Korean Chip Makers Under Threat
Korean Chip Makers Under Threat
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  • 승인 2005.12.01 12:01
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Overdependence on IT exports an Achilles'Heel Korea's information technology (IT) industry is facing daunting challenges from global rivals to its competitive edge and market share. Whether the domestic makers of computer chips and flat display panels can prevail in this industrial war is important, as these sectors constitute the backbone of the national economy now. The Korean firms appear confident of their technological superiority, but overconfidence can be dangerous. Defending a castle, more often than not, is more difficult than capturing one. The latest . and biggest . threat comes from the United States. Intel Corp., the world's leading semiconductor maker, joined with Micron Technology to jump into the NAND flash-memory chip production. The U.S. makers could no longer see Samsung and Hynix sweep away the lion's share of this rapid-growth market, used in portable music players and digital cameras. The domestic makers view new participants as good for the industry by enlarging the market. But their shares tumbled on the day. Five Japanese chipmakers, including Toshiba, Hitachi and NEC, also united into one to preempt the next-generation semiconductor market. Even the technologically lagging but cash-rich Chinese electronic makers have thrown down the gauntlet to take a slice of the low-end home appliance market. It seems as if the international IT firms are encircling their Korean competitors through the crisscross of joint ventures and strategic alliances. It is time for alertness, rather than complacence. It is reassuring that Samsung plans to outrun Intel to become the world's No. 1 chipmaker with an investment of $33 billion by 2010. What the company is today is thanks to massive and preemptive investment based on bold, timely corporate decisions. Few can be sure, however, that the industrial acumen of Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee would be passed on to his son. The global IT giant had better depend on its professional managers, presently enjoying international fame, for their improved corporate governance. The IT industry, and the semiconductor sector in particular, are too important to Korea to fail. The government should actively help the industry localize core technology and equipment manufacturing as well as cultivate excellent manpower. It ought to drastically deregulate the Gordian knot of administrative red tape hampering the further takeoff of Korean firms, in an unintended form of reverse discrimination. As seen in the case of General Motors Corp., no company can be sure of permanent supremacy in any industry. No less important is to secure industrial alternatives. The nation's dependence on IT sectors and Samsung Electronics has long passed an appropriate level. The government needs to find out and support a second or third Samsung as well as find the next-generation growth engines besides semiconductors.

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