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Samsung heir 1st foreign biz tycoon to visit China after COVID-19 outbreak

Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong (center) checks on the memory chip production facility operations in Xian, China, on Monday. (Samsung Electronics)
Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong (center) checks on the memory chip production facility operations in Xian, China, on Monday. (Samsung Electronics)

Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong on Monday paid a visit to the company’s memory chip plant in Xian, China -- the first foreign business mogul to enter the country after the coronavirus outbreak.

The South Korean tech giant’s heir apparent checked on the memory business in China during the visit accompanied by Memory Business President Jin Gyo-young and Samsung’s China operations chief Hwang Deuk-kyu.

“There will be no future if we are caught in the past and settle in the present,” Lee said. “We need to take preemptive measures to create new growth engines. We shouldn’t miss the timing.”

Lee departed from Gimpo International Airport on Sunday through the businessman fast track corridor after being tested for infection. Upon his arrival, he got a second virus test in Xian and tested negative. Korea and China have agreed to allow entry of businessmen since May 1, although the agreement is restricted to 10 provinces in China.

The China visit marks Lee’s second overseas trip this year. Earlier in January, he had visited Samsung’s smartphone and TV factories in Brazil.

The latest visit is also his first overseas trip after he apologized on May 6 for Samsung’s unlawful practices. During the apology, Lee had emphasized that he needed to fulfill his leadership duty for Samsung to remain competitive in the dire business environment.

Last Wednesday, Lee had met with Hyundai Motor Executive Vice Chairman Chung Euisun and reportedly discussed cooperation in electric vehicle batteries. Their meeting, however, was not officially publicized by either firm.

Amid negative economic forecasts this year going ahead, Samsung is bracing for an overall slump in demand for semiconductors and the global economic downturn hurting the supply chain networks of the chipmaking industry.

The two Xian plants are Samsung’s only memory chip producing facilities outside Korea. The first plant has been running since 2014, while Samsung has been making investments for the second plant.

Last month, it dispatched around 200 engineers to the second Xian plant to ramp up the production facility. The newly completed line kicked off its operations in March, rolling out the fifth generation of V-NAND flash chips.

Samsung’s market share in the global NAND flash market is 33.5 percent as of the third quarter of last year, according to data by TrendForce.

While Samsung remains unchallenged in the memory market, Chinese firms have also been chasing it in the semiconductor technology battle.

With a goal to raise its self-sufficiency in the semiconductor sector by 2025, China is pouring massive funds to support its chipmakers.

Yangtze Memory Technologies has announced a major technological leap from 64-layer 3D NAND flash memory to 128 layers with a schedule to mass produce the cutting-edge chips later this year.

By Song Su-hyun (