A private delegation including Google’s Eric Schmidt and and Former New Mexico Governer Bill Richardson, is urging North Korea to allow more open Internet access and cellphones to benefit its citizens, the mission’s leader said Wednesday in the country with some of the world’s tightest controls on information.
North Korea has exercised strict control over its population of 24 million since it was founded by Kim Il Sung in 1948, including tight rules on the flow of information and close monitoring of the people’s interaction with the outside world . North Korea is one of the least connected countries around the globe. It has rigid control on the flow of information and the interactions of citizens with the outside world. Many argue that the strict rules and censorship have caused the small Asian country to suffer in its isolation. Though global broadband Internet is available in North Korea, few have permission to log onto the World Wide Web. Those with computers and Internet access typically are restricted to a domestic Intranet site that filters the information and publications available to North Koreans.
Richardson said that his delegation was bringing a message that more openness would benefit North Korea. Most in the country have never logged onto the Internet, and the authoritarian government strictly limits access to the World Wide Web. “The citizens of the DPRK (North Korea) will be better off with more cellphones and an active Internet. Those are the messages we’ve given to a variety of foreign policy officials, scientists and government officials”- Richardson said.
“As the world is becoming increasingly connected,” Schmidt said, “NK’s decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world, their economic growth and so forth. 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.”
However, the trip for the Google chairman and former governor has not been without criticism. The four-day trip, which began Monday, is taking place at a delicate time in U.S.-North Korean relations. Less than a month ago, North Korea shot a satellite into space on a long-range rocket, a launch widely celebrated in Pyongyang but condemned by Washington and others as a banned test of missile technology. The State Department criticized the trip as “unhelpful” at a time when the U.S. is rallying support for U.N. Security Council action. Spokesman Peter Velasco said from Washington that he did not believe the delegation had been in contact with U.S. officials since they arrived in Pyongyang. However, Richardson said the delegation has pressed the North Koreans for a moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests.
Schmidt, CEO of the U.S.-based Internet giant until 2011, has been a vocal proponent of Internet freedom and openness around the world. He is expected to make a donation during his visit.
Google currently has offices in over 40 countries; among those is China – another country that is criticized for its censorship.Even if Schmidt wasn’t officially representing Google in North Korea, the company stands to benefit if the country’s leadership loosens its Internet restrictions. For years, the Mountain View, California, company has pushed for more accessible and affordable Internet connections and Web-surfing devices on the premise that its business ultimately will make more money if people spend more time online.