Discover more from Populism Updates
Taiwan's "robot army" billionaire could still run for president
Since 2016, international media outlets have been eager to draw comparisons between Trump and other political figures around the world. Bombastic right-wing businessmen, even prior to Trump’s election as US president, have long been a recognizable feature of political landscapes in many countries. Italy’s Berlusconi has been identified as a prototype, and in more recent years we’ve seen the label of “Trump” applied to candidates in Colombia, Australia, and Taiwan.
That last example, Foxconn founder Terry Gou, is currently whipping up speculation about a second run for president. Despite recently losing a major party nomination, two days ago reporting emerged that Gou was “putting together a campaign team” to run in 2024.
In May, Gou was passed over for the Kuomintang nomination, his second loss for the spot after previously placing second in the party’s 2020 primary. Gou pledged to support the nominee, New Taipei mayor Hou Yu-hi, so launching an independent run would be a reversal of that stance.
Despite their enormity and economic impact, Gou’s businesses have been heavily criticized for exploitative practices. Foxconn’s Shenzhen plants were the infamous site of a suicide epidemic that made international news and has its own Wikipedia page.
Nevertheless, Gou has amassed a significant following in Taiwanese politics, driven by the perception of his business success and outlandish statements that frequently capture headlines. In discussing the motivations for his 2020 presidential campaign, Gou notably claimed he was inspired to run in a dream by the Taiwanese sea deity Mazu.
This year, he reiterated the claim, and added to his roster of supernatural backers the “war god,” Guanyu.
In his campaign for the KMT nomination, Gou likewise made international news when he proposed that Taiwan construct an 80,000 strong “robot army” as a self-defense strategy against potential Chinese invasion. To say the absolute least, this struck many as a unique campaign plank.
The most recent polling has picked up on Gou’s presidential U-turn, with most surveys putting him in fourth place, somewhat competitive for runner-up status. More significant could be his splintering of the “pan-Blue” opposition to Taiwan’s incumbent Democratic Progressive Party.
Polls also ask about scenarios in which Gou teams up with former Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je, whose TPP party takes something of a “radical centrist” approach. In the unlikely event Ko agreed to be Gou’s running mate, the combination could be competitive enough to win.
At the moment, it’s not hard to imagine that Gou could eventually relent and shift his support back to the Kuomintang. If he does decide to run, the potential chaos that ensues could make Taiwan’s presidential race a madcap opening salvo in 2024’s already-intense global election season.
Do you enjoy international political news from Populism Updates? Support the newsletter by pledging for a paid subscription. You’ll only be charged when it launches, and gain early access to important coverage from around the world. It really helps!