A billionaire is making an early run for a hugely consequential presidential election next year that has the potential to reshape the world order as we know it. Meet Taiwan’s Terry Gou.
A millionaire has announced his candidacy for the presidential elections next year, which could have a profound impact on the global order. Meet Taiwan’s Terry Gou.
Last month, Gou said he was seeking the nomination of the Kuomintang party for Taiwan’s presidency. He presented himself as the most qualified candidate to prevent a war between Taiwan and China. “Peace is not taken for granted, and people need to make the correct choice,” he said, adding that he hopes to “resolve the crisis.”
One of Taiwan’s wealthiest people, with a net worth of around $7 billion, Gou is entering the fray at a fraught geopolitical moment, offering dialogue with Taiwan’s cross-strait neighbor to dispel the growing specter of military conflict. But his deep personal and business ties with China could make him an imperfect messenger.
The KMT has undergone something of an ideological shift since fleeing China in the late 1940s and establishing the Taiwanese government, replacing its radically anti-China stance with more of a “don’t rock the boat” strategy since the early 2000s. In this century, it has espoused a somewhat more pro-China stance than Taiwan’s ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen, which endorses complete independence for the island. Tsai can’t run again due to term limits, and the DPP has nominated current Vice President Lai Ching-te–considered even more pro-independence than Tsai–as its candidate for next January’s vote.
“You must prepare for war to avoid war,” Lai said last month.
Gou believes that friendly relations with Beijing will be the best protection against an invasion, which is a subject of increasing concern both in Taipei as well as Washington. He has literally put his money on the line for years. Foxconn, the tech conglomerate Gou founded in 1974 that is now best known as the largest contract manufacturer of Apple’s iPhones, has sprawling factories in China that account for the bulk of its production and employs over a million Chinese workers.
Gou stepped down as chairman of Foxconn in 2019, the first time he ran for Taiwan’s highest office, but he failed to win a KMT primary and subsequently quit the party. At least with the KMT, the billionaire has repaired fences. The billionaire is hoping that the current geopolitical situation will propel him to victory this time. He will argue that DPP’s pro independence message will provoke an invasion by China. Senior U.S. defense officials have said publicly that Beijing may make a bid to forcibly cow what it regards as a renegade province by about 2027.
” The growing sense of panic or concern among U.S. citizens about the possibility of a Chinese military attack on Taiwan actually helps the KMT in this election,” Kharis templeman, research fellow and expert in Taiwan at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution said. “They have a pretty credible reputation for being the party that can smooth things in the relationship with Beijing, and if you really believe that there may be a war in the next five years, then the KMT has a pretty strong case to make in front of voters that ‘if you don’t want war, vote for us.'”
That’s certainly the message Gou is bringing to his campaign, recently telling an audience at Taiwan’s Tunghai University that China would not attack if he were president. There’s good reason why the rhetoric sounds so familiar.
“There’s a kind of rich, self-made billionaire personality that assumes because they’ve made a lot of money and they’ve had all of this success over the years, that they know better than anybody else how to solve the problems that face the country,” Templeman said. “I suspect part of what’s motivating him is just the kind of ego that comes with being in a very prominent position in the business community and thinking that you could run the government in Taiwan better than any of these yahoos on either side of the political spectrum.”
The parallels with another repeat contender are clear, including for Gou himself. Former U.S. President Donald Trump is hawkish on China but dovish to a fault with one of the United States’ main adversaries, Russia. Gou is little different.
“Gou fashions himself as the Taiwan version of Donald Trump,” said Russell Hsiao, the executive director of the Washington-based Global Taiwan Institute.
Unlike Trump, Gou has yet to succeed in a bid for the presidency, and experts say he’s a long shot this time around as well. Hou Yu-ih, the mayor of the northern city of New Taipei, is widely considered the front-runner for the KMT candidacy and is seen as a more moderate choice with a better shot against the DPP’s Lai. Hou Yu-ih, the mayor of New Taipei in northern Taiwan is widely considered to be the frontrunner for KMT candidacy. He’s seen as a more moderate choice with a better shot against Lai from DPP.
But the KMT isn’t taking any risks. It changed its primaries, replacing the preliminary votes that Gou lost four years ago with a more opaque nominating process. They can still see through the smoke.
“I think the KMT will choose Hou because it believes he can beat Lai. I also think Terry is likely to be chosen because of Foxconn, his past, and the DPP’s criticism of him.
People in Taiwan may worry about an invasion by China, just as those within the Pentagon E-ring. And a Gou run might defuse those fears. If it goes anywhere.
“My feeling is that having these business connections in mainland China is a liability. The DPP, I believe is salivating over the prospect of him being the candidate. They’ll have an easy target then,” Templeman stated. “He would have a very hard time winning the general election.”
FP staff writer Christina Lu contributed reporting.