News & Media

Visit by Google Chairman May Benefit North Korea

BEIJING — As a work of propaganda, the images that North Koreacirculated this week showing Google’s executive chairman, Eric E. Schmidt, touring a high-tech incubation center are hard to beat.

With former Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico at his side, Mr. Schmidt, who is fond of describing the Internet as the enemy of despots, toured what was presented as the hub of the computer industry in one of the world’s most pitiless police states. Both men gazed attentively as a select group of North Koreans showed their ability to surf the Web.

It is unclear what the famously hermetic North Koreans hoped to accomplish by allowing the visit. But the photos of the billionaire entrepreneur taking the time to visit the nation’s computer labs were bound to be useful to a new national leader whom analysts say needs to show his people that their impoverished nation is moving forward.

It will matter little, those experts say, that the visitors were bundled against the cold, indoors — a sign of the country’s extreme privation — or that the vast majority of North Koreans have no access to computers, much less the Web beyond their country’s tightly controlled borders.

The men’s quixotic four-day trip ended Thursday much the way it began, with some analysts calling the visit hopelessly naïve and others describing it as valuable back-channel diplomacy at a time when Washington and Pyongyang are not on speaking terms (again).

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