Why Is Google Exec Interested In North Korea? | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Why Is Google Exec Interested In North Korea?

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, has landed in North Korea. His trip there is a bit of a mystery.

Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, has been a vocal proponent of providing people around the world with Internet access and technology. North Korea doesn't even let its citizens access the open Internet, and its population is overwhelmingly poor — so it's not exactly a coveted audience for advertisers.

And Google has rubbed the authoritarian regime of China the wrong way by challenging its "Great Firewall." In 2010, Google pulled its servers out of mainland China, and the company has refused to self-censor its search results there.

But, there is speculation that Schmidt's presence in North Korea could have an upside for Google by positioning him as the company's global ambassador. Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of management at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, told Wired that Schmidt "seems to be doing an exceptional job at government relations."

Pfeffer noted that Google avoided recent antitrust problems in the U.S., and that Schmidt may be setting himself up as an international man of mystery who can help the company as it faces antitrust regulators in Europe.

North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong Un, also recently gave a speech laying out a series of policy goals for his country that included expanding science and technology as a way to improve the North Korean economy in 2013.

Victor Cha, a director of Asian affairs for the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration, told Wired that Schmidt's visit was a "good opportunity for the North Korean leadership to signal to the world that they're serious about going forward."

Cha said that Kim, who was educated in the West, may also be seduced by all the cool new technology. "He's got to be interested in this stuff," Cha said. But, Cha added, "as soon as he allows open access to it, he can kiss his leadership goodbye."

Schmidt is part of a delegation being led by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has made more than a half-dozen trips to North Korea over the past 20 years. Richardson called the trip a private humanitarian mission.

Speaking about Schmidt's presence, Richardson said, "This is not a Google trip, but I'm sure he's interested in some of the economic issues there, the social media aspect. So this is why we are teamed up on this."

Schmidt also brought along his daughter and Jared Cohen, a former U.S. State Department policy and planning adviser who now heads Google's New York-based think tank.

U.S. officials are critical of the four-day trip, which comes less than a month after North Korea launched a satellite into space using a long-range rocket, which Washington considers a test of ballistic missile technology. Officials say the launch is a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions barring North Korea from developing its nuclear missile program.

A State Department spokesperson said officials "don't think the timing of the visit is helpful."

Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Not My Job: Brady Bunch's Florence Henderson Gets Quizzed On Weird Science

For decades, Florence Henderson, who presided over the Brady Bunch, was America's perfect Mom. We'll ask Henderson three questions about the Ig Nobels — awarded for real, if ridiculous, research.
NPR

Tracing A Gin-Soaked Trail In London

Around the world, new gin distilleries are popping up like mushrooms after a rain. NPR traces the boom to its historic roots in London, which once had 250 distilleries within the city limits alone.
NPR

Ranting And Throwing Papers: An Angry Candidate Runs For Congress

State Rep. Mike Bost's rants on the Illinois House floor are the stuff viral dreams are made of. Bost says he has good reason to be upset, and wants voters to share his anger.
NPR

Tech Week: Voice Mail Hang-Ups, Apple Pay And Zuckerberg's Chinese

In this week's roundup, Apple rolls out its mobile payment system but confronts a security test in China, the problem with voice mail messages and Mark Zuckerberg shows off his Mandarin.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.