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Foxconn's Terry Gou considers a run for Taiwan president

Trump 'friend' known for pro-China outlook

Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou, in Taipei on Apr. 16, said he will decide about running "in the next two days" and that he would do so on the ticket of the pro-China Kuomintang.   © Reuters

TAIPEI -- Terry Gou, chairman of key iPhone assembler Hon Hai Precision Industry, is considering whether to run for the presidency of Taiwan in 2020, an election he believes will be crucial to the island's direction for decades to come.

"The 2020 [election] will decide Taiwan's politics, defense and economics in the coming 20 years," Gou told reporters before participating the Indo-Pacific Security Dialogue. "It also happens to be a turning point for the world."

Gou, whose company is better known as Foxconn, said he will decide whether to run "in the next two days" and that he would do so on the ticket of the pro-China Kuomintang.

The dialogue is part of the commemoration events surrounding the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act, which calls for Taiwan's status to be peacefully determined and for the U.S. to defend the island.

"I kept thinking [about it] the whole night," Gou added. "If I am running [for president], I am not running for the big position. Rather, I am asking myself, exactly [how] I can serve Taiwan's young people."

This the first time the 69-year-old tycoon has clearly and publicly expressed his interest in the position.

Gou founded Foxconn in Taiwan in 1974 as a component supplier. He went on to grow the company into the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer. The company, including its subsidiaries, has around 1 million employees worldwide and also has major investments in both China and the U.S. These include a $9 billion display project in Guangzhou, the major port city northwest of Hong Kong, and a $10 billion investment in the U.S. state of Wisconsin.

Gou often meets with politicians from around the world due to the global nature of Foxconn. He has met Chinese President Xi Jinping, U.S. President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a number of occasions.

Xi and Trump have each spoken of Gou as their "friend."

U.S. President Donald Trump and Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou attend a groundbreaking ceremony for a Foxconn facility in Wisconsin last year. Trump has described Gou as a "friend."   © Reuters

Gou, who has also said he will be stepping away from his day-to-day duties at Foxconn, did not directly address questions regarding succession plans or possible successors. However, he said, "I've been holding the baton for 45 years and it is only five more years until my planned retirement... I am thinking of giving more opportunities to younger talent [in the company]."

This is somewhat of a turnaround from last June, when Gou told shareholders that he would not bring up retirement in the next five years, referring to the period as key to Foxconn's corporate transformation.

It is not clear how Gou's possible decision to get involved in politics might affect Foxconn's operations. When asked if he would place his Foxconn holdings in a blind trust and give up leadership positions at the company were he to run for president, Gou declined to answer.

When asked if he will share his decision on running with U.S. President Donald Trump, whom Gou has called a good friend, the Taiwanese tech tycoon said he will share the news with voters in Taiwan first.

Gou said he is attending the Indo-Pacific Security Dialogue because it is important for him to gain a better understanding of Washington's thinking in regard to the U.S.-Taiwan relationship going forward. The relationship includes economic ties that are crucial to the island.

Gou said he disagrees with the idea of Taiwan buying arms to defend itself, saying he believes national defense should rely on peace, not force.

"We don't need to buy too many arms," he said. "Peace is the best defense. We should spend money [budgeted] for armed forces on economic development, invest it in the future of artificial intelligence ... Those are the best [investments]."

The U.S. State Department has approved an estimated $500 million deal in which the U.S. will train Taiwanese pilots, maintenance personnel and logistics support workers for the F-16 fighter jet, The New York Times reported on Monday, citing the Pentagon.

Gou has been increasing his social exposure in Taiwan over the past few months. He recently opened a Facebook page and created a Line account. Facebook and Line are Taiwan's most popular social networks.

Gou is known for his friendliness toward the Beijing-leaning Kuomintang. He said that if he decides to go for Taiwan's presidency in 2020 he will run in the KMT primary.

"If I am running," he said, "I will join the primary election and will not accept direct recruitment from the party. I will make and share a decision in the next two days."

Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu, KMT lawmaker Wang Jin-pyng and former KMT Chairman Eric Chu are considered likely candidates to run for KMT's nomination. Han enjoys the highest popularity among the three but has not said if he intends to run.

In an opinion poll conducted on April 2 by Fount Media, the tech tycoon tied for the top spot with Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, both of whom had an approval rate of 33.1%, while President Tsai Ing-wen trailed behind at 24.1% for the presidential election scheduled for January 2020.

If Gou were to run as the KMT's presidential candidate, he would likely be more reassuring to Beijing than pro-independence DPP candidates. And his warm ties to Trump, helped by his investment in the Wisconsin factory, suggests he would have a good relationship with the U.S., political analysts said.

"Gou has well-established relationships with China and the U.S. ... Who else in Taiwan has been invited to the White House, not just once but twice?" said Pan Chao-min, a professor at Tunghai University's Graduate Institute of Political Science in the western Taiwanese city of Taichung.

Ian Tsung-yen Chen, an assistant professor at the Institute of Political Science at the National Sun Yat-sen University, in the southwestern city of Kaohsiung, said Gou and Han tend to use rhetoric similar to Trump's, which voters find a refreshing change from that of traditional politicians.

However, Chen said Foxconn's heavy investment in China over the past decades could be a handicap for Gou and a worry for voters. "Considering Foxconn's massive investments in China, they could be viewed as hostages in the hands of Beijing. Every step Gou takes, he will have to weigh the possible outcomes of the group's future," Chen added.

The main opposition party said it cannot comment on the matter for the time being, as Gou has not yet confirmed his decision. But KMT lawmaker Wang Jin-pyng said Gou is an exceptional entrepreneur, and that if he decides to run "it will be a shocking move" to everyone. Former party chairman Chu said he acknowledges the efforts of everyone who feels a strong sense of responsibility to campaign on behalf of the KMT.

In response to Gou's hints at seeking the presidency, Tsai, told reporters on the sidelines of the Indo-Pacific Security Dialogue that she does not comment on "KMT affairs." Tsai's DPP rival, former Premier William Lai, said he welcomes anyone who is willing to shoulder the responsibility of serving the country to join the campaign.

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