If selected, Gou will likely face off against incumbent Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in the 2020 election, scheduled for January 11.
Should he become president, Gou will likely be challenged with repairing this relationship, while maintaining Taiwan’s traditionally strong ties with Washington.
He will have a better claim than many candidates for being able to do so — Foxconn has made billions through deep involvement in the Chinese economy, where many of its manufacturing plants are based, producing electronics for many American tech companies, most notably Apple.
Blessings from a goddess
Wearing a bright red vest and a baseball cap showing the flag of the Republic of China — the official name for Taiwan — Gou said that Mazu had given her blessing to his candidacy.
“I am not willing to accept being appointed (without being elected), I am definitely not willing to accept being appointed. If elected, I will represent the Kuomintang in the 2020 contest,” he said. “If I am not elected, it means that I didn’t try hard enough.”
In a statement, Foxconn said Gou would only run for president, “if the primary process – which is still being determined by party leadership – is open, transparent, and grounded.”
“When and if this determination is made, Mr. Gou will run in the KMT’s primary to seek the party nomination for President,” a spokeswoman said.
Margaret Lewis, a Taiwan expert at the Seton Hall University School of Law, compared Gou’s candidacy to Trump’s, and warned against underestimating the Taiwanese billionaire.
“Even though he’s obviously flawed in many ways as a candidate, populism can be powerful,” she said. “It would be a mistake to treat his run too lightly.”
Lev Nachman, an expert on Taiwanese politics at the University of California, Irvine, said that Gou had one thing in particular that the KMT needs: Funding.
“Terry Gou is one of the wealthiest businessmen in Taiwan and would essentially be able to finance his own campaign,” he said. “That’s a big deal for the KMT right now.”
Support from Beijing?
Despite once fighting a civil war with the Communist Party for rule over China — before defeat forced the Republic of China government to retreat to Taiwan — the KMT has in recent decades been the party of closer ties and engagement with Beijing.
“Gou is an integral player in the Chinese economy and becoming president would put him in a position to very closely tie Taiwan into China’s economy in ways Tsai has fought against such as her New Southbound Policy which tried to extend Taiwan’s trade beyond just China,” Nachman said.
Foxconn could also be a potential concern for voters, however.
So far, the company has been tight-lipped over what a Gou run for president will exactly mean for his relations with the company he founded.
A spokeswoman said that at present Gou remains chairman, and would “continue to provide strategic direction and guidance,” as he seeks the KMT nomination.
“That’s the million dollar question. Who is Gou loyal to? Taiwan? Foxconn? Both? If the answer is Foxconn or both, that puts Taiwan in a bad position with Gou as president because Foxconn’s success is tied to, coercively or not, the Chinese state,” Nachman said.
“In the same way Trump only marginally divested from his assets when he became president, I would not expect Gou to truly move away from his (company),” he added.
“I would be greatly concerned with Gou’s ability to separate his business from his political endeavors. Given Foxconn’s position within the Chinese economy and Gou’s political ideals, I’m not sure he even can or wants to.”
Lewis, the Seton Hall professor, also cautioned against assuming that Gou — or any other KMT President — would be able to magically fix relations with Beijing.
“Ma Ying-jeou met with Xi Jinping, but I don’t think it’s fair to compare the Xi Jinping of 2015 with the Xi Jinping of 2019,” she said. “He’s been able to take on a more assertive position in recent years.”
Can he win?
Gou has said repeatedly that he does not want to be simply anointed as KMT candidate, and will fight the party’s primary.
“Han Kuo-yu is a very interesting, unusual person,” Lewis said. “He has has not set forth clear policies, going with a much more flashy, ‘I’m something different even if you don’t know what that is’ approach.”
As Kaohsiung mayor, Han has increased engagement with China, and would be expected to follow a similar path to Gou’s, which Lewis described as a “general willingness to engage with China, particularly economically, and a belief that engagement can be confined to the economic.”
“Han does currently have an unmatched level of popularity in Taiwan right now,” Nachman said. “Han has also shown, especially during his most recent trip to Hong Kong, that he, like Gou, is willing to build strong connections to the CCP and push for a more pro-unification agenda.”
With both Gou and Han favoring closer ties with China, Nachman said there was even a small possibility they could end up working together, on a ticket that could dramatically reshape politics both within the KMT and Taiwan at large.
“That would be the most blatantly pro-unification team to ever be seriously considered for presidential leadership,” he said. “It could very much lead to the end of the current status quo as we know it.”