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SoftBank chief highlights investment for Korea’s AI

Japan’s IT biz tycoon meets with President Moon, Korean chaebol amid dispute over Japan’s export curb

Son Masayoshi, chairman of Japanese IT conglomerate SoftBank, highlighted the importance of investments in leading artificial intelligence businesses for Korea to become an advanced AI-powered country during a meeting with President Moon Jae-in on Thursday.

In response to President Moon’s acknowledgement that Korea is a latecomer in the AI technology industry, Son said, “AI should (be) the top priority for Korea, and the country needs to focus on related education, policies, investment and budget.”


“Korea needs bolder moves to catch up on AI,” the chairman said. “I will help the world invest in Korean AI projects, but then Korea also needs to invest in the world’s top AI business, which will be the fastest way for the country to take the lead.”

The business tycoon’s remarks came amid trade tension between Seoul and Tokyo, in the wake of the Japanese government’s latest restrictions on key high-tech materials vital for Korea’s semiconductor and display panel production.

Though there was no direct mention of the export restrictions, the top-level meeting drew the industry’s attention as a significant signal concerning the ongoing trade dispute.

After meeting with Moon for 1 1/2 hours at Cheong Wa Dae, Son headed to meet with South Korea’s leading business leaders, including Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, to discuss cooperation between Japanese and Korean companies in the field of technology.

Also attending the strategic business dinner were Hyundai Motor Group Senior Vice Chairman Chung Euisun, LG Group Chairman Koo Kwang-mo, NCSoft CEO Kim Taek-jin and Naver Global Investment Officer Lee Hae-jin.

This marked the first meeting between third-generation leaders of Korean family-run conglomerates and IT entrepreneurs including Son.

Speculation was rampant that Son and his five Korean counterparts would discuss investment conditions and latest trends in the internet industry. Trade tension between Korea and Japan was on people’s minds, too.

Japan announced earlier this week that it would tighten regulations on exports of high-tech industrial materials to Korea. The list included fluorinated polyimide, which is essential for the production of semiconductors and display panels.

Son runs a 100 trillion won ($85.54 billion) fund called the SoftBank Vision Fund, earmarked for investments in promising tech businesses around the world. Through this fund, Son has invested $3 billion in the Seoul-based e-commerce platform Coupang.

The Japanese investor’s main interest in Samsung and LG is related to collaboration on semiconductors, the internet of things technology and artificial intelligence. With Hyundai Motor, Son is likely to discuss future mobility solutions.

Naver and SoftBank have partnered for investments in global IT businesses. The Korean internet portal giant launched a 50 billion won fund with the Japanese group’s subsidiary SoftBank Ventures in 2016 to invest in media content firms.

Naver donated another 50 billion won in 2017, and SoftBank used the fund to invest in US-based artificial intelligence content business ObEN and mobile fiction platform operator Radish.

SoftBank owns a 51 percent stake in Line Mobile, which operates virtual network operator services in Japan and Taiwan. Line Mobile is a division of Line Corp., Naver’s mobile messenger business.

NCSoft and the Japanese group set up the joint venture NC Japan in 2001 so that the Korean gaming company could expand into the Japanese market.

By Song Su-hyun (