Asia

Google's Eric Schmidt plans visit to North Korea

Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt
Image caption Google's chairman, Eric Schmidt has not yet commented on the forthcoming trip

The chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, is planning a visit to North Korea, South Korean officials say.

The reason for the trip has not yet been revealed, but news agencies say it is part of a humanitarian mission led by US politician Bill Richardson.

The former New Mexico governor has been involved in ad-hoc negotiations with the North Koreans in the last 20 years.

Internet use is highly restricted there although leader Kim Jong-un has called for a push in technology and science.

The South Korean government told news agency AFP that it is aware of the planned visit, adding that the trip is personal.

Google has refused to comment so far.

Easing tensions

Former governor Richardson has spoken for the release of US nationals detained in North Korea on various occasions.

Last month, North Korea arrested a US citizen of Korean origin, Pae Jun Ho, for unspecified alleged crimes.

Mr Richardson has also held talks with North Korea over its military activities.

In December 2010, he met North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator in Pyongyang, in an attempt to ease tensions between the two Koreas.

But some analysts speculated that for Google's Eric Schmidt the trip could have more strategic reasons.

"I think this is part of Google's broader vision to bring the Internet to the world, and North Korea is the last frontier," said Peter Beck, of South Korean's non-profit Asia Foundation, to Reuters.

Image caption Kim Jong-un said 2013 would be a year of creations and changes

South Korea's confirmation of Mr Schmidt's trip came days after the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, delivered a new year's message on state TV, the first such broadcast for 19 years.

Kim Jong-un, in power since 2011, spoke of the need to improve the economy and also to reunify the Koreas, warning that confrontation only led to war.

Kim Jong-un said 2013 would be a year of creations and changes, calling for a "radical turnabout" that would transform the impoverished, isolated state into an "economic giant" and raise living standards.

But while he said confrontation between the North and the South should be removed, Mr Kim stressed that military power remained a national priority.

Under Mr Kim's leadership, North Korea has conducted two long-range rocket launches - actions condemned by the US and Pyongyang's neighbours as banned tests of missile technology.

The launch in April failed, but December's attempt appears to have been a success, placing a satellite into orbit.

The US, Japan and South Korea are seeking a response in the UN Security Council, which banned North Korea from missile tests after nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.