[OUTLOOK]Korea’s technological diplomacyThe structure of the Korean semiconductor market is a little unique. Ninety percent of the semiconductors we produce are exported abroad, and instead, 90 percent of the domestic demand is satisfied with foreign products. It might be a concern that the so-called “semiconductor power” does not satisfy its own demands. But there can be no room for criticism that most of the Korean semiconductor products are used around the world.
Now that semiconductors make up well over 10 percent of the country’s total exports, we have to deal with the world whether we like it or not. We have to compete with arguably the world’s best global information technology companies and mighty rivals targeting Korean companies with a hostile eye.
Working in the global semiconductor market where everyday is a battlefield that is no different from a diplomatic war. It might be easier to solve a complex mathematical equation than come up with an advanced strategic diplomacy that requires to read complicated dynamics of neighboring nations thoroughly and secure real national interest. Novice diplomacy based on a clumsy dichotomy of “all or nothing” cannot succeed.
Doing diplomacy with semiconductors? Those who still consider semiconductors as mere machine parts may derisively say that we are making a fuss over a parts industry, questioning how much we would make by selling them. The fact that Samsung Electronics joined the $10 billion net profit club for the first time in the world as an electronics maker last year, and the semiconductor sector made the largest contribution among various departments of Samsung Electronics, can convince the people who are skeptical about the semiconductor.
The Electronics Industries Alliance, one of the largest trade organizations in the United States, selects and awards one individual with the biggest contribution in the U.S. information technology industry every year. Also known as the Nobel Prize of the American information technology industry, Bill Gates and other big shots were initially mentioned as this year’s recipient, but I was chosen for the honor as the first non-American. Although I received the award as an individual because of the formality of the award, I still believe that it must be shared with all Korean nationals working in the semiconductor field.
Although it is a small achievement, it shows that the caliber of Korea’s semiconductor diplomacy has been upgraded and the United States recognizes Korea at least in the semiconductor field.
The 150 some days I spend abroad on business trips annually demand twice the physical and mental energy as I would otherwise use in Korea. I cannot imagine a relaxed business trip with only one or two goals.
I sometimes have to squeeze in a visit to a major client, meetings with global leaders in the information technology industry, lectures at renowned conferences and colleges, interviews to recruit people from abroad, and attend an investors’ relations event for Samsung Electronics on a very short schedule. I get exhausted but I do it with pleasure because the status of Korean semiconductors has changed a great deal.
World-class information technology companies no longer treat Samsung as a mere supplier but now wish to form a strategic partnership. The change came only over the last few years. However, we still have a long way to go. Samsung is still second in the semiconductor field.
Naturally, my dream is to top the world, both in quality and quantity. It is not an easy goal to accomplish, but I have never considered it impossible for a single moment.
Science has no borders but scientists have homelands. Similarly, companies have no borders but have nationalities. Since 90 percent of the semiconductors produced in Korea are exported abroad, we must make more than routine efforts to engage foreign markets.
All of us working in the semiconductor industry, not just employees working abroad but also those supporting them in Korea night and day, are bona fide career diplomats for we deal with the world and work for the interest of the Republic of Korea.
A company that operates abroad but brings the added value back home is truly a different form of diplomatic victory.
* The writer is the CEO of Samsung Electronics. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Hwang Chang-gyu