SEOUL, South Korea — Google chairman Eric Schmidt and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson are in North Korea on a controversial visit.
The reasons for the visit are unclear.
In video of Schmidt's and Richardson's arrival in Pyongyang captured by the Associated Press, Richardson stated, "This is a private humanitarian visit." Schmidt declined to answer questions.
Geoff Cain, GlobalPost Senior Correspondent in Seoul, said Richardson, who's familiar to the North Korean regime, is leading the delegation. Cain said Richardson could be trying to meet and release Kenneth Bae, an American citizen who was detained in November for unclear "hostile acts" after he entered as a tourist.
"The Kim regime needs the occasional hostage to lure in a foreign VIP. They're using a strategy of brinkmanship to get attention and concessions from the outside world — as we also saw with the rocket launch in December," Cain said. "Taking hostages in the past, they've managed to get Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, who were in good standing with Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung. Richardson also visited in 1996 to aid the release of an American."
According to Richardson, who was speaking in Beijing before flying to Pyongyang, the visit is a "private humanitarian mission," BBC News reported. However The New York Times reported that North Korea's state run news agency referred to the trip as a "Google delegation."
The US State Department said last week that the trip was "unhelpful."
The Google executive has been quiet about why he's visiting, although he's probably going to at least take a look at the country's surprisingly robust tech and social media scene.
Neither Schmidt nor Google have clarified why Schmidt joined the trip. The Google exec, who is a champion of Internet connectivity and openness, is "interested in some of the economic issues there, the social media aspect," Richardson said, though he clarified that the visit wasn't a Google trip.
The last time a large group of hip, cutting-edge, non-political Americans visited Pyongyang was in 2008, when the New York Philharmonic performed its historic concert for a crowd of hundreds of foreign visitors. Since then, relations have tumbled and these sorts of exchanges are rare.
According to CNN money, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has showed an interest in increasing his country's technological and industrial standing. Of course, while the North emphasizes science and technology, only small sliver of the population actually has access to the internet.
The Associated Press captured video of Schmidt's and Richardson's arrival in Pyongyang: