Noting growing uncertainties surrounding the escalating US-China rivalry, SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won said Wednesday that his priority at the moment is bracing for business survival itself, not seeking profits or efficiency.
“The most urgent task is finding the way of survival under any circumstances,” the tycoon said at a press conference in Washington, where he was visiting to inspect local operations.
“Rather than focusing on maximizing profits or efficiency like in the past, we are opting for stability more recently.”
The SK chief added that the nation’s second-largest conglomerate is setting up plans in anticipation of several scenarios, including the worst, like the possibility of a military conflict in Taiwan.
Asked about the business impact of a US export ban on semiconductor equipment into China, he admitted that the group’s chipmaking unit SK hynix could be forced to relocate facilities if it struggles to upgrade production lines there.
“Our scenario planning covers from the most extreme situations to maintaining the status quo. It is the game of probability,” he said.
But he made it clear that ditching the Chinese market is not an option, considering the huge trade volume between South Korea and China. Almost 60 percent of Korean-made chips are shipped to China.
“South Korea should come up with measures to survive in fields where decoupling (from China) is happening. The private sector alone cannot handle the issue. The government should offer more diverse options and more extensive support measures.”
In the meantime, he maintained a cautious approach to the seemingly protectionist policies of the US, including the recent Inflation Reduction Act that offers government subsidies only for electric vehicles produced domestically.
“The move can become a boon or bane depending on the speed and depth,” he added, saying emotional reaction based on nationalism cannot be helpful to deal with the issue.
He last visited the US in July, when he held a meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House. During the meeting, held virtually due to the president’s COVID-19 infection, he pledged to make an additional $30 billion in investments and create more than 20,000 jobs in the country.
According to Chey, during the meeting Biden asked what should be done to attract more investment into the US and he responded that more efforts should be made to elevate labor competitiveness in manufacturing sectors.
Later in the day, Chey also attended SK Night, an in-person event held for the first time in almost three years due to pandemic disruptions, during which he shared his views about pending issues ranging from the group’s foreign investment plans to its efforts to support Busan’s World Expo bid.
SK recently announced plans to invest a total 250 trillion won ($177 billion), including 70 trillion won abroad, by 2030.