Free China Presidential Election Turns Complicated in Face of an Increasingly Belligerent Beijing — and a ‘Trouble-Maker’ Leading in the Polls
Plus, founder of Foxconn enters as an independent in the election due in January.
Taiwanese politicians with presidential ambitions are running into complications for favoring a conciliatory approach toward the increasingly belligerent Communist China, while a candidate derided by Beijing as a “trouble maker” is leading the polls.
Taiwan’s wealthiest man, Terry Gou, the Foxconn founder, this week announced an independent run for the January 13 presidential election. In an echo of President Trump, he is vowing that if elected he would negotiate with Beijing and bring a half century of peace to the Taiwanese straits.
Yet, the Chinese Communists on the mainland are far from welcoming the newest entrant in Taiwan’s democratic election. That is because Beijing fears Mr. Gou’s candidacy could split up its favored political camp. With him, three candidates now hope to unseat the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which the mainland accuses of harboring independence aspirations.
The current DPP leader, President Tsai, is term-limited. Vice President Lai Ching-te is leading national polls. Behind him is New Taipei City’s mayor, Hou Yu-ih, who beat the billionaire Mr. Gou earlier this year for the leadership of Taiwan’s oldest party, the Koumintang. A Taiwan People’s Party candidate, Ko Wen-je, a former Taipei mayor, is also in the running.
The opposition KMT and TPP compete for an ever-thinning slice of voters who place hope in pacifying the mainland. Mr. Gou’s entrance into the race as yet another candidate in their so-called blue camp could split that relatively Beijing-friendly bloc. Meanwhile the DPP’s Dr. Lai maintains unity in the “green camp,” which increasingly advocates Taiwan’s sovereignty, if not outright independence.
A medical doctor who entered politics nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Lai was once considered Taiwan’s most pro-independence politician. Beijing often refers to him as a “trouble maker.” As prime minister in 2017-19, he tagged himself “pragmatic pro-independence.” In an early July Wall Street Journal op-ed he vowed to maintain the current ambiguous cross-straits status quo. Yet, his hawkish tendencies often get him in hot water.
“When Taiwan’s president can enter the White House, the political goal that we’re pursuing will have been achieved,” Dr. Lai said on a recent campaign stop. Although overtly pro-America, the comment raised some agita among President Biden’s officials, who asked Taipei to “clarify” it, the Financial Times reports.
Ever since President Carter broke relations with free Taiwan in favor of the Communist mainland, Taipei officials have been barred from meeting U.S. administration counterparts. In recent “stopovers” at Los Angeles and New York on the way to Paraguay, Vice President Lai was barred from even visiting the U.S. capital, let alone the White House.
In contrast, Mr. Hou, the KMT presidential candidate who is scheduled to visit America in September, may well arrive at Washington in his capacity as mayor. Representing the party founded at Shanghai more than a century ago by Sun Yat-Sen, Mr. Hou is likely to be received in America with much respect.
Until Taiwan’s new constitution was declared in 1992, the KMT, once dominated by General Chiang Kai-Shek, insisted that each mainland Chinese province would be represented at the legislature, the yuan. Now the KMT has become conciliatory toward Beijing, and its leaders stress their aversion to any hint of Taiwanese independence.
Following Beijing’s crackdown on civil liberties at Hong Kong, Taiwanese voters increasingly reject notions like “one country two systems.” Yet, in the county’s most recent local elections, KMT candidates won in two-thirds of the mayoral and provincial races. Can Mr. Hou, the party leader, build on that victory and unite the “blue camp”?
Much would depend on Mr. Gou, the tycoon who announced an independent campaign on Monday, leading some to wonder about his Beijing connections. Although Mr. Gou resigned in 2019 as chief executive of Foxconn, a Taiwan-based global tech company that conducts most of its business on the mainland, the businessman-turned-politician remains a major stockholder.
When asked this week about the possibility that Beijing would confiscate Foxconn assets in order to pressure him as president, Mr. Gou dismissively said, “Let them.” Foxconn shares in the Taipei stock exchange lost 2 percent of their value following that comment.
Attacking Dr. Lai as a warmonger and warning that Taiwan could become “the next Ukraine,” Mr. Gou promised to negotiate peace with Beijing instead. “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,” he said.
Mr. Gou likely has enough admirers to collect the necessary 290,000 supporting signatures by November 2 to qualify for the presidential race. Yet, unless any of the “blue camp” candidates drop out, and unless Mr. Lai makes a major faux-pas, the latter’s “green camp” is all but a shoe-in for the next presidency.
While Washington is likely to studiously avoid interfering, Mr. Lai would be a more natural ally than his opponents, who hope to pacify Communist China as it leads a global bloc that strives to weaken America’s global leadership.