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Tech war: Chinese ambassador in Seoul once asked South Korean lawmaker to include Beijing in US-led chip alliance

A South Korean lawmaker has revealed that the Chinese ambassador in Seoul once lobbied her to get China included in the Chip 4 alliance, the US-led alliance that includes Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, which has a goal of minimising Beijing's influence in the global semiconductor supply chain.

Yang Hyang-ja, a South Korean congresswoman, said on Thursday that Chinese ambassador Xing Haiming "visited my office and proposed a 'Chip 5' alliance, which [would] include China, instead of the Chip 4".

She made the comment via a translator during the third episode of a webinar series organised by advisory firm Mavek and German enterprise software company SAP, on Global Semiconductor Chip Wars and Implications. It was the first time Yang has disclosed specifics of her meeting with Xing.

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The Chinese government has never officially floated the idea of a "Chip 5", but it has repeatedly expressed anger at Washington for trying to sideline China in the global semiconductor supply chain.

Xing visited Yang, a former Samsung Electronics executive who heads Seoul's Semiconductor Industry Special Committee, in July 2022, the Chinese embassy said at the time. According to the embassy's statement, which did not include specifics of the meeting, Xing told Yang that China and South Korea should "exclude external interference" when it came to cooperation in the semiconductor industry.

US efforts to rally allies such as South Korea to help it contain China's chip industry advancement prompted Beijing to launch its own counter offensive. However, China's efforts did not bear fruit, as Japan and the Netherlands also followed the US in restricting exports to China.

Yang Hyang-ja, a member of the National Assembly, in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022. Photo: Bloomberg alt=Yang Hyang-ja, a member of the National Assembly, in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022. Photo: Bloomberg>

"From the US perspective, China is viewed as a significant threat, which has led to the sanctions," Yang said on the webinar. "If China, like South Korea, does not challenge US dominance, the US would not have imposed sanctions on China."

Yang added: "However, our relations with China are also delicate, because if we align with the US, this will also make China uneasy, and the Chip 4 alliance will exacerbate this situation and [our] ties with China."

Chip industry tensions between the world's two largest economies have put South Korea in a delicate position. After the Chinese government imposed a partial ban on products sold in China by US memory chip maker Micron Technology last month, Washington reportedly lobbied Seoul to ask its suppliers such as Samsung and SK Hynix to not jump in to fill the supply gap.

Japanese lawmaker Masahisa Sato, a former minister for foreign affairs, said during the same webinar that Japan needs to work with allies including Taiwan, South Korea and the Netherlands to ensure that the latest semiconductor technologies will not be used to support the Chinese military.

He said Japan will work with the US to restrict exports of advanced semiconductor technologies, artificial intelligence and quantum computing, but that the country also wanted to maintain normal chip trade with China to let businesses profit.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2023 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2023. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.