Google Inc executive chairman Eric Schmidt urged North Korea yesterday to shed its self-imposed isolation and allow its citizens to use the Internet or risk staying behind economically, after seeing the tightly controlled country on a private visit.
Schmidt joined former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson in a delegation that also urged North Korea to put a moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests that have prompted UN sanctions, and sought fair treatment for a detained US citizen there.
“As the world is becoming increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world, their economic growth and so forth,” Schmidt told reporters at Beijing Capital International Airport after returning from the four-day trip. “It will make it harder for them to catch up economically. We made that alternative very, very clear.”
“The government has to do something. It has to make it possible for the people to use the Internet. It is their choice now. It’s in my view time for them to start or else they will remain behind,” Schmidt said.
The unusual trip, which was not sanctioned by the US government, has been criticized for appearing to hijack US diplomacy and boost Pyongyang’s profile after North Korea’s widely condemned rocket launch last month.
Schmidt has been a vocal proponent of Internet freedom and openness and is publishing a book in April with Jared Cohen, director of the company’s Google Ideas think tank, about the power of global connectivity in transforming people’s lives, policies and politics.
Cohen does not typically accompany Schmidt on Google-sanctioned trips, and his inclusion in the delegation was a sign that the two men may have been primarily interested in gathering more material for their book.
The delegation toured technology facilities in North Korea, where most people have access only to a computer intranet that does not connect with the World Wide Web, and met with students and North Korean officials.
The US State Department has criticized the trip as “unhelpful” at a time when the US is rallying support for UN Security Council action against Pyongyang.