Top Google executive's visit to North Korea "not at the right time"

Featured - January 4th, 2013

A top executive from the world’s largest Internet search provider will reportedly visit North Korea later this month on a “private, humanitarian mission”.

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, along with former diplomat Bill Richardson, were preparing to visit the isolated state considered to have the most restrictive Internet policies, reports the AP.

With the US watching closely, it was not immediately clear who Schmidt and Richardson would meet in North Korea but both would travel as private citizens, not representatives of the US government, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland told Reuters.

Analysts from US think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, say the visit was unlikely aimed at launching a business venture in North Korea. According to Korea expert Victor Cha, Kim Jong-un “clearly has a penchant for the modern accoutrements of life. If Google is the first small step in piercing the information bubble in Pyongyang, it could be a very interesting development.”

North Korea is likely interested in Google products such as e-mail, maps and other content, and may want to learn from the US company about upgrading its software and content, says Lim Eul-chul, a North Korea expert in Kyungnam University in South Korea.

“North Korea has made a lot of investment in science and technology, not just for military purpose but also for the industry and practical reasons,” Lim told AP.

In his New Year’s Day address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said the country was in the midst of a modern-day “industrial revolution” as he pushed for science and technology to drive economic development in the impoverished country. Still, only a few North Koreans are believed to have access to the Internet.

The US State Department said on Thursday the visit is not in the right time following Pyongyang’s rocket launch in December.