President Moon Jae-in vowed to build Korea into a dominant producer of high-tech materials, parts and equipment — turning export restrictions by Japan into opportunity — during a visit to an SK hynix memory chip plant in Icheon, Gyeonggi, on Thursday.
Moon said Korea could take a different path from Japan’s and play a critical role helping global supply chains hurt by the trade row between China and the United States and the coronavirus pandemic.
“We will walk a different road from Japan,” Moon said. “Korea will transform a risk into an opportunity to become a strong player in the global high-tech materials, parts and equipment industries.
“We will contribute to stabilizing the global supply chain through a collaboration with the international community. This is the path that Korea will take.”
The tour of the factory was meant to mark the passage of one year after Japan put unilateral restrictions on exports to Korea of three vital materials used in the production of semiconductors and displays.
Moon also announced plans to nurture domestic competitiveness in making the materials Japan restricted: photoresists, hydrogen fluoride gas and fluorinated polyimide.
The president praised Korean corporations’ efforts to wean themselves off Japanese tech materials and equipment.
“It took less than one year [for Korean companies] to localize hydrogen fluoride gas and fluorinated polyimide, the items that we relied on Japan for […] As for EUV photoresists, the supply has become stable as Korea attracted investments from foreign companies [to produce them].”
SK Materials, a semiconductor materials affiliate of SK, started mass production of 99.999 percent pure hydrogen fluoride gas last month, becoming the first Korean company to manufacture so-called etching gas at that level of purity.
Soulbrain, a Kosdaq-listed semiconductor parts producer, also succeeded in mass-producing 99.9999999999 percent pure hydrogen fluoride liquid — known as 12N — in January.
Hydrogen fluoride is used in gas or liquid form to clean surfaces or etch patterns on semiconductors.
Last year, Kolon Industries started mass-producing fluorinated polyimide after starting manufacturing facilities in Gumi, North Gyeongsang. The material is used for production of flexible displays, such as foldable smartphones and rollable TVs.
Photoresists are the only input Korea hasn’t managed to master. But U.S. chemical giant DuPont announced in January that it would invest $28 million between 2020 and 2021 to develop and produce EUV photoresists in Korea, while Japanese supplier Tokyo Ohka Kogyo (TOK) has decided to make the material in Korea.
The president pledged to ratchet up the government’s push to bring global high-tech manufacturers to the country.
“With an aim of becoming a global hub for high-tech industry, [the Korean government] will make efforts to foster new growth engines like semiconductors, biopharmaceuticals, futuristic mobility and hydrogen-powered or rechargeable batteries,” he said.