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Who is Taiwan's 'Genghis Khan' at the gates of KMT?

A look at Foxconn founder Terry Gou, as Eric Chu considers whether to let him run in the presidential primary

"I am Terry Gou. Forever Republic of China faction." (Facebook, 郭台銘 photo)

"I am Terry Gou. Forever Republic of China faction." (Facebook, 郭台銘 photo)

TAICHUNG (Taiwan News) — The gods have spoken and, according to Terry Gou (郭台銘), they’ve given him the nod to seek the Kuomintang (KMT) nomination for president.

In 2019, Gou claimed Matsu encouraged him to run in a dream, but he lost badly. This time he queried the same sea goddess but got a second opinion from the Holy Emperor Guan (關聖帝君), presumably just to be sure.

He also publicly sought the advice of former legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), one of the most wily political figures who has ever lived. Having followed Wang closely for years, my strong suspicion is he is enjoying all this in a “letting the cat among the pigeons” sort of way. He’s loving the potential chaos a Gou run could unleash.

Gou still needs to get approval from the KMT to rejoin the party. He has two hurdles here.

In 2019, the party changed the rules to allow him into the primary in spite of only having just petitioned to rejoin the party. The party did this by giving him an honorary membership certificate to get around a rule that you have to be a party member for at least a year to run in the primary.

This time they could presumably do that again. There is a second hurdle, however, since after getting crushed in the 2019 primary by Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) he renounced his party membership in a huff.

He criticized the party’s leaders as “conservative” and “corrupt,” claiming he would not feel a sense of nostalgia after leaving the party. He also very publicly failed to back Han and flirted with Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) and his Taiwan People’s Party (TPP).

Party rules

According to party rules, this means he won’t be eligible to rejoin the party until September, when the primary will be finished. KMT Chair Eric Chu (朱立倫) has said that a decision on readmitting Gou will be discussed after the Nantou legislative by-election on March 4.

This puts Chu in a quandary. One of the factors that Chu is going to have to consider is Gou himself and who he is.

Born in Banqiao in 1950, he is of 49er stock, the son of a police officer who came over with the Republic of China (ROC) government-in-exile in 1949. He retains close ties to his ancestral village in Shanxi Province in China.

Terry Gou was Taiwan's richest man only a few years ago, with estimates of his fortune in the US$6-8 billion range, though today he ranks only sixth. He is the founder of Foxconn (aka Hon Hai), the electronics contract manufacturer that makes Apple’s iPhone among many other things for a long list of companies.

Starting with a loan of NT$100,000 (around US$3,000 at current rates, a significant chunk of change in Taiwan in 1974) he built a business empire with factories and investments all over the world.

But his biggest investments, and the bulk of the Foxconn empire, are in China — though since he stepped down from running the company it has been diversifying more into other countries. Gou was one of the pioneers of moving manufacturing out of Taiwan.

Under his watch, Foxconn grew to become the largest private employer in China, which it still is today. In order to grow that big in statist China, Gou had to develop excellent relationships high up in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He reportedly has amicable personal ties with Xi Jinping (習近平), whom he has met many times.

Suicide watch

In business, he developed a reputation for relentlessness, brutal efficiency and a love of conquest that garnered him the nickname “Genghis Khan” in some circles. This toughness was probably the reason behind a spate of well-publicized suicides among his Chinese workforce.

In his personal life, he has had multiple wives and, unsurprisingly, side girlfriends. One of these girlfriends reportedly had three abortions and when he attempted to cut off the relationship, she managed to get a sex tape of him and extorted money from him, though in the end he only wired NT$3 million of the NT$5 million promised.

She and a private detective got in touch with Gou again, but this time Gou tipped off the police. She and the detective served jail time for blackmail as a result.

After one of his wives died, he was seen with a bevy of models and attractive women, including the famous model Lin Chi-ling (林志玲). He married again in 2007 to Delia Tseng (曾馨瑩), had three children with her, and they remain together.

In deciding whether to change the rules in order to let Gou run, Eric Chu and the KMT might want to consider Gou’s behavior in the 2019 primary. It was bumpy to say the least.

Domestic issues

Right off the bat he commented on his wife’s opposition to him running by saying "the harem should not meddle in politics." Then, in an interview held soon after, he said, "My biggest challenge now is my wife, who has already left home." They eventually reconciled.

That wasn’t the only sexist comment he made. At a rally he said of independent lawmaker Hung Tzu-yung (洪慈庸) that she was “busy marrying and giving birth to children,” and should vote for her KMT opponent. He later apologized.

His comments on democracy became an issue in the campaign, having said “you can’t eat democracy.” That gave the New Power Party (NPP) a strong line of attack. It will come up again if he runs.

His relationship with the United States is mixed, and he often sounds pro-China. At one point he said “we shouldn’t buy too many weapons from the United States, if you have no knife and no gun, you’re less likely to get beaten.”

He later tried to walk back those comments, saying that Taiwan should focus on developing high-tech indigenous weaponry … presumably to be built by his own company. Reportedly, however, Taiwan’s military has refused to buy from Foxconn due to Gou’s close ties to China.

On the other hand, Gou was very proud of his meetings with then-U.S. President Donald Trump, who was trumpeting Gou’s highly touted Foxconn investment in Wisconsin. The investment was initially a total bust, but recently Foxconn’s new management has partially revived investment at the site.

Gou is also very thin-skinned and prone to emotional outbursts. For example, during a question and answer session held at the 2019 Indo-Pacific Security Dialogue, hosted by AIT, Gou chastised then-DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim's (蕭美琴) for being "rude" because she "did not look at me in the eye when she answered my question." Incensed, he shouted, "She not only dared not face me, but also dared not face the Republic of China," and then indignantly stormed out of the room.

Chu will probably consider the circumstances and tone of Gou when he left the party in September 2019. Gou claims to have learned a lot over the last four years, and commented on that incident by saying “at the time I full was full of youthful vigor, and was momentarily impetuous.”

He was 68 at the time.

Courtney Donovan Smith is a regular contributing columnist for Taiwan News, the central Taiwan correspondent for ICRT FM100 Radio News, co-publisher of Compass Magazine, co-founder of Taiwan Report ( and former chair of the Taichung American Chamber of Commerce. For more columns by the author, click here. Follow him on Twitter: @donovan_smith.