North Korea Gets Warning as U.S. Group Bids Farewell ; without Internet Access, Country Will Fall Further Behind, Google Chief Says

By Jacobs, Andrew | International Herald Tribune, January 11, 2013 | Go to article overview

North Korea Gets Warning as U.S. Group Bids Farewell ; without Internet Access, Country Will Fall Further Behind, Google Chief Says


Jacobs, Andrew, International Herald Tribune


Eric E. Schmidt of Google, returning from a visit to North Korea, said the country risked falling further behind if it did not provide more access to cellphone service and the Internet.

Eric E. Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, returned from a four-day visit to North Korea on Thursday with a message for the reclusive nation's young new leader: Embrace the Web or else.

Mr. Schmidt, part of a private delegation led by Bill Richardson, a former ambassador to the United Nations, that also sought to press Pyongyang on humanitarian and diplomatic issues, said North Korea risked falling further behind if it did not provide more access to cellphone service and the Internet.

"As the world becomes increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world, their economic growth and so forth, and it will make it harder for them to catch up economically," Mr. Schmidt told reporters after arriving at Beijing International Airport. "We made that alternative very, very clear."

Their visit, the highest-profile delegation of Americans since Kim Jong-un took power upon the death of his father in December 2011, comes at a precarious time for U.S.-North Korean relations, after Pyongyang's rocket launching last month drew international condemnation. North Korea insists its Unha-3 rocket is part of a peaceful space program. South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials say the North was testing a long-range ballistic missile that could one day reach the United States.

The U.S. State Department was not exactly thrilled with Mr. Richardson's freelance diplomacy, at least not publicly. A spokeswoman described Mr. Richardson's visit as not "particularly helpful" given that the United States is seeking to rally support for tougher international sanctions on Pyongyang. Some North Korea experts have described the self-described humanitarian mission as naive, saying it will ultimately serve Pyongyang's propaganda needs.

Although Mr. Richardson did not address the criticism Thursday, he said his hosts were receptive during discussions about ways to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula as well as his effort to seek the release of a Korean-American who was detained in November in the north of the country.

"We had a very positive reaction," Mr. Richardson said.

The delegation did not meet with the detained American, Kenneth Bae, 44, a tour operator from Washington who has been accused of "hostile acts," but Mr. Richardson said he was assured Mr. Bae was being treated well and that judicial proceedings would begin soon.

There was one tangible success of their visit: The authorities, Mr. Richardson said, had agreed to deliver to Mr. …

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