BEIJING (AP) — The executive chairman of U.S.-based Google, one of the world's largest Internet companies, was traveling Monday to North Korea, a nation with notoriously restrictive online policies.
Eric Schmidt, the most high profile U.S. business executive to visit North Korea since young leader Kim Jong Un took power a year ago, was in Beijing and scheduled to depart for Pyongyang aboard a commercial Air China flight.
Leading the delegation was former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has traveled more than a half-dozen times to North Korea over the past 20 years. Richardson called the trip a private, humanitarian mission.
"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," Richardson said without elaborating on what he meant by the "social media aspect."
"We'll meet with North Korean political leaders. We'll meet with North Korean economic leaders, military. We'll visit some universities. We don't control the visit. They will let us know what the schedule is when we get there," he said.
Richardson also said the delegation plans to inquire about a Korean-American U.S. citizen detained in North Korea.
"We're going to try to inquire the status, see if we can see him, possibly lay the groundwork for him coming home," Richardson said. "I heard from his son who lives in Washington state, who asked me to bring him back. I doubt we can do it on this trip."
The four-day trip, which is taking place just weeks after North Korea fired a satellite into space using a long-range rocket, has drawn criticism from U.S. officials. Washington condemned the Dec. 12 launch, which it considers a test of ballistic missile technology, as a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions barring Pyongyang from developing its nuclear and missile programs. The Security Council is deliberating whether to take further action.
"We don't think the timing of the visit is helpful, and they are well aware of our views," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters last week.
The trip was planned well before North Korea announced its plans to send a satellite into space, two people with knowledge of the delegation's plans told The Associated Press. AP first reported the group's plans last Thursday. Schmidt, a staunch proponent of Internet connectivity and openness, is expected to make a donation during the visit, members of the delegation told AP. They asked not to be named, saying the trip was a private visit.