How Foxconn’s Terry Gou changes Taiwan’s presidential race

Updated Aug 28, 2023, 3:23pm EDT
Terry Gou
securityEast Asia
Diego Mendoza/

Terry Gou, the founder of major Apple supplier Foxconn and one of Taiwan’s richest men, announced a bid for the self-governing island’s presidency on Monday.

The 72-year-old tech mogul said he would help voters unite against Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate and front-runner William Lai, who currently serves as vice president and whose platform pushes more nationalistic policies.

Officials said Gou will need to secure 300,000 signatures by Nov. 2 to secure a spot on the January ballot.

In his address to supporters, Gou said he would ensure Taiwan would not become “the next Ukraine.”

“Under the rule of the DPP in the past seven years or so, internationally, they have led Taiwan towards the danger of war,” he said.

Gou's candidacy "is going to create a very difficult collective action challenge for blue voters,"1 or voters who favor better relations with Beijing, argues Taipei-based academic Lev Nachman. Gou is running as an independent and has tried to position himself as a politician beyond the traditional nationalism versus unification spectrum of Taiwanese politics, Nachman writes, but his ideological track record still aligns him closer to the Kuomintang, the current opposition party. "If all blue voters voted for the same person, they might beat the DPP," Nachman writes. "But that requires a lot of politicians/voters becoming real cool with each other real fast."

A lack of political experience is a hurdle for Gou, writes academic Tien-Tai Chang for Taiwanese national newspaper Liberty Times‘ "Freedom to Speak" column. This is frequently seen in his unabashed rhetoric and outlandish proposals that are "not representative of public opinion."2 Some of his suggestions have included deploying "80,000 robots"3 to defend Taiwan if China were to invade, or that the Chinese air force will pray to a sea goddess before bombing the island.4

As China’s largest private employer, Foxconn “has built a relationship of trust5 with the Chinese government, raising concerns that Beijing could pressure Gou6 through his extensive business operations in the country, Bloomberg reports. In 2019, Gou dropped out of the presidential race as a KMT candidate, saying he was unwilling to split blue voters. But now, Gou is touting himself as the one pan-blue candidate who will fix cross-strait relations without bowing to China's threats.

Some Beijing hardliners are happy about Gou's candidacy because they believe it will only speed unification, Chinese state tabloid Global Times writes. The magazine acknowledges that Gou's candidacy only tips the odds in Lai's favor, but a Lai presidency means that "the mainland will find it easy to completely abandon 'the illusion of peaceful reunification,' and make tough decisions to solve the Taiwan question immediately,"7 the writers argue.