President, Foxconn chairman trade barbs on democracy, economy

President Tsai Ing-wen exchanged verbal shots over the weekend on democracy and the economy with business tycoon Terry Gou, who is seeking the KMT nomination in the 2020 presidential race. (NOWnews)

TAIPEI (CNA) — President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) exchanged verbal shots overt the weekend on democracy and the economy with business tycoon Terry Gou (郭台銘), who is seeking the opposition Kuomintang’s (KMT) nomination in the 2020 presidential race.

Tsai, who is facing a major challenge within her own Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for its nomination in the presidential election, hit back at Gou after he said recently that “you cannot eat democracy,” branding him as someone who does not understand democratic values.

Democracy is the value that Taiwan’s people have gained after more than 50 years of effort, and without it the Taiwan that makes people feel proud does not exist, she said in a Facebook post Sunday.

“We have never ignored the economy because of democracy,” she said, stressing that the “responsibility of a responsible political figure” is enabling people to build a better life under a free and democratic system and that presidential candidates in a democratic nation had to have democratic credentials.

“For us and the future generations, the year of 2020 is a crucial moment,” Tsai said, saying the people of Taiwan will have to choose between maintaining the status quo of freedom and democracy and being forced into China’s “one country, two systems” unification process.

Tsai had previously bashed Gou in a recent radio interview for his comment that “you cannot eat democracy,” saying that without democracy, there might be a regression in the country and society.

In a response Saturday to Tsai’s radio interview, Gou said he has always adhered to democracy but believed that democratic momentum must be converted into economic gains.

Calling the comment “you cannot eat democracy” a simplification of that idea, Gou said it did not mean he denies democracy.

On Sunday after Tsai took further aim at his comment, Gou reiterated that Tsai took the remark out of context, and said he believed there are two types of democracy.

One type creates peace and brings national prosperity and strength and the other undermines peace and moves in the direction of poverty, which could also be described as a populist democracy.

He said the democracy backed by Tsai’s DPP is the second type — a populist democracy — because more and more people are having trouble getting enough to eat.

Gou cited Council of Agriculture figures presented last September that at least 1.6 million people in Taiwan do not get enough to eat every day, about double the number from 10 years earlier.

Tsai had used a comment by a netizen that “without democracy, we will have to beg for food” to criticize Gou, but the businessman said she had no business using that line given that over a million people in Taiwan do not have enough to eat right now.

Gou also said the main reason behind his decision to take part in the KMT primary was to debunk the DPP’s fake democracy, “let politics serve the economy,” and rebuild peace and prosperity for the Republic of China. “I am the guy doing things pragmatically,” he said.

Tsai’s criticism of Gou was consistent with the rhetorical line she has taken since her party suffered a major defeat in elections for local government offices in November 2018.

Tsai has tried to boost her sagging approval ratings and support for her party by focusing heavily on themes related to Taiwan’s sovereignty and China’s attempts to undermine it.

She has been particularly aggressive in attacking Beijing’s position of wanting to promote “reunification” using the “one-country, two systems” formula, something few people in Taiwan would back.

Though she has regained some support, it was not enough to keep former Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德) from mounting a bid to be the party’s nominee in the 2020 presidential election instead of Tsai, fearing that a Tsai candidacy would consign the DPP to defeat in 2020.

In stressing Taiwan’s sovereignty and democracy, Tsai has criticized potential presidential candidates in the KMT for taking positions favoring closer ties with China, including Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) and Gou.

Gou’s company, Hon Hai Precision Industry, also known as Foxconn, is a major producer of Apple’s iPhones, and much of its production base is in China.

That, and Gou’s contention that China, not the United States, holds the key to Taiwan’s integration in the regional economy, has made him a target of Tsai and the DPP in the debate over Taiwan’s future direction.

By Yeh Su-ping and Evelyn Kao