Why is Google Chairman Eric Schmidt Going to Visit North Korea?

Just weeks after Kempinski's bid for the Hotel Of Doom, the Chairman of one of the world's biggest companies is heading to North Korea too - but why?
January 3rd, 2013

First it was Kempinski Hotel Group, now just weeks later AP reports that Google Chairman Eric Schmidt will be travelling to North Korea, on a private, humanitarian mission led by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

While the visit could take place imminently, there are few clues yet as to what the aims and objectives of the trip are. Indeed, North Korea has almost no business relations with companies in the U.S., which for its part has banned the import of most North Korean-made goods.

In trying to understand the purpose of the trip, North Korean technology expert Martyn Williams today told NKNEWS:

Google has hosted North Korean dissidents at its Mountain View campus before, and presumably Schmidt wants to see things for himself. He shouldn’t be too optimistic of changing minds in North Korea, although he’ll probably get some high level meetings. North Koreans probably have a lot of questions for him.

Geoffrey See, head of Choson Exchange, an NGO that encourages business education and exchange with North Korea, said of today’s news,

Eric Schmidt has long had a fascination with the DPRK and foreign policy issues. Google’s mission is to provide information access, and North Korea is a country where increased information access, if done legally and officially, could transform education and commerce in the country.This trip is likely to be a private attempt at restarting dialogue, with the aim of having commercial and technical exchanges between the U.S. and the DPRK play a greater role in defining the bilateral relationship

As a big user of Google products myself, we have been encouraging our North Korean partners to switch from Yahoo Mail to Google Mail and have been relatively successful at this. That said, most of them still prefer Linkedin to Google+.

Although North Korea remains cut off from the internet and an unlikely market for Google in the short to medium-term, it’s possible that Schmidt might be attempting to sow seeds that might ultimately help open a new market.  Indeed, Schmidt has long been a vocal advocate of providing people around the world with Internet access and technology,

The spread of mobile phones and new forms of connectivity offer us the prospect of connecting everybody…When that happens, connectivity can revolutionize every aspect of society: politically, socially, economically.

With the timing of the visit coming just weeks after the arrest of U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae others have suggested that the main objective of the delegation is to release the detained American. Previous detainees have been “freed” by high profile delegations led by former Presidents like Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter.

Picture by TheAlieness GiselaGiard

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About the Author

Chad O'Carroll

Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.