Google Chairman’s North Korean Trip – Great or Insane?

Image credit: AP Photo/David Guttenfelder
Image credit: AP Photo/David Guttenfelder

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt arrived in North Korea on January 7, 2013 and many are still raising their eyebrows or shaking their heads over such a decision. To enter a country that has for so many years closed its doors and borders to the outside world is a great risk. Even Victoria Nuland, US State Department spokeswoman, said that the timing of Schmidt’s visit to one of the world’s last dictatorships is off. This may be due to the satellite launch North Korea made in December. The launch was described by Pyongyang as an important feat in its pursuit of space exploration – a claim that some still highly suspect as just a cover-up for its efforts to test ballistic missile technology .

But despite the understandable qualms from the US government, Schmidt’s visit has pushed through. He’s joined former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and a delegation which includes Jared Cohen, Director for Google Ideas for the “private humanitarian visit”. The purpose of the visit is said to address the detainment of an American citizen suspected for performing “hostile” acts against the country. The US State Department, however, clarified that the delegation will not be carrying any sort of messages from Washington.

Despite the “humanitarian” purposes tied to the trip, many still speculate that the visit may be a sign of North Korea’s efforts in somehow “opening up” to the world. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has talked about using and pushing science and technology to kick-start the country’s economic development. The young leader is even willing to turn to experts from its rival country for help – a role apparently given to Google.

image credit: KNS / AFP
image credit: KNS / AFP

In 2011, some North Korean diplomats and economists visited Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. . Schmidt’s trip may therefore be some sort of means to return the favor. But just because Google and North Korea are having these talks and visits doesn’t mean that the country is giving its citizens open access to the Internet. Experts believe that the leader may just be interested in using Google’s mapping and e-mail services. Then again, the Internet may be something of high interest to North Korea’s leader. Given that Kim Jong-un is young, he’s believed to be interested in the Internet and its benefits. But he may also be well aware of its great risks.

Whatever Schmidt’s or North Korea’s purpose is, Schmidt’s NK visit can mean great things for Google but not in monetary or business aspects. Despite his retirement as Google’s CEO back in 2011, Schmidt is still highly associated to the world’s biggest global information network. When he arrived in Pyongyang, he was still regarded as Google’s ambassador. He probably surrendered his smartphone and was denied access to phone services.   Everything was also probably strictly monitored. But it’s a sacrifice that may bring great rewards once the trip ends in success – rewards that not only Google will enjoy, but North Korea as well.

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