Eric Schmidt has warned North Korea that it faces a further period of isolation and economic decline, unless it relinquishes its tight grip on Internet access for its citizens.

Speaking in Beijing following a four-day visit to North Korea, the Google chairman warned the secretive Asian nation that unless action was taken soon, the country would fall behind the rest of the world in a number of areas.

Speaking at Beijing airport, Schmidt said: “As the world becomes increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world, their economic growth and so forth, and it will make it harder for them to catch up economically.”

Although his visit to North Korea drew some criticism from some in the US state department, the Google CEO has always been an advocate of a free and open Internet with access for everyone. Therefore, this trip provided another opportunity for him to get that message across.

The firm previously generated a lot of online PR in relation to a gathering in Dubai last month that saw representatives of nations across the globe discuss new regulations on Internet monitoring: Google was even able to claim a victory of sorts when nations including the US, UK and Australia refused to sign the agreement at the ITU conference.

Schmidt visited North Korea with Bill Richardson, meeting a number of government officials and scientists as well as a number of software engineers and students. The pair said the visit was simply a humanitarian trip.

Internet access in North Korea is currently limited to certain academics and scientists, and a number of ‘elites’.

Other citizens have limited access to an intranet provided by the Government, but people such as Schmidt believe this to be far from satisfactory.

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