Terry Gou, founder and long-time chief executive of electronics giant Hon Hai Precision Industry Company, well known by the trade name Foxconn Technology Group, has dramatically declared as a candidate for the presidency of Taiwan. His blunt, argumentative style is already prominent in political and other public events.
Gou started the company in 1974 as a small manufacturer of plastic control dials for television sets. Foxconn has steadily expanded relentlessly over the last four and one half decades to become a global giant. The company has achieved great success in electronic gaming, computers, smartphones and other tech sectors. Competition is ruthless in these markets.
A massive new investment in Southeast Wisconsin by Foxconn is both an economic opportunity and source of ongoing political controversy. Currently there is indication the company may cut back the projected investment. Wisconsin government underwriting of the investment of approximately $3 billion along with the disruptions accompany Foxconn construction has fueled the controversy.
Elsewhere in the world, Foxconn has run into trouble regarding working conditions. In mainland China, there have been incidents of some workers committing suicide.
Gou is seeking the nomination of the conservative Kuomintang (KMT) Party. His father was a provincial police officer who fought for the Nationalist army of General Chiang Kai-shek in China’s long civil war with the Communists. Gou’s business success from poor beginnings is striking.
Exactly three years ago, Tsai Ing-wen was inaugurated as president of Taiwan. She is the first woman to hold this top government position, an historic milestone of tremendous importance.
Her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is formally committed to independence from China. So far, both sides have peacefully managed the explosive matter.
Current assertiveness of China in maritime and military terms adds teeth to rhetoric. Beijing responded to Tsai’s election by reducing - but not terminating - trade and tourism.
So far, both sides have avoided serious armed conflict. An earlier DPP government from 2000 to 2008 was able to finesse the continuing serious tensions with Beijing. Today, economic concerns remain more important than ideological for the Communist great power.
The two sides share a bitter legacy of battle and blood. In 1949, the defeated Nationalist military forces evacuated to Taiwan. Mao Zedong’s armies controlled the mainland of China. Except for the island territory, communist revolution was complete.
The Korean War of 1950-1953 made the Cold War global, with China and the United States direct combatants. U.S. commitment to Taiwan security became explicit.
Yet foundations of cooperation have steadily strengthened over time. Pragmatism characterizes Taiwan’s approach to mainland China. Following formal U.S. diplomatic recognition of Beijing in 1978, a consequence of President Richard Nixon’s historic 1972 visit, Taipei immediately launched a comprehensive essentially non-confrontational strategic response.
In November 2008, agreement was reached on far-reaching trade accords, including direct shipping, expansion of weekly passenger flights from 36 to 108, and introduction of up to 60 cargo flights per month.
In 2010, the bilateral Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) was concluded. This was a major triumph for previous President Ma Ying-jeou. His election as chief executive in 2008 and 2012 greatly furthered rapprochement with Beijing.
Taiwan is heavily invested in the enormous commercial and industrial revolution on the mainland. The ECFA framework is now so extensive that a return to earlier hostility across the Taiwan Strait is unlikely. Ironically, the conservative, pragmatic KMT has been more comfortable in cooperating with Beijing.
Gou could further that trend - if successful.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War” (NYU Press and Macmillan). Contact him at email@example.com.