Beijing's recent decision to investigate Foxconn, a major supplier for Apple, could inadvertently bolster Taiwan's pro-independence camp, potentially fanning the flames of anti-mainland sentiment, according to observers.
Foxconn, officially known as Hon Hai Precision Industry, is currently under scrutiny for tax and land use at several of its subsidiaries in mainland China, according to a report by the Global Times, a state-owned newspaper affiliated with CCP mouthpiece People’s Daily.
However, Beijing has yet to confirm the status of these investigations in Jiangsu, Hunan, and Hubei provinces.
Zhu Fenglian, a spokeswoman for Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Council, emphasized that mainland authorities "treat all enterprises equally in line with the law and regulations."
Foxconn, in response, stated its commitment to complying with global laws and pledged to cooperate with the relevant authorities.
The timing of this investigation, just over two months before Taiwan's presidential and legislative elections, has raised eyebrows in the island nation that China claims as its territory.
According to a South China Morning Post report, many observers speculate that the probe is not solely business-driven but has political undertones.
This sentiment was seemingly confirmed when Zhu hinted at the expectation for Taiwanese companies to play a "positive role" while operating on the mainland.
The political dimension of the investigation becomes even more apparent when considering the ambitions of Foxconn's billionaire founder, Terry Gou.
Gou, who is vying for a presidential run as an independent, could potentially split the pro-Beijing opposition's vote in Taiwan.
Ho Chih-yung, an assistant professor at National Tsing Hua University, believes that the probe's timing is too coincidental, suggesting that Beijing might be using it as a tactic to influence the election outcome, the SCMP reported.
Ho said Beijing did not want the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to stay in power, but Gou’s participation could help them win the race by further splitting the votes in the opposition camp.
Opposition voters are largely made up of loyalists of the mainland-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) as well as those unhappy with the DPP government.
Meanwhile, the current political landscape in Taiwan is complex.Taiwanese Vice-President William Lai Ching-te, representing the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is leading in the polls.
Meanwhile, Gou, who owns a significant stake in Foxconn, is trailing behind other candidates.
According to Zivon Wang, an analyst at the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies (CCAPS), a Taipei think tank, the investigation serves as a warning to Gou and other mainland-based businesspeople. The message? Don't support the pro-independence camp while profiting from China.
However, this strategy might backfire. Some analysts argue that Taiwanese voters could interpret the investigation as Beijing's attempt to meddle in their elections.
This perception was seemingly validated when Foxconn's shares dropped by 3 per cent after the investigation news broke.
Wang Kung-yi, head of the Taiwan International Strategic Study Society, believes that such economic repercussions could push neutral or undecided voters towards the DPP.
The DPP has been vocal in its criticism of the investigation. Taiwanese Premier Chen Chien-jen promised to protect the island's businesses, while his deputy, Cheng Wen-tsan, labeled the Foxconn probe as an "interference in Taiwan elections."
Lai also criticized Beijing, emphasizing the importance of Taiwanese companies to the mainland's economy.
However, not everyone believes the DPP can capitalize on this situation as effectively as in the past. The 2020 re-election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was significantly influenced by anti-Beijing sentiment, but the current atmosphere is different.
Analysts pointed out that the policies of the four main candidates regarding the mainland are quite similar, all favouring the maintenance of the cross-strait status quo.
The US, Taiwan's informal ally, has always maintained a hands-off approach to Taiwan's elections. However, it has consistently opposed any forceful change to the cross-strait status quo.
With Taiwan frequently accusing Beijing of trying to influence its elections, the Foxconn investigation adds another layer to this intricate geopolitical puzzle.
While Beijing's intentions behind the Foxconn probe remain a subject of debate, the potential for this move to backfire is real.
As Taiwan's election nears, the investigation could inadvertently rally support for the pro-independence camp, further complicating cross-strait relations.
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