by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: AP
WITH THE recent announcement by FoxConn CEO Terry Gou that FoxConn would be building a $10 billion USD LCD panel plant in Wisconsin in a high-profile press conference with Donald Trump, some in Taiwan question what Gou exactly aims to accomplish with this deal cementing ties between his company and the Trump administration. Given Gou’s close ties with both the KMT and CCP, is Gou acting on behalf of China? Of the KMT? Both? Neither? One wonders.
Gou’s announcement took place in the East Room of the White House at a press conference in which Donald Trump, vice president Mike Pence, speaker of the house Paul Ryan, and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Gou previously met privately with Trump three times before the announcement, although Gou was tight-lipped about what was discussed at these meetings.
News coverage of the deal was not very large in the US, overshadowed as it was by news of Trump’s attempted ban on transgender individuals in the American military and a strange, rambling speech in front of the Boy Scouts of America at the annual Boy Scouts Jamboree in which Trump made a number of political threats. However, the announcement with Gou was probably not something which Trump would have wanted to cover up by manufacturing other controversies to distract from it, as some have suggested.
Namely, it was a key campaign promise of Trump’s that he would bring back manufacturing jobs to America from places in which American manufacturing jobs have been lost to since the advent of globalization, such as China. As such, the importance Trump placed on the joint announcement is reflected in the high-profile political figures Trump wished to make the joint announcement with, Trump likely hoping to tout this as a success to bolster his falling approval ratings.
However, the real question at hand is as to what the motivator for Gou’s actions is. Gou is notably close with the KMT, seeing as he previously loaned money to former chair Hung Hsiu-Chu through his mother in order aid the KMT’s weakened financial resources given the current probe into illegal party assets obtained from land and property seizures dating back to the Japanese colonial period. Gou was also considered as a possible future presidential candidate for the KMT, seeing as the successful presidential election of Donald Trump, as a businessman who had no prior political experience, led many across the world to wonder if this marked the beginning of a trend of businessmen entering politics. Gou also seemed a suitable candidate for the KMT because he could fund his own campaign, whereas the KMT’s financial status is not as strong as it once was.
Nevertheless, Gou has also seen fit to take independent political action from the KMT when he was disagreed with the actions of the party mainstream, and he has the standing within the party as a financial heavyweight that few would openly accuse him of betraying the party. During the Sunflower Movement, for example, Gou notably broke from members of the KMT who wished to hold steadfast against the student occupiers in wanting to open negotiations with the student occupiers much earlier, probably less a sign of sympathy than realizing that open negotiations early rather than letting the occupation drag out longer would be a better way to nip the protest movement in the bud.
And, of course, as a businessman whose major holdings are in China, it is to be questioned whether Gou’s true loyalties are not to the KMT but to China itself. Unsurprisingly, this is why Gou’s joint announcement with Trump has provoked worry in Taiwan, with some wary that Gou may in fact be acting as a proxy of the Chinese government in attempting to cement closer ties between China and the Trump administration. This would be nothing new, given the propensity of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to push for pro-China policies based on his family’s substantial business empire in China. The Chinese government has also attempted to curry favor with Trump through his own business holdings in China. This seemed like a successful strategy for awhile, with Trump oscillating towards a period of relatively lax China policy.
Perhaps China is trying again with this stratagem? Gou in particular seems to have managed to build a personal relationship with Trump based on their common ground as businessmen with an authoritarian leadership style, Trump seeming to be drawn to personal sympathy with authoritarian leaders ranging from Xi Jinping to Vladimir Putin to Kim Jong-Un, despite America’s historical antagonism with these countries, and steering America towards lax policy towards these countries. Nevertheless, some have in fact suggested that Gou’s actions are not a warning for the US, but actually for China.
Much remains opaque. As Gou has suggested, as an international business tycoon, his first loyalty may be to no country, but simply towards the market. Gou could in fact simply see it as an intelligent business move to try and have good relations with not only China, but also America under Trump. And, given a long history of deals in which Gou has attempted to build good relations with a country by promising investment but never actually following through, Gou may not actually be serious about his $10 billion USD investment in American manufacturing. Much like Trump’s own false campaign promises about American manufacturing, as seen in Trump’s failure to restore the jobs of Carrier workers in Indianapolis despite claiming that he would, Gou also has a way of frequently lying.
We shall see, then. Terry Gou’s actions may simply be unreadable, seeing as he is an international business tycoon who wields enormous financial power and commands large sway over politics, and his aims could be in any direction. This may be all too revealing about those who hold power in today’s society.