Why is Google's Eric Schmidt heading to North Korea?

It's an odd match, to be sure: a country with some of the most restrictive internet laws in the world (not to mention its other laws), and a company that still claims "Don't be evil" as its motto, and has been burned by authoritarian governments before. But the AP is reporting that Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt will be traveling to North Korea soon -- possibly as early as this month -- accompanied by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. 

The news comes a day after a rare New Year's Day speech by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that called for a "revolution" in science and technology in the poverty-stricken Hermit Kingdom. But it also comes just a few weeks after the country received international condemnation for a sneakily-timed rocket launch.

Google didn't officially confirm the story to AP and Schmidt has yet to make a public statement on why he's visiting the isolated country, which does hardly any business at all with U.S. companies. Also, it's not yet clear who exactly Schmidt and Richardson will be meeting with once they arrive. However, Schmidt has been working with former State Department Adviser Jared Cohen on a book called "The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business," and has long been an advocate of the power of internet access to improve quality of life and openness.

Still, North Korea controls its internet with a far heavier hand than China, which Google has tangled with in the past.  Those who have computer access mostly log on to a system known as the Kwangmyong, essentially a country-wide intranet run by a lone, state-run ISP provider (the BBC story linked to above includes the amazing detail that any time Kim Jong Un is mentioned on this intranet, his name is displayed slightly larger than the text around it). Just a few dozen families have unfiltered access to the real thing.

Can the power of "connectivity for the individual" be harnessed in a country where the government still cracks down on cell phones that can dial the outside world? Here's hoping Schmidt speaks up soon so we can hear what exactly he has in mind.



Argentina blasts Britain over islands and Antarctica

In a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron published in the British media today, Argentine President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner attacks Britain's claim on the Falklands, known in Argentina as the Malvinas: 

One hundred and eighty years ago on the same date, January 3rd, in a blatant exercise of 19th-century colonialism, Argentina was forcibly stripped of the Malvinas Islands, which are situated 14,000km (8700 miles) away from London.

The Argentines on the Islands were expelled by the Royal Navy and the United Kingdom subsequently began a population implantation process similar to that applied to other territories under colonial rule. Since then, Britain, the colonial power, has refused to return the territories to the Argentine Republic, thus preventing it from restoring its territorial integrity.

The Brits have a different version of that history, reports the Guardian

The FCO also disputes Fernández's claim that Britain kicked out the island's original Argentinian inhabitants. It says there was no civilian population on the island in 1833, with the Royal Navy expelling an Argentine military garrison that had arrived three months earlier. "We can't talk about sovereignty unless and until the Falkland islanders agree to it," the FCO said.

Fernandez's latest broadside comes two weeks after Argentina made a formal complaint over Britain's decision to name a large swathe of Antarctica after the queen. Queen Elizabeth Land -- which is nearly twice the size of the U.K., falls within what London considers British territory, but Argentina claims part of it as well. 

The 1959 Antarctic Treaty isn't much use on this one -- it forbids new territorial claims on the continent but doesn't renounce or make any judgment on previous ones. Both Argentina and Chile have overlapping claims with Britain and the foreign ministry in Buenos Aires attacked the naming move for "anachronistic imperialist ambitions that hark back to ancient practices". 

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