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The billionaire founder of Apple supplier Foxconn said he would run as an independent candidate in Taiwan’s January presidential election, throwing into uncertainty a crucial geopolitical race.
Terry Gou told supporters and reporters on Monday that his candidacy was aimed at forcing an alliance of opposition candidates against front-runner Lai Ching Te of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
“We must end the corrupt and impotent rule of the Democratic Progressive Party,” Gu said. The big question is whether the opposition really wants to win. If we do, we must unite. That’s the purpose and aim of my show.”
Like other opposition candidates, Zhou places at least part of the blame for the escalating tension with China on the DPP and advocates talks with Beijing to keep the peace.
China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and reserves the option of seizing the island by force if Taipei resists unification — a threat reinforced by increased military maneuvers around Taiwan in recent years.
Most opinion polls put Lai, the vice president, ahead by 33 to 40 percent. Former Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-ji, whose Taiwan People’s Party is targeting swing voters, and Huo Yue of the Kuomintang, the largest opposition party, rank second and third, respectively. Joe trails Ho by 15 percent or less. As an independent, Joe needs to collect 290,000 signatures to qualify as a candidate.
The 72-year-old Foxconn founder retired as chairman of the world’s largest contract electronics maker four years ago, but remains a board member and shareholder.
Since the KMT chose Hu, mayor of New Taipei City, Taiwan’s most populous municipality, over Jo as its presidential candidate this year, the billionaire businessman has continued to hold campaign-style events.
Officials of Taiwan’s two major political parties and analysts believe that if the three opposition candidates fail to consolidate their bids, Lai’s victory is certain, but an agreement between the three could turn the race upside down.
Although Zhou’s bid is far-fetched, his candidacy raises questions about how he will handle the political pressure Beijing exerts on Taiwan with Foxconn’s heavy presence in China. The company has 75 percent of its global staff of one million people in China, and is the country’s largest private employer and exporter.
Zhou dismissed the notion that the large Chinese investments in Hon Hai, as the leading Taiwan-listed Foxconn company is called, made him vulnerable to Chinese pressure.
“If the Chinese Communist Party says follow my orders or I will confiscate your assets in Hon Hai, then I will say yes, please do,” he said. “I will not be threatened.”
Zhou said Beijing could not afford to hurt Foxconn because it would affect investor confidence in China and disrupt global supply chains.
Political observers are now watching whether the three opposition candidates can reach an agreement.
“Looking at Koo’s campaign rhetoric, Hu and Zhou, there is a lot of overlap,” said a KMT politician who advises Hu. “We all think that the voters are fed up with the DPP, we all disagree with their cross-strait policies, and we all think they are doing a bad job in terms of the economy.
“But it’s very difficult to come to an agreement, especially when you’re dealing with Ko and Jo, who have huge egos and make a very difficult deal.”
Jo and Hui’s aides said the three opposition candidates had agreed to meet on Wednesday.
Polls show that although Ko has the strongest public support of the three, he will suffer the most from Jo’s candidacy.
Scenarios discussed by observers include Koo becoming Hu’s deputy and Jo being promised the post of prime minister. Analysts question the possibility of reaching a middle ground.
Despite his pledge to forge unity with his rivals, Joe began his campaign with big promises. “Give me four years, and I guarantee you that for the next 50 years I will achieve peace in the Taiwan Strait,” he said. “Give me four years, and I will make Taiwan the richest in Asia and help it overtake Singapore in terms of per capita GDP.”