Foxconn billionaire confirms presidency run after receiving divine support

Terry Gou says Chinese sea goddess Mazu encouraged him to ‘come forward’ to support peace across the Taiwan Strait.

TAIPEI: Foxconn founder Terry Gou announced on Wednesday that he planned to run for Taiwan’s presidency.

The Taiwanese billionaire said he would seek the nomination of the China-friendly opposition Kuomintang party in next year’s election. The party is expected to nominate a candidate in the coming weeks.

“I will participate in the KMT primary,” he told reporters in Taipei. “If I win I will run in 2020 on behalf of the KMT.” He said his core values were “peace, stability, economy and future.”

Gou earlier claimed he received divine endorsement for his possible run for Taiwan’s presidency in an election next year: support of the Chinese sea goddess Mazu.

The Taiwanese billionaire told reporters the sea goddess encouraged him to “come forward” to support peace across the Taiwan Strait. The remarks following a visit to a New Taipei City temple came a day after he said he was considering running for the China-friendly opposition Kuomintang to challenge Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, whose Democratic Progressive Party advocates a more decisive break from the mainland.

“Today, Mazu told me I should be inspired by her to do good things for people who are suffering, to give young people hope, to support cross-strait peace,” Gou said, adding that the goddess had recently spoken to him in a dream. “I came to ask Mazu and she told me to come forward.”

Gou visited another temple housing Chinese deity Guan Yu before he is expected to visit the KMT headquarters at 3pm local time. The party is expected to nominate a candidate in the coming weeks for the general election.

The 68-year-old Gou has amassed a personal fortune of about US$4.4 billion building consumer electronics on which other companies can slap their brand, including Apple Inc and Sony Corp Foxconn Technology Group – the main assembler of iPhones – was among the first Taiwanese companies to build factories in China to tap lower wages and land costs.

Corporate dilemma

Shares of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co climbed 2.1% to NT$91.80 on Wednesday, the highest closing level since Oct 9. Foxconn Technology Co.’s shares rose 1.1% to NT$72.00, the highest since Oct 5.

Their rise “may be due to investors’ betting that Gou can help improve Taiwan’s cross-strait international relations, and that the company will benefit from that,” said Richard Lin, vice president at Reliance Securities Investment Consultant Co.

Gou has no clear successor, and an announcement of his candidacy would raise questions about how the company would be run. Reuters reported Monday that he plans to step down as chairman of Foxconn “in the coming months.” Louis Woo, his special assistant, later told Bloomberg that while Gou would be stepping back from operations and focusing on strategy, he didn’t plan to relinquish his chairmanship.

Divine support

Gou is Taiwan’s third-richest person and the 442nd in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His resources could help him stand out among a field of potential challengers that includes former New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu and former legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng. Han Kuo-yu and Ko Wen-je, the outspoken mayors of Kaohsiung and Taipei, respectively, also haven’t ruled out a run.

Wednesday’s Mazu temple visit, in which Gou spoke the Taiwanese language, also demonstrated his retail political skill. The emphasis on local cultural and spiritual traditions may help counter criticism that he’s too sympathetic to Beijing, where the officially atheistic Communist Party plays down religion and promotes Mandarin.

Gou is known to be religious, and Foxconn factories all over the world have totems of Tudi Gong, the Chinese god of local land. At the Guan Yu temple on Wednesday, he said he was waiting for the gods to conduct polls on whether he should run.

The sea goddess Mazu is believed to protect fishermen and sailors and is worshiped by Taoists and Buddhists. Temples to the deity can be found throughout East Asia, including China, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam.

“Mazu said the economy would improve following peace and prosperity,” Gou said, adding that he believed the goddess had long supported his business success.

Potential liabilities

Taiwan and China have been governed separately since Chiang Kai-shek moved his Nationalist government to Taipei during the Chinese civil war. The KMT has controlled the island’s government for all but 11 years since the conflict, including decades under martial law.

China cut off official communication with Taiwan after Tsai’s DPP ousted the KMT from the presidency and parliamentary majority in 2016, citing her refusal to accept that both sides belong to “one China.” But she’s also been criticized by members of the DPP’s pro-independence base for not acting more decisively, and she’s facing a challenge for the party’s nomination from her former premier, William Lai Ching-te.

Gou’s wealth and fame could bring attention to his campaign, but they could also present liabilities.

He’s faced criticism in Taiwan as one of the first outside executives to exploit cheaper wages and land costs on the mainland. And the success of Foxconn’s Zhengzhou facility in central China, which pushes out more than 100 million iPhones each year, has been marred by controversy, as employee suicides led to scrutiny of working conditions.

Gou was also at the centre of a plant project that could be a potential source of Democratic attacks against President Donald Trump as he faces re-election. Trump and Gou once touted Foxconn’s investment in a US$10 billion factory in the swing state of Wisconsin as proof that manufacturing jobs were returning to America. But Foxconn has shifted the facility’s focus to research, slashing the number of blue-collar positions available.