South Korea’s “Chosun Ilbo” reported on the 25th that market research firm Tiburon Consulting (TrendForce) recently released the global first-quarter semiconductor foundry market ranking report showing that Taiwan’s TSMC ranked first with a 53.6% share, South Korea’s Samsung Electronics ranked second with 16.3%, while mainland China’s most significant breakthrough, ranking fifth in the SMIC and other three, total market share of 10.2%, which is also the first time the Chinese mainland enterprises market share exceeded 10%.
The commentary said that the current situation of China’s semiconductor chasing South Korea with a “chase to the chin” to describe is not too much.
According to the report, China’s semiconductor industry, which has been under intense U.S. trade sanctions since 2020, is making great strides forward. Despite having almost all its hands tied, such as restrictions on imports of advanced semiconductor equipment, China’s semiconductor industry is growing rapidly based on huge domestic demand. Total sales of semiconductor-related companies in China hit a record high of RMB 1 trillion last year, up 18 percent year-over-year.
Bloomberg recently reported that 19 of the world’s 20 fastest-growing semiconductor companies in the past year were Chinese companies, which is 11 more than the previous year. China has 2,810 semiconductor design companies, 23 times more than South Korea (120).
China’s growing self-sufficiency in semiconductors will inevitably affect the semiconductor industry, which accounts for 40% of Korea’s exports to China. China’s semiconductor imports fell 10.9% year-on-year from January to May this year. As China’s semiconductor sales surge, some forecasts suggest that China will grow to “threaten” South Korea within two years. In January, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) predicted that Chinese companies will increase their share of global semiconductor market sales from 9 percent in 2020 to 17 percent in 2024, while South Korea’s market share will remain at about 20 percent over the next three years.
“Catching up to the chin” is a Korean slang term meaning “close at hand” and “almost neck and neck”. In fact, former South Korean Deputy Prime Minister Lim Chang Yeol described the competitive situation between the Chinese and Korean industries five years ago. At that time, he said, the Chinese have caught up to the chin of South Korea in the field of automobiles, even in electronic products, South Korea has little advantage left, and in the semiconductor industry, China is investing huge amounts of money.
Although the Korean semiconductor industry generally believes that China is still far inferior to South Korea in terms of semiconductor quality, but at the same time, there are also views that under the government’s strong support, China’s semiconductor industry by virtue of the huge domestic market in the repeated trial and error to achieve rapid growth in the short term.
Many Korean industry experts believe that the Chinese “threat” is becoming more and more obvious, especially in the field of non-storage semiconductors, which are considered as the future industry in Korea. China is focusing on automotive semiconductor manufacturing and artificial intelligence (AI) semiconductor design, although it has been hampered by U.S. sanctions in high-precision semiconductors below 14 nanometers. With 10 times more investment in AI than South Korea, China is already ahead of South Korea in AI semiconductors, and China and the U.S. have been ranked as two of the top countries in AI semiconductor design.