Vietnam has just begun to enter the thriving Asian semi-conductor boom.
Some say that if Vietnam plays its cards right, the nation could compete with tech powerhouses like South Korea in the next ten years.
In the interim, Professor Hiroshi Ochi from the Kyushu Institute of Technology (Japan) has advised Vietnam to invest in its highly talented students.
Thanh Nien Weekly: How is the semiconductor industry going at this moment?
Hiroshi Ochi: The semiconductor market is growing worldwide thanks to smartphones, Ipods and all these electronics devices which are very popular. Today, even in developing countries, everyone has a computer. The market size is getting bigger and semiconductor manufacturing is changing: yesterday's leading producers (like Japan and the US) are lagging. China, Taiwan's and Korea's are on the rise. So they compensate each other.
Those Asian economies are becoming very strong. So, as a result, we can say that semiconductor production is increasing. In the future, Vietnam and Indonesia could be the third generation of semiconductor producers. You could be the next generation.
Why do you say that?
If the government goes in the right direction Vietnam can become like Korea. You are growing. You organize high-tech conferences. The Vietnam National University (VNU) is a great university, and you have ICDREC (IC Design Research and Education Center), the design center. So there are a lot of possibilities to bring the semiconductor industry to Vietnam.
What do you predict for the IC industry over the next ten years?
China is a good example. At the beginning of their economic development, they earned a lot of money from low tech production mass production. Then, as the next step, they invested all this money in the semiconductor segment and the automobile industry. They opened their market to the world. That's why a lot of foreign companies decided to invest in China.
So this big investment of money stimulated the economy and education. They still don't have big electronic companies, they just have companies for mass production, and appliances. They don't produce high-tech semiconductors or applications like the iPod or the iPhone. Still, they have been successful. Because the government wanted to invest in this field.
So China is a success story even if they don't have high-tech companies: the secret is the government control. If the administration decides to invest in a certain field, like semiconductors, you don't need big companies, you have the government that can help local companies to develop. The same thing can be applicable to Vietnam. Your government is strong and, if it has the money, it can invest in this field.
So how much do we need in order to have substantial production in Vietnam for this industry
I'll reply with another example: Taiwan. In Taiwan, the target was semiconductor fabrication plants. The company TSMC needed huge investments. At the beginning they didn't build any plants. They waited for the foreign money. So this can be a model for you: if your government doesn't have the money right now to invest in the semiconductor industry, wait. And while you are waiting you can educate your students and engineers.
But even if your government has the money, it should think very carefully about the right way to spend it. In Taiwan, they invested in semiconductor fabrication plants. They became successful but I don't think you should follow Taiwan's lead. TSMC is already a strong company, you can't compete with them, you should avoid investing in costly plants.
Are you suggesting that Vietnam should only concentrate on design?
Exactly. And when you design something, you can ask Taiwan to make it.
What do you think of Vietnamese students?
Vietnamese students are top quality. My direct experience can better show what I'm talking about. I'm the director of the LSI (Large Scale Integrated) Design Contest. We hold it annually and we invite universities from many Asian countries. Usually Kyoto or Osaka wins first prize.
But recently things have changed. In Indonesia there is the Bandung Institute of Technology, and it is one of the top technological universities. They won three times. But the achievements of the Vietnamese students are far better than the Indonesian or Japanese students. Last time your students won. That proves that your education system and the caliber of your students are very good.