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North Korea urged to embrace Web use

  • Article by: ANDREW JACOBS
  • New York Times
  • January 10, 2013 - 7:17 PM

BEIJING - Eric E. Schmidt, the 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 Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico that also sought to press North Korea on humanitarian and diplomatic issues, said North Korea risked falling further behind if it did not provide more access to cellphone service and the Internet.

"As the world becomes increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated ... will make it harder for them to catch up economically," he told reporters during a stop 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 U.S.-North Korean relations after the North's rocket launch last month drew international condemnation.

The State Department was not thrilled with Richardson's freelance diplomacy, at least not publicly. Some North Korea experts have characterized the self-described humanitarian mission as naive, saying it will ultimately serve the North's propaganda needs.

Richardson did not address the criticism Thursday, but he said his hosts were receptive during discussions about ways to reduce tensions on the peninsula as well as his effort to seek the release of a Korean-American who was detained in November.

The delegation did not see Kenneth Bae, 44, a tour operator from Washington who has been accused of "hostile acts," but there was one tangible success of their visit: The authorities, Richardson said, had agreed to deliver to Bae a letter from his son.

The delegation, which included Schmidt's daughter and Jared Cohen, a former State Department official who heads Google Ideas, the company's research arm, made highly choreographed visits to several sites meant to display the nation's information technology prowess.

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