BEIJING — Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, returned from a four-day visit to North Korea on Thursday with a message for the reclusive nation’s young new leader: Embrace the Web or else.
Schmidt, part of a private delegation led by former governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico that also sought to press North Korea on humanitarian and diplomatic issues, said the country risks falling further behind if it does not provide more access to cell service and the Internet.
“As the world becomes increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world, their economic growth and so forth, and it will make it harder for them to catch up economically,” he told reporters at Beijing International Airport. “We made that alternative very, very clear.”
Their visit, the highest-profile delegation of Americans since Kim Jong Un took power upon the death of his father in December 2011, comes at a precarious time for US-North Korean relations after the North’s rocket launch last month drew condemnation.
The State Department was not thrilled with Richardson’s freelance diplomacy, at least not publicly.
A spokeswoman described Richardson’s visit as not “particularly helpful” given that the United States is seeking to rally support for tougher international sanctions against the North.
Some specialists on North Korea have characterized the self-described humanitarian mission as naive, saying it will ultimately serve the North’s propaganda needs.