PYONGYANG, North Korea — Google's chairman wanted a firsthand look at North Korea's economy and social media landscape during his private visit Monday to the communist nation, his delegation said, despite misgivings in Washington over the timing of the trip.
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of one of the world's biggest Internet companies, is the highest-profile U.S. executive to visit North Korea — a country with restrictive online policies — since young leader Kim Jong Un took power a year ago. His visit has drawn criticism from the U.S. State Department because it comes only weeks after a controversial North Korean rocket launch.
Schmidt arrived on a commercial Air China flight with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has traveled more than six times to North Korea in the past 20 years.
Richardson, speaking ahead of the flight from Beijing, called the trip a private, humanitarian mission.
“This is not a Google trip, but I'm sure he's interested in some of the economic issues there, the social media aspect. So this is why we are teamed up on this,” Richardson said. “We'll meet with North Korean political leaders. We'll meet with North Korean economic leaders, military. We'll visit some universities. ... They will let us know what the schedule is when we get there.”
U.S. officials have criticized the four-day trip. North Korea on Dec. 12 fired a satellite into space using a long-range rocket. Washington condemned the launch as a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions barring Pyongyang from developing its nuclear and missile programs.
The trip was planned before North Korea announced plans to send a satellite into space, two people knowledgeable of the delegation's plans told The Associated Press.
Schmidt, a proponent of Internet connectivity and openness, is expected to make a donation during the visit, while Richardson will try to discuss the detainment of a U.S. citizen jailed in Pyongyang, members of the delegation told AP. They asked not to be named.
The visit comes just days after Kim, who took power following the Dec. 17, 2011, death of his father, Kim Jong Il, laid out policy goals for North Korea. He cited expanding science and technology, to improve the country's economy, as a key goal.