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Google’s Eric Schmidt on a private visit to North Korea

eric schmidt google ceo apple board of directorsGoogle’s Eric Schmidt is on a visit to North Korea this week, though it apparently has nothing to do with his role as the web giant’s chairman. According to the man who invited him, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, the visit to one of the most secretive and repressive states on the planet is part of a humanitarian mission.

“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,” Richardson told the Associated Press.

While the North Korean leaders will be well aware of Schmidt’s role as chairman of Google, the fact is that among the country’s population of around 25 million, few will have even heard of the company. Indeed, only a couple of thousand people in the isolated nation are thought to have access to the Internet, and even then any such service is tightly controlled.

Richardson, who’s made made a number of visits to North Korea in recent years, said his delegation is hoping to meet with the country’s political bigwigs as well as its economic and military leaders. Visits to universities might also take place. “We don’t control the visit. They will let us know what the schedule is when we get there,” he said.

The US State Department recently voiced displeasure at the timing of the trip, coming just a few weeks after North Korea used a long-range rocket to fire a satellite into space, raising concerns that the regime may be developing a long-range nuclear-capable missile. 

As far as Schmidt’s visit goes, it’s impossible to know if it’s purely a private occasion as we’ve been told, or if there’s something more to it. What is known is that the country’s new leader, 29-year-old Kim Jong-un, is keen to see the nation develop its science and technology capabilities in order to help improve its battered economy, though we’d be rather getting ahead of ourselves to think that Google was about to open an office in the impoverished country.

Richardson added that the delegation would also try to get information about US citizen Kenneth Bae, who has been held by the North Korean authorities since last month for reasons not entirely clear.

No media is accompanying the delegation on the four-day trip, though Richardson promised to hold a press conference when he returns to Beijing airport on January 10.