Jan 09, 2013

Was Eric Schmidt wrong to go North Korea? Could it harm Google?

I've read quite a lot about Eric Schmidt's visit to North Korea, from the US State Dept. calling it "unhelpful" to John McCain referring to Eric Schmidt and Gov. Bill Richardson as "useful idiots." I'm not so sure. I don't want to support repressive governments, but how much harm could the trip cause? Could it result in negative blowback for Google?

I think McCain was right in labeling them that way. I did a review of North Korea Linux a while back. In the review you can watch three videos about a trip to North Korea. It's an unpleasant place, to say the least.

North Korea Linux (Red Star OS)

That was an interesting article. Also, I love Vice Guide to Travel, and the North Korean trip was excellent - nice choice. If you happen to run across a British film called "State of Mind" about the Mass Games, give it a look. It let's you get a glimpse into the life of admitedly privledged North Koreans. 

For starters I wouldn't worry too much about John McCain's position on anything. I do understand that the State Department could be miffed because of the efforts to isolate/punish North Korea over the recent rocket launch, but in the big scheme of things I doubt that a short visit by a few Americans is going to sway other governments either way in their relationship with North Korea.

I also think that nothing AT ALL gets accomplished through cultural isolation. Sure, block technology transfers, impose financial sanctions, seek a unified multilateral approach to the country, etc. But when you are talking about Eric Schmidt (presumably going as a private individual and not as a representative of Google - just like the other vacationing Google employees along for the trip), you are talking about a possible opening for increasing North Korea's connection to the rest of the world. That is a very good thing. Richard Nixon faced massive criticism for visiting China, but look at the changes that have taken place there over the past few decades as it opened up to the world.

Do I think the North Koreans are welcoming this trip out of pure self-interest? Yes. Do I think that it will move North Korea towards a more open society? Unlikely. But it could put a few hairline cracks in the wall between North Korea and the rest of the world, and over time, with enough cracks, the wall could come tumbling down. Just ask East Germany.

There was an excellent article in The Atlantic about this trip. It's pretty long, so wait until you are at work. J/K. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/01/engaging-north-...

Oh, and no, I don't think it will have any impact on Google as a company, except maybe that John McCain will keep using AOL.

Obviously it's all speculation. I don't think a single trip to North Korea will result in serious blowback, other than noise from politicians. If Google ends up doing business with North Korea, it could be a different story. Corporations tend not to view countries through a political prism; instead they see markets. But since the vast majority of North Koreans do not have access to the Internet, there's not much of a market for Google to exploit right now.

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