Terry Gou, founder and chairman of Foxconn, greets during an event that marks the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act, in Taipei, Taiwan April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Foxconn chairman Terry Gou. As most of his company’s factories are based in China, analysts argue that his business interests could conflict with Taiwan’s national interest © Reuters

Terry Gou, the chairman of Apple supplier Foxconn who has joined the race to be Taiwan’s next president, has challenged China to recognise its existence as a sovereign state.

China “must acknowledge the existence of the Republic of China”, Mr Gou told reporters on Monday, referring to the official name of Taiwan in a move that highlights his challenge of not being seen as pandering to Beijing. 

He added that he would not consider meeting Chinese president Xi Jinping unless he had received clarification from Beijing on its policy towards Taipei and had become Taiwanese president himself. 

The Republic of China was founded in China following the first Chinese revolution in 1911. Taiwan has continued to use the term and the framework on which it was based, such as its founding constitution, after the Kuomintang (KMT) fled to the island following its defeat in the Chinese civil war of 1949. 

The Chinese Communist party claims Taiwan as its territory, and has threatened to invade if Taipei continues to resist unification. According to opinion polls, a vast majority of the Taiwanese public wants to retain its de facto independence. 

Mr Gou has yet to secure the nomination of KMT, Taiwan’s main opposition party, to run in next January’s polls. But since most of Foxconn’s factories are based in China — where it is the largest private-sector employer and the biggest exporter — analysts see him as a potential security risk. They argue that as president, his business interests could conflict with the Taipei’s national interest. 

Mr Gou’s comments came just a few days after he sparked a backlash by calling Taiwan a part of China.

The statement echoes language used by Tsai Ing-wen, the current president with whom Beijing has refused to engage. Ms Tsai said earlier this year that China “must face up to the fact of the existence of the Republic of China”. She has also stressed that Beijing and Taipei should handle their disagreements on a peaceful and equal basis, demanded that the Taiwanese people’s wish for freedom and democracy be respected and insisted that any talks happen only through official channels. 

Mr Gou said on Monday that he too wanted to deal with the mainland on an equal basis, even as he is supposedly a presidential candidate on the opposite end of the political spectrum to Ms Tsai.

Other KMT presidential hopefuls have also sought to maintain a careful balance on China policy. The party’s official position is that Taiwan is part of one China but Taipei and Beijing have different interpretations of what this means. Any move beyond this vague formula, including a suggestion of peace talks, is risky as some voters suspect KMT candidates might place a Chinese identity ahead of Taiwan’s interests. 

Within Taiwan, there is no serious debate on whether the island should unify with the People’s Republic of China, the official name of the mainland. Only 2.9 per cent want unification with China now and another 12 per cent support keeping the status quo now and considering unification later, according to a poll conducted by National Chengchi University in March.

Instead, domestic political divisions are over adopting a Chinese or Taiwanese identity, and whether the country should drop the ROC label and formalise its independence as Taiwan.

The headline of this article was amended to reflect the fact that Terry Gou called for China to recognise Taiwan’s existence as a sovereign state, not independence

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