Eric Schmidt concluded his controversial four day visit to North Korea with former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson with an exhortation to the pariah state to open up internet access. It is a call that is so inane and inappropriate it can only increase speculation as to why he went there at all.
The trip which Governor Richardson had apparently initiated in order to try and secure the release of a US tour guide imprisoned there had drawn criticism from the State Department which did not support his outreach to a rogue state. The reason for Mr Schmidt’s presence was somewhat unclear.
But if it really was to spread the good word about the internet he would have done better to stay home and sent an email. Unless he is in possession of hitherto unseen supernatural abilities he would have had more luck nailing jello to a ceiling than convincing the world’s most repressive state to open the doors to the online world.
The United Nations reports that ten percent of North Korean children are so stunted by malnutrition that they have permanent physical and mental impairment. The country relies on foreign aid and grudging support of its neighbors to survive day to day.
What would average North Koreans do if they had internet access? Perhaps google “food” and “shelter” to see what it looks like. The internet can be a useful tool for democratic reform but not if you are going to die from a treatable disease while waiting for a search engine to finish bring up its results.
There are priorities for North Korea and concentrating on feeding, housing, educating and keeping them healthy is probably slightly ahead of disarmament and abandonment of a nuclear weapons program which itself is much, much higher up the list than internet access at this stage.
The whole rational for undertaking this visit is bewildering. Unless there was some secret mission they were on, the governor and the google CEO seem to have done little more than provide photo opportunities and reflected glory for the leaders of the most repressive, isolated anti-free speech ant-democratic country in the world.