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Google's Schmidt presses North Korean officials for open Web

The Web giant's executive chairman tells reporters that his private delegation warned officials that global Internet access is key to a developing economy.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
2 min read
Google's Eric Schmidt (right) upon his arrival in North Korea earlier this week with former N.M. Gov. Bill Richardson. CBS News/Screenshot by CNET

Eric Schmidt wrapped up a controversial visit to North Korea today, saying that his private delegation warned officials that global Internet access was key to developing its economy.

"As the world becomes increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their view of the world," he told reporters upon his return to Beijing, according to a Wall Street Journal account. Lack of such access would "make it harder for them to catch up economically. We made that alternative very, very clear," he added.

Despite official U.S. opposition to the visit, Google's executive chairman flew to the reclusive nation on Monday as part of a delegation led by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who described the trip as a "private humanitarian mission."

"We had a good opportunity to talk about expanding the Internet and cell phones in the DPRK," Richardson told the Associated Press before departing for Beijing.

The U.S. State Department had discouraged the visit, saying that the timing was not right for the delegation to visit the country, which is subject to U.S. economic sanctions. A department spokesperson cited recent missile launches by North Korea as a reason for opposing the visit

Meanwhile, some human rights activists pointed to the good that the Google Earth satellite image service has done in revealing North Korea's extensive prison system. "What Eric Schmidt does or does not do in Pyongyang will probably be forgotten in a few weeks," said Washington lawyer Joshua Stanton in a Reuters story. "The good that Google has done, however inadvertently, by helping people tell the truth about North Korea, will probably be reflected in the history of the country one day."

During the visit, the delegation, which also included Jared Cohen, head of Google Ideas, got a tour of a computer lab at Kim Il Sung University Pyongyang, where a student showed how he goes online to look at reading material from Cornell University.

It's unclear whether the delegation had the opportunity to inquire about Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American whose arrest on unspecified charges was announced by the North Koreans last month.