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Tech delegation pressing NKorea Internet openness

January 9, 2013 • Business


North Koreans work at computer terminals inside the Grand People’s Study House in Pyongyang, North Korea on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — A private delegation including Google’s Eric Schmidt is urging North Korea to allow more open Internet access and cellphones to benefit its citizens, the mission’s leader said in the country with some of the world’s tightest controls on information.

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson also said his nine-member group called on North Korea to put a moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests that have prompted U.N. sanctions, and the delegation asked for fair and humane treatment for an American citizen detained. He spoke in an exclusive interview in Pyongyang with The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Before departing on Thursday, he told reporters his trip had been productive and successful.

“We enjoyed our trip to the DPRK, especially with the North Korean people, and we had a good opportunity to talk about expanding the Internet and cell phones in the DPRK,” Richardson said at the Pyongyang airport.

The visit has been criticized for appearing to hijack U.S. diplomacy and boost Pyongyang’s profile after North Korea’s latest, widely condemned rocket launch. Richardson has said the delegation is on a private, humanitarian trip.

Schmidt, the executive chairman of the U.S.-based Internet giant Google, is the highest-profile American business executive to visit North Korea since leader Kim Jong Un took power a year ago.

Although Schmidt often meets with government officials around the world on behalf of Google, he didn’t make this trip at the company’s request.

Schmidt has not said publicly what he hopes to get out of his visit to North Korea. However, he 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 doesn’t typically accompany Schmidt on Google-sanctioned trips, a sign that the two men may be primarily interested in gathering more material for their book.

On Wednesday, Schmidt toured the frigid quarters of the brick building in central Pyongyang that is the heart of North Korea’s own computer industry. He asked pointed questions about North Korea’s new tablet computers as well as its Red Star operating system, and he briefly donned a pair of 3-D goggles Login to read more

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