The Chinese government’s decision to investigate Terry Gou’s (郭台銘) company, Foxconn, looks like an obvious indication it wants him out of Taiwan’s presidential race. From a range of possible explanations for why this might be, pragmatism in not wanting to split the China-leaning vote stands out.
Chinese state media has reported this week that tax inspections in Guangdong and Jiangsu provinces and investigations into land use in Henan and Hubei provinces are underway.
The true motive is almost certainly political.
A member of Gou’s campaign team, speaking anonymously because they did not have permission to speak about these matters, suggested to Domino Theory that Gou’s campaign has never had the support of the Chinese government.
Potential evidence for this can be seen in the approach of China-leaning media in Taiwan to Gou’s campaign. TVBS and CTI (中天新聞) have not allowed Gou to broadcast ad campaigns on their platforms. While this does not amount to proof of an instruction from the Chinese government, there has at the very least been no intervention or perception of pressure in his favor.
Now, the timing of the investigation into Foxconn points in the same direction. There is just over a week until the official deadline for Gou to submit a petition of signatures in favor of his candidacies (around 290,000 signatures, representing 1.5% of eligible voters). And there are just under three weeks before the official list of eligible candidates for Taiwan’s election is released.
The decision to pressure Gou to drop out could have various motivations. Gou is seen by many as the presidential candidate most favorable toward closer relations with China. Some have suggested that the investigation represents a kind of double bluff, with China deliberately distancing itself from Gou to make his candidacy look more legitimate. Others have suggested that “the news is giving Terry Gou [a] new spotlight and potentially also a rally-around-the-flag boost.” Additionally, the Chinese Communist Party has a history of disliking freelancers, even when they might be seen to align with its goals.
However, the most obvious conclusion has to be that China wants Gou out of the race because he risks splitting the “pan-blue” (China-leaning) vote.
Currently the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Hou Yu-ih (侯友宜) and the Taiwan People’s Party’s (TPP) Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) are competitors for voters who support or are not averse to closer relations with China. The split is part of the reason the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Lai Ching-te (賴清德) has maintained a consistent lead in opinion polls. In this context, it makes sense that last-placed Gou drops out. He’s not taking any votes from Lai; he’s only taking votes from the pan-blue side.
This view fits with predictions we’ve previously reported. Last week, both Stephen Tan (譚耀南), managing director of the Taipei-based consulting firm International Policy Advisory Group, and Chen Fang-Yu (陳方隅), assistant professor of political science at Soochow University, suggested that China would likely work to avoid the “pan-blue” ticket being split, though at the time did not speculate about likely methods. Now, at least one appears clear.
For his part, Gou is unlikely to be surprised by any of this. When he announced his candidacy, he actually joked about the prospect of an investigation into his business in China: “If the Chinese Communist party regime were to say ‘If you don’t listen to me, I’ll confiscate your assets from Foxconn,’ I would say ‘Yes, please, do it!’”
Asked for a public response to the investigation, Terry Gou’s office told Domino Theory it had no comment at this time. Foxconn released a statement saying: “Legal compliance everywhere we operate around the world is a fundamental principle of Hon Hai Technology Group (Foxconn). We will actively cooperate with the relevant units on the related work and operations.”
Image: Terry Gou campaign team