have the world’s most restrictive internet policies.
• Google chief is staunch proponent of internet connectivity and openness.
• North Korea renowned for restrictive policies and heavily censored web.
Eric Schmidt was leaving Beijing on a commercial flight to the reclusive communist state, part of a delegation led by former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson.
It is the first trip by an executive from the California-based internet search provider to North Korea.
Mr Richardson said Mr Schmidt was going as a private citizen and was interested in North Korea’s economic issues and its use of social media.
“This is not a Google trip, but I’m sure he’s interested in some of the economic issues there, the social media aspect. So this is why we are teamed up on this,” he said.
“We’ll meet with North Korean political leaders. We’ll meet with North Korean economic leaders, military. We’ll visit some universities. We don’t control the visit. They will let us know what the schedule is when we get there.”
Mr Richardson said the delegation also planned to inquire about a Korean-American US citizen detained there and hoped to lay the groundwork for the detainee to return home.
“I heard from his son who lives in Washington state, who asked me to bring him back. I doubt we can do it on this trip,” he said.
The four-day trip, which is taking place just weeks after North Korea fired a satellite into space using a long-range rocket, has drawn criticism from US officials.
Washington condemned the December 12 launch, which it considers a test of ballistic missile technology, as a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions barring Pyongyang from developing its nuclear and missile programmes. The security council is deliberating whether to take further action.
“We don’t think the timing of the visit is helpful, and they are well aware of our views,” US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters last week.
The trip was planned well before North Korea announced its plans to send a satellite into space, two people with knowledge of the delegation’s plans said.