TAIPEI • Mr Terry Gou, chairman of Apple supplier Foxconn, will contest Taiwan's 2020 presidential election, shaking up the political landscape at a time of heightened tension between the self-ruled island and Beijing.
Mr Gou, Taiwan's richest man with a net worth of US$7.6 billion (S$10.3 billion), according to Forbes, said yesterday that he would join the race and take part in the primaries of the China-friendly Kuomintang (KMT).
Mr Gou's decision capped a flurry of news this week which began when he told Reuters on Monday that he planned to step down from the world's largest contract manufacturer to allow younger talent to move up the company's ranks.
He later announced he was considering a presidential bid and hinted he was close to a decision, and then told more than 100 people in a temple that he would follow the instructions of a sea goddess, who had told him to run for president.
The sea goddess Mazu is a popular deity in Taiwan and is believed to hold sway over safety and fortune.
"Peace, stability, economy, future are my core values," Mr Gou said later at the KMT's headquarters in Taipei.
He urged the KMT to rediscover its spirit, the honour of its members and the lost support of the youth, and to establish a fair and transparent system for the primary race.
The KMT's primary was already competitive, with contenders including former KMT chairman Eric Chu and a former head of Taiwan's Parliament, Mr Wang Jin-pyng.
Mr Gou's bid, which requires KMT approval, comes at a delicate time for cross-strait relations and delivers a blow to the ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which is struggling in opinion polls.
Cross-strait ties have deteriorated since President Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP came to power in 2016.
China suspects Ms Tsai is pushing for the island's formal independence - a red line for Beijing, which has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.
A senior adviser to President Tsai told Reuters he thought Mr Gou's bid could create problems, given his extensive business ties with China.
"This is problematic for Taiwan's national security," the adviser, Mr Yao Chia-wen, said. "He's very pro-China and he represents the class of the wealthy people. Will that gain support from Taiwanese?"
Mr Yao added that he believed Mr Gou would face a tough battle in the KMT primary.
Mr Gou has also questioned Taiwan's ties with the United States and said this week that the island should stop buying US weapons, adding that peace was the best defence.
Dr Zhang Baohui, a regional security analyst at Hong Kong's Lingnan University, said Mr Gou's run could mark the start of the most unusual election in Taiwan history.
"This is something entirely fresh for Taiwan politics - here is a candidate who sees everything through the pragmatic angle of a businessman rather than raw politics or ideology."
Foxconn said on Tuesday Mr Gou would remain chairman, though he planned to withdraw from daily operations.