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Google Chairman Eric Schmidt Calls on North Korea to Drop Web Barriers

Eric Schmidt
JB Reed/Bloomberg/Getty Images

After a visit to Pyongyang, he says he told government officials that they must open their country to the global Internet before their economy can grow.

Making his first public statements after a three-day visit to North Korea, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said in Beijing Thursday that he called on North Korean officials to allow their citizens proper access to the Internet.

For its economy to develop, the country must first give its population access to the Web's global content, he argued. "As the world becomes increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their view of the world," the Wall Street Journal quoted Schmidt as saying.

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North Korea’s disconnection from the global flow of communication and ideas "make[s] it harder for them to catch up economically. We made that alternative very, very clear," he added.

Experts often classify North Korea as one of the most disconnected places in the world. Few North Koreans have Internet access, or even computers, and those who do are usually only able to connect to a domestic intranet that is cut off from the rest of the world. 

"The government has to do something," Schmidt said in Beijing. "It has to make it possible for the people to use the Internet. It is their choice now. It's in my view time for them to start, or else they will remain behind." 

Schmidt traveled to North Korea with former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, in what Google is describing as a “private capacity.” They were part of a small  group that met with a bevy of government officials, including Pyongyang’s top vice minister for nuclear negotiations. 

This is not the first time Schmidt has openly challenged the censorship policies of an authoritarian state. In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine in July, Schmidt said he believes China’s "Great Firewall" is doomed to eventual failure.

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"China's the only government that's engaged in active, dynamic censorship. They're not shy about it,” he said. "I personally believe that you cannot build a modern knowledge society with that kind of behavior.”

Schmidt added: "I believe that ultimately censorship fails."