The billionaire founder of tech giant Foxconn, Terry Gou, has announced he will run for president of Taiwan as an independent candidate, pledging to fix cross-strait relations and boost Taiwan’s economy.
At a press conference on Monday, Gou – a well-known and outspoken businessman – announced what he called “the era of entrepreneurs’ rule”.
“I have decided to join the 2024 presidential race,” he said, touting his business and finance experience, including dealings with China.
“Give me four years and I promise that I will bring 50 years of peace to the Taiwan Strait and build the deepest foundation for the mutual trust across the strait … Taiwan must not become Ukraine and I will not let Taiwan become the next Ukraine.”
Gou has hinted at running for several months after he was not chosen as the candidate for the main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT). He pledged support for the KMT’s chosen candidate, Hou Yo-ih, but continued to hold public campaign-style events.
Gou will need to collect 290,000 signatures by early November to qualify as an independent candidate.
China’s government has vowed to subsume Taiwan into the Chinese state, under what it calls “reunification”, but which is overwhelmingly rejected by Taiwan’s people and its major political parties. Under Xi Jinping’s rule, China has grown increasingly aggressive towards Taiwan. It cut communications with Taipei after president Tsai Ing-wen’s election win in 2016, and in recent years has sent increasing numbers of war planes and ships into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ).
On Saturday the Chinese military appeared to stage a total encirclement of the main island, launching 32 aircraft and nine ships, including weaponised drones, fighter jets, reconnaissance aircraft, and bombers. It prompted both Taiwan and Japan to scramble their own warplanes in response.
On Monday, Gou blamed Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive party (DPP) for escalating tensions, calling them arrogant and corrupt.
“Under the rule of the Democratic Progressive party in the past seven years or so, internationally, they lead Taiwan towards the danger of war. Domestically, their policies are filled with mistakes,” he said.
The entrance of Gou into the campaign adds further intrigue to what was already an unusual race. Lai Ching-te, the current vice-president and presidential nominee for the ruling DPP, is polling ahead of both the KMT’s Hou, the current mayor of New Taipei City and a former police chief, and Ko Wen-je, the former mayor of Taipei City and nominee for the Taiwan People’s party he founded.
A poll last week found Lai’s support was at 43%, compared with 27% for Ko, and just 14% for the KMT’s Hou. More than 16% were undecided or refused to answer.
In his speech Gou called for an anti-DPP coalition. Ko, Hou and Gou are all considered to be from the pan-blue side of Taiwanese politics which adheres more closely to a Chinese identity. However initial reaction from analysts was that Gou’s entry into the race would probably split the blue vote further and instead benefit the DPP.
Lai, who had in the past referred to himself as a “worker” for Taiwanese independence, has tempered his approach since taking the nomination and stuck closer to the position of Tsai. The president has avoided crossing any Chinese red lines by saying the Republic of China (Taiwan) is already a sovereign nation with no need to declare independence.
On Friday, Lai told international media he would continue Tsai’s work on boosting defence, strengthening international ties, and seeking dialogue with Beijing but only on the premise of “parity and dignity”.
Chi Hui Lin and Reuters contributed to this report