Terry Gou, founder of Apple supplier Foxconn, has quit Taiwan‘s main opposition party, paving the way for a possible bid to stand in next year’s presidential election as an independent.
Gou, the island’s richest person with a net worth of $7.6bn according to Forbes, has extensive business interests in China and is known for his close ties to Beijing leaders.
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He is also known for asserting that self-ruled Taiwan is part of “one China” – a cherished principle for China – while acknowledging Taipei and Beijing have their distinct interpretations of what that means.
Incumbent Tsai Ing-wen is hoping to return for a second term in the January poll. She is seen as “untrustworthy” by mainland China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province, but has seen her popularity rise in recent weeks as voters on the island watch the Hong Kong protests with alarm.
Tsai is from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and has shown her support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
Gou initially planned to contest the presidential election in April as the candidate for the China-friendly opposition Kuomintang (KMT) but failed to secure the party’s nomination, raising speculation he would enter the presidential race as an independent.
Gou’s aide, Tsai Chin-yu, told reporters in Taipei his decision to resign as a member of the KMT was not linked to a decision on whether to run for president.
She cited disappointment with the leadership of a party that she said had become “out-dated”.
The KMT said it “deeply regretted” Gou’s decision and urged members to stand together to help the party win the election.
Two people familiar with Gou’s thinking said the 68-year-old was set to announce his bid to become president as an independent candidate by a September 17 deadline for nominations.
Relations with Beijing have cooled since Tsai became president in 2016 and are expected to dominate the election.
Beijing suspects Tsai of pushing for Taiwan’s formal independence, she denies the accusation.
Analysts say Gou’s links to China might put off some voters, especially those who are increasingly wary of Beijing’s ambitions to absorb the island.
Gou stepped down as chief of Foxconn this year, handing over the running of the company to an operations committee. But he retained a seat on the board of the company, formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd.
Analysts say a bid by Gou to become president as an independent could split the KMT, whose presidential candidate, Han Kuo-yu, is struggling in opinion polls.