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Korea joining ‘Chip 4’ meeting despite Beijing’s opposition

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Korea is joining “Chip 4,” Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Lee Chang-yang said Monday.
“We have decided to take part in a preliminary meeting for Chip 4,” Lee told reporters on Monday. “The participating countries will gather to discuss the form of Chip 4 and the way it will be managed.”  
The meeting date and location have not been set, but it is expected to take place late this month or early next month.

This was the first time a government official from the Yoon Suk-yeol administration confirmed the country is taking its first steps toward joining the semiconductor supply chain network, which will include the United States, Japan and Taiwan.  

Lee stressed that the decision was about putting Korea’s national interest first and not an attempt to isolate China.  

“We have no plan to create an isolated group that excludes a specific country,” he said. “We are addressing the issue purely as a strategy of national interest as we need to cooperate with countries that either have the technology, equipment or materials.”

Lee emphasized the importance of China as Korea’s biggest export market.  

China “is a country with which we will have to continue doing business. There are many industrial areas in which the two countries can cooperate,” Lee said.  

He added that the Chip 4 alliance will likely benefit Korea’s relationship with Japan, especially in terms of export restrictions on key materials used in manufacturing semiconductors that Tokyo has implemented since 2019.  

Minister Lee Chang-yang tours a semiconductor material production plant in Gueonggi on July 21. [ YONHAP]
Minister Lee Chang-yang tours a semiconductor material production plant in Gueonggi on July 21. [YONHAP]

Lee acknowledged the possibility of China’s retaliation but added that it will depend on the detailed outcome of the Chip 4 alliance.  

“We plan to expressed our side on how Chip 4 should be managed during the preliminary meeting,” Lee said.  

Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin is meeting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Qingdao, China, on Tuesday.

President Yoon Suk-yeol on Monday made comments similar to those of Lee on his way to the office in his first doorstep interview since returning from vacation.  

“Government departments are closely watching and discussing the protection of national interest,” President Yoon said  

Late Sunday, an anonymous high-ranking official from the president’s office said the Korean government had informed the U.S. government of its intention to participate in the Chip 4 meeting.

Despite the pressure from the U.S. since earlier this month, the Korean government has remained passive about joining the semiconductor alliance as China is currently Korea’s biggest semiconductor customer, taking 60 percent of chip exports last year.  

China is also Korea’s biggest trading partner, taking 25 percent of overall exports and having a 22 percent share of Korea’s imports last year.  

While the term Chip 4 has been used, the Korean government so far used the term “semiconductor supply chain consultative body,” rather than alliance.

President Yoon did not meet with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during her visit to Seoul last week. Pelosi visited Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and Japan during her Asia trip and met with the heads of state of each.

While Pelosi did not tour any Korean semiconductor plants, she met with TSMC Chairman Mark Liu.  

BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]