Just How Badly Is Eric Schmidt's Trip to North Korea Going?

Rebecca Greenfield
Just How Badly Is Eric Schmidt's Trip to North Korea Going?

Google chief Eric Schmidt and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson have one day left on their visit to North Korea, and while their rescue mission appears unsuccessful, their goals for technological outreach have becoming increasingly clear — if equally fruitless. "The citizens of the DPRK (North Korea) will be better off with more cellphones and an active Internet. Those are the ... messages we've given to a variety of foreign policy officials, scientists," Richardson told The Associated Press's Jean H. Lee.

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North Korean officials have probably heard that one before. The American team has "urged" for more Internet connectivity for the country's citizens, but most of those people have never been online at all. Tuesday's photo-op of North Korea's students Googling for Schmidt may have been just that. And while Schmidt has been coy, Lee reports that the Google boss "asked pointed questions about North Korea's new tablet computers as well as its Red Star operating system, and he briefly donned a pair of 3-D goggles during a tour of the Korea Computer Center."

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All of which may sound fruitless, but the diplomatic rescue effort being masked as a "private humanitarian visit" may not be going so well either. Not much has happened with Kenneth Bae, the American citizen detained in North Korea, Lee reports, although Schmidt managed to suggest "fair and humane treatment." And that ... appears to be that for the time being. That status of Bae, who has been in custody since November 3 for committing "hostile acts" against the country, has not changed. Richardson and Schmidt didn't exactly get their hopes up, voicing their doubts when they landed in Pyongyang.

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And some argue "fruitless" isn't going far enough. The State Department warned against the trip, and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton went off n the New York Daily News: "North Korea has repeatedly welcomed prominent Americans to help elevate its stature. It is seeking direct negotiations with Washington, for in the distorted vision of the nation's leadership, this might lead to full diplomatic recognition and 'equal' status in the world community," he wrote. "Pyongyang uses gullible Americans for its own purposes."