Google chairman Eric Schmidt wants a first-hand look at North Korea’s economy and social media in his private visit on Monday to the communist nation, his delegation said, despite misgivings in Washington over the timing of the trip.
Mr. Schmidt’s visit has drawn criticism from the U.S. State Department because it comes only weeks after a controversial North Korean rocket launch; it has also prompted speculation about what the businessman hopes to accomplish.
Mr. Schmidt arrived on a commercial Air China flight with former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.
Mr. Richardson, speaking ahead of the flight from Beijing, 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,” Mr. 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.
“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.
Mr. Schmidt, a staunch proponent of internet connectivity and openness, is expected to make a donation during the visit, while Mr. Richardson will try to discuss the detainment of a U.S. citizen jailed in Pyongyang, members of the delegation told AP. They asked not to be named, saying the trip was a private visit.
“We’re going to try to inquire the status, see if we can see him, possibly lay the groundwork for him coming home,” Mr. Richardson said of the U.S. citizen.
Accompanying Mr. Schmidt is Jared Cohen, a former U.S. State Department policy and planning adviser, who heads Google’s New York-based think tank.