News / Asia

Google Urges North Korea to Open Internet Access

Executive Chairman of Google Eric Schmidt and former governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson look at soldiers working on computers at the Grand Peoples Study House, Pyongyang, North Korea, January 9, 2013.
Executive Chairman of Google Eric Schmidt and former governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson look at soldiers working on computers at the Grand Peoples Study House, Pyongyang, North Korea, January 9, 2013.
This week's visit to North Korea by Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt has drawn attention to Pyongyang's policy of severely limiting Internet access to the nation's ruling elite and their families.

Schmidt directly addressed that policy as he ended his four-day private mission to the reclusive communist state. Speaking to reporters after landing in Beijing on Thursday, he said he warned Pyongyang that its continued isolation from global information networks will harm economic growth.

"The government has to do something, they have to make it possible for people to use the Internet, which the government in North Korea has not yet done," Schmidt said. "It is their choice now, and in my view, it is time for them to start, or they will remain behind."

Schmidt visited several North Korean technological facilities this week as part of a small American delegation on a self-declared "humanitarian" mission.  He has been a vocal supporter of providing people around the world with Internet access, a right denied to almost all North Koreans.

The U.S. State Department's latest human-rights report on North Korea said Internet usage was limited to "high-ranking officials and other designated elites, including select university students." It said a "slightly larger group" of users can access a North Korean government-run intranet that contains only state-sanctioned content.

The U.S. research group East-West Center has said only a "very few" senior North Korean officials can use a fully uncensored Internet. In a report published in October, it said more North Koreans have a limited ability to "gather data on the United States, South Korea, and other governments; identify data that could populate the DPRK intranet; and maintain the network of propaganda websites that North Korea aims at the outside world."

North Korea also has a third-generation mobile phone network that it launched in 2008 through a joint-venture with Egyptian company Orascom. The network now has one million users, but they cannot connect to the Internet or make overseas calls.

Washington-based blogger Joshua Stanton, who runs a website called One Free Korea, said in an interview with VOA that North Korea's mobile phones are available only to the nation's wealthiest people.

"Most North Koreans have no way to communicate freely with with North Koreans in other cities. They have no way to spread news. They have no way to form churches or unions or the kinds of organizations that other people have," Stanton said. "If it would become possible for North Koreans to talk with or text with people elsewhere in North Korea or even in South Korea, everything suddenly changes and then the system cannot contain the people's aspirations anymore."

The East-West Center said that while North Korea's information technology networks are limited, they represent a "fundamental shift." For the first time, the government seems willing to let its privileged class access data and communicate to support the development of the nation.

Another member of this week's American delegation, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, said he was unable to meet with an American citizen detained in North Korea. Pyongyang has threatened to put the Korean-American tourist Kenneth Bae on trial for unspecified crimes against the state.

"We expressed concern to the North Korean officials about the American detainee," he said. "We were informed that his health is good, that the judicial proceedings would start soon. That is encouraging. I was also given permission to proceed with a letter from his son, and that will happen shortly."

Richardson said he also urged North Korean officials to introduce a "moratorium on ballistic missiles and a possible nuclear test."  Washington and its allies have been pushing for new sanctions against Pyongyang for carrying out a long-range rocket test last month. The State Department criticized the timing of the American delegation's mission as "unhelpful."

Speaking to VOA, Greg Scarlatoiu of the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un likely believes the high-profile American visitors gave his leadership a degree of international recognition.

"Visits from senior officials and extraordinarily successful entrepreneurs are going to help to raise the profile of the North Korea regime," Scarlatoiu said. "Probably from the North Korean regime's viewpoint, they may think this may also be an opportunity to create some business opportunities in the process, to make some money for the regime, but it's hard to think how that may be possible."

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs