TAIPEI -- Taiwan's presidential hopefuls angling for a nomination from the Kuomintang are breaking with the opposition party's traditionally pro-Beijing stance, as large-scale protests in Hong Kong have fueled wariness toward the mainland here.
Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou, who is seeking a Kuomintang nomination, is now trying to play down his ties to China's political and business circles. "One country, two systems' has failed in Hong Kong," Gou told reporters Sunday.
Gou built his business, also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry, by assembling iPhones and other electronics on the mainland, and his strong ties to Beijing were initially seen as a strength.
In January, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged Taiwan to adopt the "one country, two systems" framework and reunify with the mainland. The framework, as used in Hong Kong and Macau, allows for separate administrative and economic systems but leaves Beijing in control of foreign affairs and defense.
The recent Hong Kong protests, sparked by a controversial bill that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to the mainland from the city, has more Taiwanese worrying that Beijing would try a hardfisted approach on the island if the two sides were to unify.
Grievances over the economy and other policy had put President Tsai Ing-wen, who clinched the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party's nomination last week, far behind Kuomintang candidates in the polls. But she has quickly caught up as anti-Beijing sentiment grows.
Public support can be fickle, "and we don't know if these tail winds will last until the vote in January," a DPP official said.
While the Kuomintang is also technically against bringing "one country, two systems" to Taiwan, the party is undeniably close to Beijing. Its vice president attended an event promoting reunification just this month. Many believe Gou's recent tough-on-China comment was lip service as well.
The Kuomintang is expected to choose a nominee as early as the middle of next month based on opinion polls. Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu has been the front-runner so far, maintaining a double-digit lead over Gou until early May.
But the race has grown much closer after he sounded dismissive of the Hong Kong protests on June 9, saying he does not know much about them. Local media have also reported that he met with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the city's now-embattled leader, back in March.
He quickly changed tack. "Over my dead body," Han said Saturday on the possibility of introducing "one country, two systems" to Taiwan, as he tried to control the damage.
Experts believe the presidential election will shape up into a three-way contest between incumbent Tsai, the Kuomintang nominee and Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, an independent. Ko has yet to formally announce his bid but is expected to attract support mainly from middle-class voters disillusioned by the two major parties.
He has recently been echoing public sentiment on hot-button issues, and said that "one country, two systems" would not be supported in Taiwan.
Beijing wants the China-friendly Kuomintang to win. The party scored a resounding victory over the DPP in local elections in November. "The results reflected the strong will of the Taiwan public in hoping to continue to share the benefits of the peaceful development of relations across the Taiwan Strait," a statement by China's Taiwan Affairs Office said at the time.