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Asia Minute: South Korea marks a China anniversary with very different exports

Samsung Electronics' microchips semiconductor
Ahn Young-joon/AP
/
AP
FILE - In this April 30, 2019, file photo, Samsung Electronics' microchips are displayed at its store in Seoul, South Korea. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Wednesday marked a noteworthy anniversary in the Asia-Pacific. Thirty years ago, South Korea and China established diplomatic relations — and started to deepen economic relations. Trade between the two countries has exploded, but the nature of South Korea’s exports has changed a great deal.

Back in 1991, South Korean exports to China amounted to about $1 billion a year. Today, they’re more than $162 billion a year.

But the trade figures of the last few decades also tell a story of a different kind of economic growth — higher up the value chain.

According to a research group called the Observatory of Economic Complexity, a little more than 25 years ago, South Korea’s leading exports to China were fabric.

It was mostly the raw material for clothing: synthetic yarn, plastic coated textile fabric, rubberized knitted fabric.

These days, those exports are all about semiconductors.

Earlier this week, The Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry reported that 40% of all South Korean semiconductor exports last year went to China.

South Korean chipmakers are key suppliers to China’s smartphone industry.

It’s a delicate business — especially when the United States is putting a renewed emphasis on technology supply chains that involve allies.

Just last week, South Korea’s Foreign Minister said his country will send officials to a preliminary meeting of international semiconductor makers the United States has organized called “Chip 4.”

The group includes The United States, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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