The Korea Herald


SoftBank chief considers joint investments on AI with Korean tech leaders

Biz tycoon advises Korean biz leaders on Japan’s export curbs during dinner meeting

By Song Su-hyun

Published : July 5, 2019 - 16:19

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Masayoshi Son, chairman of Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, said Thursday he will make new investments in promising artificial intelligence businesses together with South Korean tech giants, hopefully this year.

The IT business tycoon discussed plans to expand cooperation and investments on AI with the leaders of five top Korean tech companies, including Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, at Korea Furniture Museum in Seongbuk-dong, northern Seoul.

In response to a question about the expansion of AI cooperation, Son firmly replied “yes.”

He also confirmed that he discussed joint investment plans with the Korean tech leaders, and added he hopes to see the investments to be executed this year.

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, Naver Global Investment Officer Lee Hae-jin and Hanwha Q Cells Chief Commercial Officer Kim Dong-kwan. 

SoftBank Chairman Masayoshi Son enters Korea Furniture Museum in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap) SoftBank Chairman Masayoshi Son enters Korea Furniture Museum in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)

With Samsung, SoftBank could seek closer collaboration on development of high-computing chips needed for AI processors.

SoftBank is the owner of UK-based Arm Holdings, the world’s biggest fabless chip company. It was acquired by SoftBank Group and its Vision Fund in 2016.

Before coming to the dinner, Son met with Samsung’s Lee for a private talk after meeting with Korean President Moon Jae-in at Cheong Wa Dae in the afternoon.

During their 1 1/2 hourlong conversation with President Moon, Son highlighted the importance of investments in leading AI businesses for Korea to become an advanced AI-powered country.

“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.”

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

Son didn’t comment on the soured relations between the two countries at Cheong Wa Dae.

However, there was significant discussion about the Japanese government’s curbs on semiconductor material exports to Korea at the dinner.

“We talked a lot about it,” Son answered when asked whether he provided some advice on the latest restrictions.

The Japanese government had announced Monday it would delist Korea from a “white list” of exports and scrutinize exports of photoresists, hydrogen fluoride and fluorinated polyimides to Korean companies including Samsung, SK hynix and other display makers, starting Thursday.

The move came amid worsened diplomatic relations between Seoul and Tokyo after the Korean Supreme Court’s ruling on compensation for Japan’s wartime forced labor eight months ago.

The Korean government is seeking strong countermeasures including filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization, denouncing such a move as “retaliatory.”

By Song Su-hyun (