Schmidt’s decision to visit North Korea came after North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, this week declared an end to the long standing feud with South Korea; both countries are theoretically still at war.
The agenda and the person to whom Schmidt will meet were unclear. In North Korea internet access is largely prohibited, even in the capital Pyonyang. This prohibition, however, excludes some of the most powerful and influential officials of the cloistered state. Along with internet prohibition, media content is also highly monitored and restricted, although basic3G cell phones are said to be rapidly increasing.
Google did not provide a specific answer to the questions concerning whether Schmidt was going to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, although a spokeswoman’s response revealed the visit would not be for business purpose.
“We do not comment on personal travel,” spokeswoman Samantha Smith said when asked about the AP report.
Schmidt is Google’s chief political and government relations envoy and has also been a major supporter of President Barack Obama. Schmidt’s trip will make him one of the most well-known American businessmen to ever visit the country.
Google notably support a “do no evil” idea and drives for Internet freedom. It withdrew its search service from China in 2010, repositioning it to Hong Kong because it said it could not accept to work with Beijing’s censorship requirements. Google is a major partner of South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co Ltd via its Android mobile software.
“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,” said Victor Cha, a senior adviser and Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“If Google is the first small step in piercing the information bubble in Pyongyang, it could be a very interesting development,” Cha wrote on the center’s website on Wednesday.
It is expected that ex Google CEO will join a private group led by former Unite Nation Ambassador and New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, who is a regular visitor to North Korea. Their visit seems scheduled to occur during a politically sensitive time.