North Korea: 1. Eric Schmidt: 0

Jan 15, 2013

It is perishingly cold in Pyongyang in January and the newsreel shots of the chairman of Google during his unofficial visit to the dynastic dictatorship show him looking bemused all of the time and completely and utterly utterly baffled as, at a recreation break at a working man's club, a North Korean Frank Sinatra look-alike crooned that police state's perennial pop-tastic favourite, "Strangers In My Tights."

Actually, I made up that last bit - but you get what I mean. I'll bet there were microphones and cameras in places that even Eric wouldn't expect them to be.

The North Korean state apparatus took full advantage of Mr. Schmidt's presence in the pariah nation to make as much propaganda as they could out of it. And boy, did they milk it for all it was worth - and it was worth quite a lot. Schmidt's image was used time after time in news bulletins to show North Korea's benighted and hungry population that the nation is moving forward into the broad sunlit uplands of technological superiority under the tutelage of its young and chubby new leader.

First there are nuclear weapons and the rockets able to hit the west coast of the USA and then comes broadband, some sort of web strategy, and who knows, perhaps even very limited access to the Google site itself for some especially favoured apparatchiks. But then they have that already, don't they?

So, we are only too well aware of what the North Koreans got from Eric Schmidt's visit, but what did he (or rather Google) hope to achieve? To curry favour? To gain influence? To make money? To further Google's plans for global domination? All four probably, which is why it behooves us to remember that the self-same Mr. Schmidt of "Do No Evil Inc" used to bang on and on about how the Internet can bring down dictators - but then off he goes, in the face of US government disapproval and the general incredulity of all, to cosy up with one of the worst of them.

It is entirely possible that, within a few weeks, the massed ranks of Google's spin doctors will have us believe that the visit was made with the tacit but unexpressed approval of the US authorities and should be seen as a useful back-channel for the exchange of information when official diplomatic relations are, yet again, at a low ebb. Incidentally, journalist rumour has it that North Korea is preparing to launch another test ICBM poorly disguised as a scientific experiment. So it'll soon be time for Eric to parachute into Pyongyang again.

On arrival in Beijing on his way home from North Korea, Eric Schmidt told reporters, “As the world becomes increasingly connected, their [the North Korean authorities] decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world, their economic growth and so forth. We made that alternative very, very clear.” Ah! That's alright then.

For their part the North Korean news agencies made much of Eric Schmidt's visit to the mausoleum wherein lie the embalmed remains of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, the father-and son-dictators who preceded Kim Jong-un. Actually, as far as that visit was concerned, the North Koreans had made Eric Schmidt an offer he simply couldn't refuse and according to the news outlets the Google chairman "paid his respects to and expressed his admiration for" the deceased pair. But then he didn't have a lot of choice really, did he?

US observers have been trenchant in their analysis of the visit. For example, Daniel Pinkston, an analyst with the International Crisis Group and a man who specialises in North Korean affairs commented, “I’m still spinning my wheels to figure out a plausible motivation for why they went”, while the Republican ex-presidential candidate, Senator John McCain of Arizona, Twittered that the visitors were "idiots". Elswhere, John Bolton, a former US ambassador, to the UN claimed that the visit was little more than grist to the North Korean propaganda mill. “Pyongyang uses gullible Americans for its own purposes", he said.

Dealing with North Korea is a one way street. Gullible people (American and others) give and the North Korean state takes. That's it. End of. Well done Eric.

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