Google chief takes social media pitch to North Korea

2:34 PM, Jan 7, 2013   |    comments
Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt prepares to check in at the Beijing Capital International Airport on Monday.
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Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY

LONDON -- Google chairman Eric Schmidt arrived in North Korea on Monday for what his delegation called a private visit aimed at gaining a first-hand look at the communist nation's economy and social media.

Schmidt is visiting the East Asia nation with former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who is a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Speaking in Beijing ahead of the flight to Pyongyang, Richardson described the visit as "a private humanitarian mission." The former governor, who has visited North Korea several times over the past 20 years, is expected to try to discuss the case of a U.S. citizen jailed in the country.

But Schmidt's participation in the trip is seen as more controversial and he has drawn criticism from some quarters, including the U.S. State Department, because the visit comes only weeks after North Korea launched a long-range rocket. The visit has also prompted speculation about what the businessman hopes to accomplish in the reclusive nation.

"We don't think the timing of the visit is helpful, and they are well aware of our views," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters last week.

Schmidt, a staunch proponent of Internet connectivity and openness, is expected to make a donation during the visit, while Richardson will try to discuss the detainment of a U.S. citizen jailed in Pyongyang, the Associated Press reported, citing members of the delegation who asked not to be named because the trip was a private visit.

In Beijing, Richardson said, "This is not a Google trip, but I'm sure he's [Schmidt] interested in some of the economic issues there, the social media aspect. So this is why we are teamed up on this."

Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas, is also on the trip.

Contributing: Associated Press

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