TAIPEI - Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of major Apple Inc supplier Foxconn, said on Monday he was entering the race to be Taiwan's next president as an independent candidate in 2024 elections.
Gou stepped down as Foxconn chief in 2019 and made a presidential bid that year, but dropped out after he failed to win the nomination for Taiwan's main opposition party, the Kuomintang KMT, which traditionally favours close ties with China.
He made a second bid to be the KMT's candidate for the presidential election to be held in January earlier this year, but the party chose instead Hou Yu-ih, the mayor of New Taipei City.
Gou has spent the past few weeks touring Taiwan and holding campaign-like rallies, fuelling speculation he was planning to run as an independent.
"Under the rule of the Democratic Progressive Party in the past seven years or so, internationally, they lead Taiwan towards the danger of war. Domestically, their policies are filled with mistakes," Gou said, adding "the era of entrepreneur's rule" has begun.
"Give me four years and I promise that I will bring 50 years of peace to the Taiwan Strait and build the deepest foundation for the mutual trust across the strait," he said in a plea to Taiwan voters.
"Taiwan must not become Ukraine and I will not let Taiwan become the next Ukraine."
Gou's main theme in his pre-campaign events has been that the only way to avoid war with China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, is to get the DPP out of office.
Gou must gather close to 300,000 voter signatures by November 2 to be qualified as an independent candidate, according elections regulations. The Central Election Commission will review the signatures and announce the results by November 14.
Taiwan Vice President William Lai, the presidential candidate for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is the favourite to win the election as he leads the polls.
Former Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je of the small Taiwan People's Party has generally been running second in the polls, with Hou a distant third.
In a call for "unity", Gou on Monday urged Ko and Hou to sit down with him and discuss plans to join forces in order to win the election against the DPP.
The KMT expressed "extreme regret" on Gou's bid and urged Gou to support the party's candidate, Hou.
China has a particular dislike of Lai for comments he has previously made about being a "worker" for Taiwan independence, a red line for Beijing.
The DPP champions Taiwan's separate identity from China, but the government it leads has repeatedly offered talks with China that have been rebuffed.
The run up to the election is taking place at a time of increased tensions between Taipei and Beijing, as China stages regular military exercises near the island to assert its sovereignty claims.
When asked about the issue of conflict of interest with Gou being a major shareholder of Foxconn, which has massive investment in China, Gou said he's willing to "sacrifice" his personal assets in China in the event of a Chinese attack.
"I have never been under the control of the People's Republic of China," he said. "I don't follow their instructions."
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Editing by Michael Perry)