The anticlimactic end to Taiwan businessman-politician Terry Gou’s presidential bid surprised both his supporters and his foes. The founder of the equipment manufacturing giant Foxconn, which makes Apple’s products, abruptly pulled out of the race just hours before the registration deadline last Monday evening.
Gou, Taiwan’s wealthiest businessman with a net worth of around US$8.5 billion, was the first to throw his hat into the ring, jumping into the fray in April, well before the primaries of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party (KMT), of which he used to be a member.
He claimed back then that he received a divine message from Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea, which jolted him out of his complacency and inspired his decision to serve the people by running for the island’s top office. He ditched his KMT membership in a bid to run as an independent, after losing the primary to Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu in July.
Now Apple Daily Taiwan has revealed that Beijing was responsible for Gou’s sudden cold feet, as party cadres overseeing Taiwan affairs dissuaded him for the sake of not diluting the KMT’s vote, which would have benefitted to the incumbent leader Tsai Ing-wen.
It is said that Beijing conveyed its veto to Gou when cadres met him on the mainland in July, and Gou was asked to focus on “the bigger picture” to ensure Beijing’s election strategies for Taiwan could deliver results.
The pro-democracy broadsheet also claims that Gou assured mainland officials that he would reconsider his bid.
Gou’s mainland exposure – Foxconn relies on China for its business and profits as it operates massive assembly plants in mainland cities including Shenzhen, Zhengzhou, Taiyuan, Suzhou, etc – is an election liability, especially among Taiwan’s young and middle-class electorate, who are less than enamoured with the prospect of the island being reduced to being a vassal state of Beijing.
Some question if Gou would have the resolve to face up to Beijing if elected, when the latter can either support or suppress his factories across the strait on the mainland.
Analysts say Gou would face a strenuous and lonely battle even if he decided to enter the race, because his rival Tsai can attack his links with the mainland while Han has all the resources of the KMT as well as Beijing’s covert backing. With Han already struggling to convince voters he and the KMT would not be doing Beijing’s bidding, Gou’s odds of winning would be even slimmer.
When asked about Beijing’s influence, Gou said it could shut down Foxconn’s plants at the drop of a hat, but stressed that he would never be intimidated. He added that Foxconn had already relocated assembly lines to more competitive regions such as India and Vietnam, a move that coincided with divestment from the mainland, rising labor costs and the US-China trade war.
If Tsai secures another term next year, it is believed that Gou may run again in 2024.