By Maria Young
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson are planning a trip to North Korea in the coming days – a land with almost no internet access and no diplomatic relations with the United States – for what’s being called a humanitarian mission that has piqued cautious interest in the US.
“They’re not going to sign any business deals but it’s like the crack in the damn, or the slippery slope,” said Victor Cha, senior advisor for Asia at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a non-profit think tank, and author of “The Impossible State: North Korea Past, Present and Future.”
“I think there’s the beginning of an opportunity,” he told RIA Novosti.
The trip itself is awash in contradictions: a representative from the world’s largest internet search provider traveling to a country with one of the most restrictive internet policies on the planet; a top executive for a global firm which prides itself on the motto “don’t be evil,” planning a private trip to a nation defined by then President George W. Bush in 2002 as part of the “axis of evil.”
North Korea and the United States have not had diplomatic relations since the Korean War armistice was signed in 1953, and the relationship has been tense and suspicious on both sides.
But the timing could create some rare opportunities, Cha said.
The trip comes on the heels of a defiant rocket-launch by North Korea in December and an unexpected New Year’s address by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the first such address by a Korean leader since a New Year’s address by his grandfather in 1994 and widely viewed as a possible window to a more open, economically successful culture for the people of North Korea.
“If this young leadership is truly interested in reform and opening and a modern-day industrial revolution, this is a great way to signal that,” said Cha of the upcoming trip.
“Half of international relations is what you signal to the rest of the world, and this is kind of out-of-the-box, it’s not regular diplomacy. If this young leader is serious, it’s a great opportunity,” he added.
Schmidt has been an active proponent of global Internet access and mobile technology as a means for helping underdeveloped nations lift themselves out of poverty. Very few people in North Korea have access to the Internet.
Richardson, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, has traveled to North Korea before on private missions.
It is not clear if Richardson and Schmidt will meet with Kim Jong Un, or whether part of the mission will include working to secure the release of Kenneth Bae, an American citizen being held on charges of committing hostile acts in North Korea.