By Invitation

Seoul on a wafer-thin edge

South Korea's chipmakers are giants in the industry. As the US and China escalate their tech war, that enviable status is making it increasingly difficult for Seoul to maintain its delicate balance between the big power rivals.

Samsung Electronics' chip production plant in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. South Korea's chipmakers are giants in the industry. PHOTO: REUTERS
New: Gift this subscriber-only story to your friends and family

We live in the age of chips. Tiny and ubiquitous, they are found in the humble rice cooker as well as fighter jets. Electric cars rely on some 3,000 semiconductors. With increasing digitalisation, however, the mighty microchip has become weaponised in the fierce power struggle between the United States and China. And South Korea is caught smack in the middle of it.

Its two major chipmakers - Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix - accounted for 71.5 per cent of the global Dram output and 53.6 per cent of the global Nand flash production last year. Samsung, the world's largest memory chip maker, is also in stiff competition with Taiwan's TSMC to mass manufacture high-end semiconductors. What this means is that any meaningful restructuring of the world semiconductor value chain cannot come about without factoring in Korean chips.

Already a subscriber? 

Read the full story and more at $9.90/month

Get exclusive reports and insights with more than 500 subscriber-only articles every month

Unlock these benefits

  • All subscriber-only content on ST app and

  • Easy access any time via ST app on 1 mobile device

  • E-paper with 2-week archive so you won't miss out on content that matters to you

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.