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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 244 (January 10, 2013)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

Google Chairman, U.S. Politician Make Four-day Visit to North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and his American delegation arrived in Pyongyang on Jan. 7 for the first visit to the secluded country by the Internet business mogul.

   The (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Jan. 7 that a delegation of Google Corp. of the United States headed by Bill Richardson, former governor of the U.S. state of New Mexico, arrived in Pyongyang by air. The nine-member delegation arrived via a flight from Beijing.

   The KCNA put significance to Schmidt's visit by calling the delegation "a delegation of Google Corp." although the delegation is headed by the former New Mexico governor. The KCNA did not reveal details about the visit or who received the delegation at the airport.

   Schmidt and his delegation met with North Korean diplomats in Pyongyang on Jan. 8, the second day of their four-day trip to the isolated socialist country, an international media outlet said.

   The Associated Press reported the meeting took place at the North's foreign ministry, a possible indication that the meetings could have touched on a U.S. citizen being detained in the country.

   The U.S. news agency quoted Richardson as saying after the meeting that the discussions were constructive and frank. He did not elaborate.

   Richardson had said in Beijing before leaving for North Korea that the trip was a "private humanitarian" mission in an apparent reference to Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American tour operator being held there for what North Korean officials said were "hostile" acts, a crime that could keep him in prison for many years.

   Richardson, formerly a U.S. ambassador to the U.N., has close personal ties with North Korea and has made several trips there in the past mostly to help win the release of U.S. citizens held there.

   The inclusion of the Google chairman in the delegation has prompted media speculation that he may be seeking business opportunities in the North's closely-regulated information technology sector. The delegation also included Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas, the California-based search giant's think tank.

   North Korean TV broadcasts, picked up in Seoul, showed Schmidt and his group also toured the prestigious Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang where they looked at its electronic library and got a briefing on the school's teaching environment and its IT infrastructure.

   Schmidt and Cohen talked with students who were doing computer work at the library. North Korea opened the electronic library at the university in 2007 and refurbished it into a modern electronic library in April 2010.

   Meanwhile, Kim Chin-kyung, the Korean-American president of Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), reportedly joined the American delegation in Beijing and boarded the Air China flight for the trip, indicating that the delegation may possibly visit PUST during their stay in Pyongyang until Jan. 10.

   Kim, a U.S. citizen, is known for his activities promoting education in the North and made major contributions to the founding of PUST, the North's only private school. Set up jointly by the North and a South Korean foundation, the school opened for its first semester in 2010. Foreign professors give lectures at PUST in the sectors of IT, biotechnology, trading and the English language.

   Kim frequently travels between the North and the U.S. and also contributed to the founding of a science university in Yanbian, China.

   Schmidt and his delegation are scheduled to fly back to Beijing on Jan. 10 where they will hold a press conference to sum up their Pyongyang visit.

   In Seoul, foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young described the purpose of the visit by Schmidt and Richardson to North Korea as "private."

   However, Cho said, "It is desirable that their visit would help promote peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."

   Cho declined to elaborate on what agenda Schmidt and Richardson might have or whom they would meet in Pyongyang, saying his government "is not aware of their itinerary" in North Korea.

   The schedule of the trip is not known although Richardson said during his Beijing transfer that the delegation will meet with North Korean political and economic leaders and "will visit some universities."

   He also said Schmidt is surely interested in some economic issues, including "the social media aspect."

   Some analysts predicted the Google chairman, strongly believing in the social power of Internet connectivity, would come up with ways to help support the university, where rare access to international Internet sites, including Google, is allowed almost exclusively.

   The visit, meanwhile, came only a few weeks after the North conducted an internationally-denounced long-range rocket launch, which the outside world suspects was a pretext to test the country's ballistic missile technology.