When Eric Schmidt announced his plans to go to North Korea, we were a little confused. Google's current chairman and former CEO is a fervent proponent of a free and open internet, while North Korea is famously one of the world's least-connected countries. After the trip's conclusion, The New Yorker's Evan Osnos sat down with John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University in South Korea and a member of Schmidt's delegation to North Korea, to talk about what Schmidt and his compatriots saw and did. Delury describes a slowly modernizing North Korea, a nation aware that its self-created isolation is causing problems:
Kim Jong-un is putting a major stress on economic development and on building a "knowledge-based economy." North Koreans I speak with understand the relationship between connectivity and growth. They also realize that the rest of the global economy is wired, and that if they want a piece of the action they have to get online, too. So they are now in a preliminary phase of experimenting with increased connectivity among their own people. Huge obstacles stand in the way. But Google folks went there to make the case for the virtues of the Internet, and North Koreans listened.
Whether Schmidt's declaration that the North Korean government must "make it possible for people to use the internet" will fall on willing ears remains unknown, but there are some encouraging signs that the days of only hundreds of people in the nation having internet access may be coming to a close.