Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Google’s Chairman Eric Schmidt have made a controversial trip to one of the most isolated places in the world – North Korea – to send 3 powerful messages. Despite what the State Department has called “ill-advised” and “unhealthy” idea due to the tension U.S. has with North Korea after the recent rocket launch, Fmr. Gov. Richardson holds his view very strongly and stated that it is very crucial to engage with North Korea and that they have been very successful in doing so.
So what kinds of messages were delivered in North Korea by the two high-profile, private citizens? Schmidt states that the first message was to “urge the North Koreans to have a moratorium on missile activity and nuclear tests. Secondly, to find out about the American detained there, Kenneth Bay, and ensure that he be properly treated, and then thirdly, to spread the message about an open society, the Internet and cell phones.” Although they didn’t get a chance to meet North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jung-Un, Richardson said he seems to be much more open to the idea of Internet, and spreading the information to the People of North Korea rather than keeping it just as a part of the government. His assumption is backed up by seeing Kim Jung-Un getting more involved with the People of North Korea and making more public speeches, unlike his father.
As Richardson describes, the trip was labeled as a “private humanitarian mission” and it was assumed that they would try hard to negotiate the release of a South Korean born American citizen, Kenneth Bae who was held hostage since November 2012. But the effort had not been successful.
I would say it is still very questionable as to how established Kim Jung-Un feels about his domestic strength with his people is and whether he is ready to engage in diplomacy. I don’t doubt Richardson’s statement about how Schmidt was a “rock star” among the North Korean students, scientists and software engineers when he was emphasizing about the importance of the Internet; however, it is not necessarily the People whom we have issues with. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for the outsiders to get the message to the People of North Korea because the government is very strict with its censorship. Many countries, especially South Korea has shown tremendous effort in engaging and negotiating with North Korea in the past decade with the Sunshine Policy. Rather than heading towards confrontation, many countries have reached out to have dialogues and diplomacy, but it was mostly the government of North Korea closing itself up to others rather than opening up. Although Richardson states that Kim Jung-Un has taken various economic measures to show that he is willing to reform, I think it is too early to assume anything and we lack evidence to make such an assumption.