8 Jan 2013

Google head in North Korea

12:44 pm on 8 January 2013

The head of Google is in North Korea despite strong criticism of his trip by the United States government.

Eric Schmidt is accompanied by the former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who's expected to push for the release of a detained American citizen there.

In Beijing before flying to Pyongyang, Mr Richardson said the visit was "a private humanitarian mission".

He said he planned to raise the case of a US citizen detained in North Korea.

The former governor has visited North Korea several times in the past, most recently in December 2010.

On two occasions he helped secure the release of detained US nationals.

The BBC reports the detained person is a Korean-American national named Kenneth Bae, who was arrested in November in circumstances that are not clear.

Google, meanwhile, has not commented on Mr Schmidt's trip.

"This is not a Google trip, but I'm sure he's interested in some of the economic issues there, the social media aspect. So this is why we are teamed up on this," Mr Richardson said.

"We'll meet with North Korean political leaders. We'll meet with North Korean economic leaders, military.

''We'll visit some universities. We don't control the visit. They will let us know what the schedule is when we get there," he said.

In a new year's speech, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said science and technology would be a key goal in 2013 to help improve the country's economy.

North Korea last month put a satellite into orbit using a three-stage rocket - a move condemned by the United States as a banned test of long-range missile technology.

"We don't think the timing of this is particularly helpful," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said late last week.

Mr Richardson said the delegation was expecting to be in Pyongyang for 2½ days.