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What does Google want with North Korea? (+video)

Google chairman Eric Schmidt, known for his advocacy of Internet freedom, could travel as early as next week to North Korea  – a country almost entirely sealed off from online communications.

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Google chairman Eric Schmidt plans to visit North Korea as early as next week in what analysts see as part of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s drive to give an appearance of closing the vast digital divide between his isolated country and the rest of the world.

Although Mr. Schmidt is not expected to reach any real deal with the North, his presence there seems to show a desire in North Korea to improve the technological capabilities of people almost totally shut off from the Internet. Schmidt, for his part, has often noted the power of the Internet – and Google – to lift people out of poverty and political oppression. 

“In the last few years, Google has met with NGOs that do work with North Korea,” observes David Kang, director of the East Asian Studies Center at the University of Southern California. “This is not a sudden or impulsive visit.”

Schmidt will be traveling with two figures who have been influential in recent years in developing contacts with North Korea. One of them, Bill Richardson, the former New Mexico governor who served as UN ambassador during the presidency of Bill Clinton, has advocated rapprochement with the North during several visits to Pyongyang.

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