TAIPEI (Reuters) – Terry Gou, chairman of Apple supplier Foxconn, said on Wednesday he will contest Taiwan’s 2020 presidential election, shaking up the political landscape at a time of heightened tension between the self-ruled island and Beijing.
Gou, Taiwan’s richest person with a net worth of $7.6 billion according to Forbes, said he would join the already competitive race, and take part in the opposition, China-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) primaries.
His decision capped a flurry of news this week that began when Gou told Reuters on Monday he planned to step down from the world’s largest contract manufacturer to pave the way for younger talent to move up the company’s ranks.
He announced on Tuesday he was considering a presidential bid and hinted he was close to a decision when he told more than 100 people packed into a temple he would follow the instruction of a sea goddess who had told him to run in the presidential race.
“Peace, stability and (Taiwan’s) economy future are my core values,” Gou said later at the KMT’s headquarters in Taipei.
He urged the party to rediscover the spirit of the KMT, the honor of KMT members and the KMT’s lost support of the youth.
Gou’s bid, which requires KMT approval, comes at a delicate time for cross-strait relations and delivers a blow to the ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, which is struggling in opinion polls.
China-Taiwan relations have deteriorated since the island’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-leaning DPP, swept to power in 2016.
China suspects Tsai is pushing for the island’s formal independence. That is a red line for China, which has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.
Tsai says she wants to maintain the status quo with China but will defend Taiwan’s security and democracy.
A senior adviser to Tsai told Reuters he thought Gou’s bid could create problems, given his extensive business ties with China.
“This is problematic to Taiwan’s national security,” the adviser, Yao Chia-wen, said.
“He’s very pro-China and he represents the class of the wealthy people. Will that gain support from Taiwanese?” Yao said, adding he believed Gou would face a tough battle in the KMT primary.
Tension between Taipei and Beijing escalated again on Monday, as Chinese bombers and warships conducted drills around the island, prompting Taiwan to scramble jets and ships to monitor the Chinese forces.
The KMT, which once ruled China before fleeing to Taiwan at the end of a civil war with the Communists in 1949, said in February it could sign a peace treaty with Beijing if it won the hotly contested presidential election.
Zhang Baohui, a regional security analyst at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University, said Gou’s run could mark the start of the most unusual election race in Taiwan history.
“This is something entirely fresh for Taiwan politics – here is a candidate who sees everything through the pragmatic angle of a businessman rather than raw politics or ideology,” Zhang told Reuters.
“He has no baggage and that will be a fascinating scenario.”
Gou’s news comes as Tsai is grappling with a series of unpopular domestic reform initiatives, from a pension scheme to labour law, which have come under intense voter scrutiny.
The KMT said this week Gou had been a party member for more than 50 years and had given it an interest-free loan of T$45 million ($1.5 million) in 2016 under the name of his mother, which had signalled his loyalty to the party.
Foxconn said on Tuesday Gou would remain chairman of Foxconn, though he planned to withdraw from daily operations.
Reporting by Yimou Lee, Additional reporting by Greg Torode and Donny Kwok in HONG KONG; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Christopher Cushing