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

Hong Kong Democracy Calls Spread to Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are China’s two 'special administrative regions' which gives them a measure of autonomy More

After Nearly 2 Years, Pistorius Remains Elusive

Reporter Anita Powell reflects on her experience covering the Olympic athlete's murder trial More

Kenyan Coastal Town Struggles With Deadly June Attacks

Three months after al-Shabab militants allegedly attacked their town, some Mpeketoni residents are still bitter, question who was really behind the assaults 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.
Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africai
X
Luis Ramirez
September 15, 2014 11:01 PM
President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africa

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid