North Korea's Kim Jong Un Hopes Google's Luster Rubs Off on Him

PHOTO: Executive Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, back row left, and former Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson, back row right, look at North Korean soldiers working on computers at the Grand Peoples Study House in Pyongyang, North Korea, Jan. 9, 201
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North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-Un, whose techno-deprived population would be baffled by the phrase "Google it," is using the visit of Google's chairman to do the improbable -- project him as a high tech leader.

The visit by Eric Schmidt, along with former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, comes just weeks after North Korea launched a satellite into space. North Korean media has been running non-stop praise for the success of its Dec. 12 satellite launch, although some scientist claim the satellite is not operating as it should.

The next realm, analysts believe, is the telecommunications industry.

"They are trying to increase (international) standards for the economy," said Daniel Pinkston, deputy project director of North East Asia Program. Through Schmidt's trip they're trying "to project the image of Kim Jong Un as a high-tech leader, like they did with the missile launch process, and fold it into their propaganda."

To make that image stick would be an accomplishment.

North Korea remains one of the last frontiers of the World Wide Web. Usage of Internet is strictly regulated to only the upper echelons of its society, a privilege that must also be approved by the state. The number of internet users in North Korea is estimated to be around a few thousand, out of a population of 24 million. The number of registered IP addresses is just over a thousand while South Korea has 112 million and the U.S. has 1.5 billion.

Nevertheless, those who watch North Korea are encouraged by Schmidt's trip, that included a visit Tuesday to a computer lab at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang.

"It's a good sign," said Jong-woon Lee, a senior researcher at the International Cooperation for Korean Unification. "This visit seems to signify more openness to foreign companies and investments, a gesture of good will that could possibly open up North Korea more to the world."

Baik Seung-Joo at Korea Institute for Defense Analysis said Schmidt's arrival is also an indication of Kim's authority.

"This was a political call by Kim Jong Un. By inviting a chairman of a high-tech company from a capitalist society, Kim is showing off his power and influence to his people and the world," he said.

Pyongyang has shown slow, but steady measures to be part of the world of social media. It currently runs a Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter account under the name of "uriminzokkiri", mostly posting news and propaganda.

At the moment, there are only two ways for North Koreans to access the Internet. One is through a German satellite that provides satellite Internet access, mostly to tourist hotels and diplomats. North Korean elites with permits use the one and only government-backed program, called the Star Joint Venture built with the help of Thailand's telecommunications firm, Loxley Pacific Company.

For regular citizens, a domestic intranet system "Kwangmyong" developed by the Korea Computer Center is offered mostly to connect institutions such as universities and cybercafés hosting websites and e-mails. The information available on Kwangmyong is strictly controlled.

North Korea Hopes Google Trip Enhances Image

"Search words are also restricted and what you get are mostly research data related to science and technology or cultural development," said Kim Heung-Kwang who majored computer science at Kim Chaek University of Science and Technology in Pyongyang and later defected to South Korea in 2004.

North Koreans who would dare to post anti-North Korean thoughts on these servers, the punishment could range between three months to five years of hard labor in labor camps, according to the severity of your crime.

ABC News' Joanne Kim and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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