Google Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt completed his controversial but brief sojourn to North Korea, describing it as a private visit "to talk about the free and open Internet" and as a "private humanitarian mission." North Korea is an infamously reclusive and highly secretive nation headed by Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, son of former leader Kim Jong-il.
Schmidt warned North Korean officials that Internet access is imperative for economic expansion and that continuing its isolation from the rest of the world digitally would "affect their physical world."
"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."
Source: AP, Eric Schmidt
Accompanied by U.S. Senator Bill Richardson, U.S. State Department officials criticized the visit as "ill timed", interfering with sanctions and other U.S. political strategies by conveying a false sense of legitimacy to North Korea.
"We had a good opportunity to talk about expanding the Internet and cell phones in the DPRK" said Richardson. The senator added that their discussions on technology were seemingly the most productive. Schmidt seemed to agree, telling reporters that some North Korean officials seemed receptive to various points during technology talks.
North Korea's original cellular network was shut down around 2004, an official reason for which remains elusive. An updated wireless network with 3G capability was rolled out in 2008 though, but only select citizens have access to the highly-censored and filtered network. The country's government recently deemed using a cell phone as a criminal act, punishable by its heavy-handed "war criminal" laws.
According to some human rights activists, Eric Schmidt has already done more than most by virtue of heading Google for several years. Google Earth, for example, helped reveal dozens of gulag-style prison camps believe to be sites for inhumane conditions and even executions.
"What Eric Schmidt does or does not do in Pyongyang will probably be forgotten in a few weeks," said Joshua Stanton, a Washington lawyer and human rights activist. "The good that Google has done, however inadvertently, by helping people tell the truth about North Korea, will probably be reflected in the history of the country one day".
In addition to Schmidt's technology talks, Richardson took part in negotiations regarding the release of an American detainee and discussed North Korea's development of nuclear technologies alongside its recent ballistic missile launch endeavors.
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