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article imageOp-Ed: Google CEO Eric Schmidt to travel to North Korea

By Ken Hanly     Jan 3, 2013 in Politics
Pyongyang - Kim Jong-un stresses the importance of using science and technology to help develop North Korea's economy. In an effort to do so he is willing to reach out to experts in countries that are hostile to North Korea.
Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, is a strong advocate of global internet access. North Korea has the world's most restrictive Internet access. To have interaction with foreigners North Koreans need government permission whether in person, by phone, or by e-mail. Only a very small number of the elite are connected to the Internet.
Kim Jong-un made an unprecedented New Year's speech on TV in which he was remarkably nonbelligerent and sought improved relations with the south and even spoke of reunification. Kim said that 2013 would be a year of creation and change. Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University in South Korea noted that North Korea has actually made considerable investments in science and technology. Many of these investments are for the military but others have been for industry and civilian developments.
Two people said to be familiar with the planned trip said that it was a private humanitarian mission. Along with Schmidt will be former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, and Kun "Tony" Namkung, a Korea expert who has long had ties with North Korea. Some think that Google may have other purposes and Kim Jong-un as well.
Peter Beck, of the Asia Foundation, 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." However, Kim may not be so much interested in bringing more Koreans on to the Internet as in Google services such as e-mail, mapping, and software development. North Korea is already using You Tube for propaganda purposes.
Back in the early 1970's North Korea actually had a stronger economy than South Korea. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and South Korean development the situation changed dramatically. In 2011, income per capita in North Korea is just $1,200 while that of South Korea is $23,467 according to the Bank of Korea based in Seoul.
South Korea embraced the Internet but North Korea has severely restricted connections to the outside world. At airports travelers must leave their cellphones and all devices are checked to see if they have satellite communications. At the same time, Kim is now pushing North Korea towards what he calls an "industrial revolution". He aims to have computers at every school in the country and digitized machinery in factories. Already more than 1.5 in North Korea use cellphones with 3G technology. In 2011, a group of North Korean economists and diplomats visited Google headquarters located in Mountain View, California. There are no diplomatic relations between the United States and North Korea.
As new technology is introduced into North Korea, it will be more and more difficult to prevent information flow from outside and communication with foreigners. However, China has been able to develop into an economic giant and still retain tight control of the political situation. Perhaps North Korea will be able to do the same.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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