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AMCHAM Board of Governors Chairman Jeffrey Jones, left, has an online media event this January along with AMCHAM CEO James Kim. As Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong is imprisoned, business lobbies continue to ask for his release. Photo courtesy of AMCHAM

US bizpeople asks for closer semiconductor cooperation between US and Korea

The American Chamber of Commerce in Korea (AMCHAM) said on May 20 that it asked the presidential office to release Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, who was imprisoned this year for such charges as bribery.

Lee is a de-facto chief of Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest manufacturer of memory chips and smartphones, after his father’s death last October.

“AMCHAM’s core missions include promoting the U.S.-Korea economic partnership and facilitating Korean investment into the U.S. It is critically important to the U.S. that Samsung be an active participant in the investment decision in the U.S. going forward,” it noted.

“We are concerned that the current issue facing the leader of Samsung Electronics can be a significant distraction to Samsung’s support of the semiconductor industry in the U.S. We conveyed this opinion to the Korean government in the hope that it would be helpful for them to understand the importance of the issue for both economies.”

AMCHAM made the petition just before South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in left the country this week to have the first summit with his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden. One of the major agendas would be the two countries’ cooperation in the semiconductor business.

AMCHAM Board of Governors Chairman Jeffrey Jones worried about the possibility that the two long-standing allies’ partnership in semiconductors might weaken.

“Given the critical importance of semiconductors to the U.S. economy and Samsung’s plans to increase production in the U.S., it is important to the U.S.-Korea economic partnership that the U.S. continues to rely on Korea,” he said.

“We do not want the U.S. to shift its reliance away from Korea, and we believe the leadership of Samsung is critical to this.”

Established in 1953, AMCHAM is the biggest chamber here. More than 800 companies and subsidiaries are its members.

Decision of President Moon Jae-in

Samsung Vice Chairman Lee is serving a 30-month sentence. He will be set free in July 2022 unless he gets a pardon or commutation.

Since his imprisonment on Jan. 18, there have been requests to release the businessman. The country’s major business lobby groups sent letters similar to that of AMCHAM to the presidential office last month.

Four pollsters in Seoul surveyed more than 1,000 people last week to learn that nearly 65 percent of the respondents supported Lee’s release.

Last month, the presidential house noted that it had no plan to review Lee’s pardon. But President Moon said during a press meeting this month, “I will make a decision after listening to voices of many people.”

Watchers point out that it remains to be seen whether Vice Chairman Lee will be able to walk free in the near future.

“Moon would worry about losing key political supporters as his administration had stressed fairness and justice,” Leader’s Index CEO Park Ju-gun said.

“Plus, the government has promised not to grant a pardon to criminals related to bribery and embezzlement. But more and more people ask for his release. President Moon would agonize over the decision.”

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The publisher studied Korean history in Seoul and management of business administration in the United Kingdom. He has 20-year experiences in the media business. Kim can be reached at voc200@gmail.com or 82-2-6956-6698.