Could Taiwan choose Gou Tai-ming of Foxconn as President?

May 09, 2023 08:05
Terry Gou Tai-ming (Photo: Reuters)

In next January’s election, could Taiwan voters choose Terry Gou Tai-ming, founder of Foxconn, as their next president?

The island’s most famous businessman is campaigning to be the candidate of the opposition Kuomintang party, which is due to announce its choice later in May.

“What is the future of Taiwan -- the arms depot of Asia or its high-tech island?” he said in a combative speech last week (April 27) at Tunghai University. “We should use hi-tech to make friends with the world. Many of our politicians do not understand economics, only how to campaign.

“Attacking Taiwan is not the first mission of the mainland. They do not want a war. Taiwan should not go for independence. China’s priority is the economy, to keep up living standards and solve the high unemployment among young college graduates,” he said.

The KMT candidate will face Vice President Lai Ching-te, whom the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has chosen for the race. Another likely candidate is former Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, chairman of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP).

Gou has much going for him. The KMT does not have a strong, charismatic leader. Its front runner is Hou Yu-ih, Mayor of New Taipei City and a former Director-General of the National Police Agency.

Gou’s success story is extraordinarily global and not only in Taiwan. The Hon Hai Technology Group (Foxconn) he founded in 1974 has become the largest electronics manufacturer in the world, with revenue in 2022 of a record NT$6.627 trillion and net profit of NT$141.5 billion. It has manufacturing plants and R & D centres in more than seven countries and owns over 54,000 patents. It has a dozen plants in nine cities in China.

No-one in Taiwan knows China and its leaders better than Gou. Is anyone better equipped than he to negotiate with them?

After eight years in power, support for the DPP is wobbling. On May 1, 5,000 people from 30 labour groups marched down the avenue in front of the Presidential Palace, demanding a minimum monthly wage of NT$30,000. They said that, during the DPP tenure, the increase in wages had not kept pace with inflation, the gap between rich and poor was widening and the country’s wealth was not being shared fairly.

A poll published in January found that, in a three-horse race, Gou would win 34 per cent, Lai 25 per cent and Ko 20 per cent. In a two-horse race, Gou would beat Lai 47 per cent to 34 per cent. It found that 30 per cent of respondents believed Gou would be best able to handle cross-Strait relations, followed by Lai with 17 per cent and Hou with 11 per cent.

Gou had even better news last week (May 1). A survey published by the United Daily News found that a joint KMT-TPP ticket would receive 46 per cent of the votes, against 31 per cent for Lai and had a very high probability of victory.

But, while Gou is popular among the public, he is not so popular within the KMT itself. He has no experience as a political leader and has never held elected office. His challenge is to persuade KMT lawmakers and members to choose him over a longtime member like Hou.

The KMT members have to make a critical decision – choose one of their own as a candidate who is likely to lose or outsider Gou as their best chance to return to power.

His close ties with Beijing are both a strength and a weakness. “There is no way Gou can explain his myriad business ties with China if he runs,” said Chen Shui-bian, the first DPP president from 2000 to 2008. The DPP would attack him as too dependent on China and not able to safeguard the interests of Taiwan because of his own business interests.

The aggressive speeches of Beijing’s leaders and military exercises of the PLA close to and around Taiwan have made the public increasingly hostile. Only a few per cent support reunification with the mainland.

This makes cross-straits relations the most difficult issue for Gou and the KMT. They are promising peace and good relations with Beijing, but can they deliver it? Would Beijing be willing to cancel the military exercises?

In his speech at Tunghai University, Gou said: “They think Taiwan belongs to them. Then let them say ‘we will maintain the status quo and keep cross-straits relations in a gray zone.”

A poll last July by National Chengchi University found that 82.1 per cent of Taiwan people want to maintain the status quo, without independence, reunification or military conflict. That is the best solution for everyone.

Would Beijing accept this?

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.