Foxconn's founder Terry Gou says he can help Taiwan become the 'richest in Asia’ in 20 years. Photo: TTV NEWS, screengrab, YouTube

Taiwan’s richest man will run for the self-governing island’s presidency in January 2024, an announcement that underscores the failure of his and two other opposition parties to form an allied front against the current ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) at the crucial election.

Terry Gou, 72, founder and former chairman of Foxconn Technology, the world’s largest contract manufacturer of electronics, had said earlier he would not run in the presidential poll when the Kuomintang (KMT) nominated a rival. On August 28, however, he unveiled his candidacy despite ranking in polls as the fourth most popular candidate with a support rating of 12%.

Gou did say, however, that he, Kuomintang candidate Hou You-yi and Taiwan People’s Party’s chairman Ko Wen-je should all sit down and strategize on how they can cooperate to beat the DPP. Some analysts have speculated he believes that mounting his own campaign will force such a discussion among the opposition parties.

Ko’s latest rating is about 16.6% while Hou has 15.6%, both far below DPP candidate Lai Ching-te’s latest rating of 42.5%, according to Formosa E-Newsletter, a Taiwanese news website.

But if the three opposition candidates’ support ratings are combined they add up to a competitive 44.2%, some linear thinking analysts have noted.

The commentators said if Ko, Hou and Gou cannot form an alliance, Lai will likely win the election with ease. In that case, they said, Taiwan’s relations with mainland China are destined to deteriorate further.

During his press conference, Gou tried to ease certain public doubts that he would compromised in protecting Taiwan’s interests vis-a-vis China because of his substantial investments in the mainland, which some analysts have suggested may be held hostage by Beijing if a conflict breaks out in the Taiwan Strait. Although Beijing has never threatened to seize Guo’s assets, his politica opponents have played up the potential threat. 
“If the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) says I do not listen to it so it must confiscate Foxconn’s mainland investments, I would say ‘Yes! Please do it!’,” Gou said in answer to a hypothetical question in a media briefing on Monday.

He said if sacrificing his personal fortune would bring peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, he is willing to give up his personal wealth and become a molding and casting worker again. According to Forbes, Gou has a net worth of about US$7.2 billion.

However, he added that he does not believe that Beijing would confiscate Foxconn’s assets as such a move would hurt the interests of global pension funds that shareholders of the company. Guo said if that happens, no foreign investor would dare to invest in China again.

He said as Apple, Tesla, Amazon and Nvidia Corp are Foxconn’s key customers, any halt to production due to political pressure would disrupt global supply chains, something China would need to explain to the world.

Foxconn’s revenue amounted to NT$6.63 trillion (US$214 billion) last year, about 70% of which came from the United States and Europe. The company’s net profit was a cool NT$141.5 billion.

Guo said he left Foxconn’s chairman position four years ago and has not played a role with the company’s decisions since. He also stressed that he has no “personal” assets in China and that he doesn’t take instructions from Beijing. 

“Give me four years, and I will develop technology and the economy, enabling Taiwan to surpass Singapore within 20 years and become the richest in Asia in terms of per capita GDP,” said Gou.

At the end of last year, Taiwan’s per capita GDP amounted to $32,756 while Singapore’s was $82,808, according to the World Bank. China’s per capita GDP was $12,720 while Japan and South Korea were at $33,815 and $32,255, respectively. 

‘No integrity’

On May 17, the opposition KMT opted to nominate Hou as its 2024 presidential candidate. The decision was made by the party’s Central Committee rather than an open primary.

Prior to this, Gou had said he wanted to represent KMT at the 2024 presidential election but would agree to support Hou if he failed to be nominated by the party.

“I congratulate Hou for being nominated by KMT to run the 2024 presidential election. He is the strongest player and the best choice in the party. It’s reasonable for him to bear more responsibilities,” Gou said in a social media post on May 17 after KMT announced its nomination. “I will keep my promise and do my best to support Hou to win the election and remove the incompetent (DPP) government.” 

KMT said it is extremely regrettable that Gou changed his mind and decided to run in the upcoming election. Without commenting on whether he will work with other non-DPP candidates, Hou said on Monday he is the only KMT nominee and will continue to push forward his election campaign.

Foxconn chief Terry Gou (left) earlier failed to get Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je to join his camp. Now they’re running for president against each other. Photo: Facebook

Chang Li-shan, magistrate of Yunlin County and a KMT member, criticized Gou for breaking his promise to support Hou, saying Gou has “no integrity.” Guo’s presidential run will make it more difficult for opposition parties to unite, she said, suggesting the three anti-DPP candidates should sit down for discussions.  

Wu Tzu-chia, chairman of Formosa E-Newsletter, said that before Gou announced his presidential run the combined ratings of Ko and Hou had already dropped to 38.1% in August from 43.9% in July while rival Lai’s rating had risen to 42.5% from 35.1%.

Wu said if Gou, Hou and Ko do not work together, Lai will win the election with ease.

Beijing’s preference

When Eric Chu became the KMT’s chairman in September 2021, the CCP Central Committee’s Taiwan Work Office praised the KMT for its “anti-Taiwan-independence” stance and its support of the 1992 Consensus. It said Beijing hoped to work with the KMT to push forward peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and national reunification.

Until now, Beijing has continued to hope that KMT will win the 2024 Taiwanese presidential election but it has so far avoided publicly supporting Hou because such overt backing might hurt his poll ratings.

“Taiwanese should not expect mainland China to show a preference,” Wu Min, an associate professor of the School of Public Administration at Sichuan University said in an article published with the title, “KMT’s reaction towards Gou’s election campaign is extremely irrational.”

Wu says the KMT was naive for believing that Gou, who has frequently appeared in public events over the past few months, would not run in the election. He says while Beijing has avoided commenting on Taiwan’s upcoming presidential election it still cares about the island’s future politics.

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Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3