If pushed through, Schmidt will be one of the biggest names in the tech industry from the United States to set foot in North Korea. The announcement of Schmidt’s travel followed Kim Jong-un’s speech hinting of his willingness to improve relations with its southern neighbor, South Korea. Kim Jong-un is the third member of his family to take the helm of North Korea following the country’s inception in the Cold War.
No details were provided if Schmidt is meeting someone, or what his agenda may be. North Korea’s populace does not have free Internet access and only the most influential officials of the country can freely use the advantages of the Web. The state has rigid control over media content although 3G cellphone use is currently being adapted rapidly in the country.
Google did not release any statement to confirm if Schmidt is going to North Korea. A Google spokesman said that a visit there may not be due to company agenda.
“We do not comment on personal travel,” Samantha Smith, Google spokeswoman said when asked.
Schmidt is Google’s top government representative and has shown strong support for President Barrack Obama.
Google has been espousing Internet freedom since its foundation, and its motto “do no evil” embodies that mission. Google pulled out of mainland China in 2010 and relocated to Hong Kong following its disagreement with Chinese government censorship requirements.
Google also sponsored to fly North Korean defectors from Seoul last year so they can attend a summit discussing the global illicit networks. The company also welcomed North Korean officials in Silicon Valley, as per Asia Foundation, which helped planned the trip for the North Korean delegation.
South Korean representative of the Asia Foundation Peter Beck said: “I think this is part of Google’s broader vision to bring the Internet to the world, and North Korea is the last frontier. I suspect that Google’s visit is more philanthropic than financial.”
Beck added that the North Korean delegation was shown a Google Earth image of North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang.
Schmidt is a co-author of a book titled “The New Digital Age”, being written by a former U.S. state department official Jared Cohen. The book, due this April, will discuss how the Internet and technology empowers people as well as drive political, economic, and social change.
“Perhaps the most intriguing part of this trip is simply the idea of it. The restricted control of information lies at the heart of the DPRK state and yet it is about to host one of the West’s greatest facilitators of borderless information flows,” Victor Cha, a senior adviser and Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK is the official title of North Korea.
“If Google is the first small step in piercing the information bubble in Pyongyang, it could be a very interesting development,” Cha added.
An Associated Press report mentioned that two sources familiar with the travel plan confirmed that Schmidt will be joining with New Mexico governor and United Nations Ambassador Bill Richardson, a frequent visitor to the reclusive state.
The planned visit followed the launching of a long-range rocket by North Korea, prompting the United Nations to push for more sanctions. The communist state is currently banned from testing nuclear technology and missiles after sanctions were imposed in 2006 and 2009.
Another objective of Richardson’s visit may be to secure the release of an American citizen arrested by North Korea over crime against the state. Richardson has helped in the release of other Americans before in North Korea.