Last week, Terry Gou, the legendary founder of Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, and 26th largest company in the world, threw his hat into the ring for the Taiwanese presidential election slated for 13 January 2024.

In this respect Gou has form. In 2019, supposedly called upon in a dream by the sea goddess, Mazu, Gou aimed for Taiwan’s highest office. He fell short but came a more than respectable second in the Kuomintang (KMT: Nationalist Party) primary with 27.7% of the vote. The 2020 election that followed saw an easy win for the incumbent President Tsai of the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party).

This time around the stakes would appear to be higher. The last four years has seen Chinese President Xi Jinping rachet up the pressure on Taiwan to formally accept the political rule of the People’s Republic of China.

China’s military intimidation of Taiwan continues to escalate. Coinciding with Vice- President Lai Ching-te’s stopover in the US, on the 19 August it was reported that 42 Chinese aircraft and 8 ships of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Eastern Theatre Command, had carried out combined drills in the 180km straits that separate Taiwan from the Chinese mainland. Some 26 Chinese ships crossed the theoretic median border line that divides the two countries. The PLA told China’s Xinhua news agency that ‘The Patrols and exercises serve as a stern warning to the collusion of ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists with foreign elements and their provocations.’

China of course claims all these waters for itself. At the beginning of the month China published an updated map of its territorial claims to the entirety of the South China Sea. To the infamous ‘nine-dash’ map which shows a tongue like projection swallowing all the sea adjacent to Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan and Brunei, China has added a 10th dash to the Northeast of Taiwan.

Protests against Chinese claims that fly in the face of the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) have not been limited to China’s maritime neighbours. Vigorous protests have emanated from the region’s competing superpowers, including the office of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and even from Putin’s Russia. Was this the reason for Xi’s cancellation of his visit to the G20 summit in New Delhi?

Amid this geopolitical soup, Terry Gou’s presidential candidacy adds a new dimension to the debate of what to do about Chinese aggression. For the last decade the pro-independence DPP led by President Tsai Ing-wen has walked a perilous tightrope. Knowing that a formal declaration of independence from China - in contravention of the fudged ‘one nation-two systems’ agreement worked out by Henry Kissinger and Zhou Enlai in the 1970s - would result in an instant declaration of war by Xi Jinping’s China, Tsai has stood by the risky formula that there is no need to declare independence because de facto Taiwan is already a stand-alone nation. Tsai’s putative successor Lai Ching-te is the continuity candidate to this high-wire philosophy.

For Gou, this approach risks war. ‘Taiwan must not become Ukraine, ‘he says, ‘and I will not let Taiwan become the next Ukraine.’ He promises an accommodation with China that would guarantee fifty years of peace and prosperity.

Sceptics might say that he has skin in the game. War between China and Taiwan would be appalling for the world, but completely catastrophic for Taiwan and possibly terminal for Foxconn. Although he recently resigned from the Foxconn board, Gou, with an estimated US$7bn fortune, remains its largest shareholder. With some 12 factories in China, including a city within a city in the suburbs of Shenzen, and an estimated 350,000 Chinese employees out of 800,000 worldwide, Foxconn is highly dependent on Xi Jinping’s good offices.

Despite his ‘dovish’ views Gou has not been backed by the PRC. The problem is that his entrance into the contest further splits the vote of the ‘pro’ China parties, the Kuomintang led by Hou Yu-ih, the mayor of New Taipei City, who wants talks with China, and Ko Wen-je, a former mayor of Taipei, whose Taiwan People’s Party is largely supportive of the KMT position. Thus, in the latest opinion polls the ruling DPP candidate, Lai easily leads with 35.3% support, trailed by the KMT on 17.8%, the TPP on 17.1% and Gou on 11.6%.

But the 72-year-old Gou, should not be underrated. After borrowing US$7,500 from his mother-in-law, he rented a shed and started producing plastic knobs for radios. His big breakthrough came when he spent 11 months touring the US in a Cadillac to break down corporate doors to win orders. Gou, a brilliant salesman, and a prodigious hard worker, proved to be an equally brilliant production manager. His most famous breakthrough of course was winning business from Apple. Foxconn’s plant in Zhengzhou, Henan, in central China, can produce 500,000 iPhones a day; the city is now so synonymous with Apple that it is known as iPhone City.

Though he lags in the polls Gou should not be underrated. Like Donald Trump, Gou is a brilliant, tough-talking communicator. As with the former US president, Gao’s colourful private life does not seem to have dented his popularity. Gou might also be compared to Elon Musk; both come from a manufacturing background, both have started companies that are highly dependent on Chinese sourcing, and both put peace and prosperity above geopolitical conflict.

If Trump wins the next American presidential election, it could be that, in a little over a year’s time, US foreign policy will take a turn that aligns more with the peacemakers such as Gou and Musk than the anti-China hardliners. Trump is much less beholden to an American ‘military-industrial complex’ that is suspected of financing President Biden’s hard line on relations with Russia and China.

While some criticise Gou for splitting the opposition to the DPP, it could be that Gou becomes the kingmaker who makes an anti-DPP unity candidate a possibility. For those of us who want a de-escalation of the very real threat of nuclear war in Ukraine or Taiwan, a victory for an anti-DPP candidate, combined with a Trump victory, proffers a slim pathway to a more peaceful world.