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Lai Urges China Not to Coerce Taiwanese Businesses Ahead of Elections

China should not pressure Taiwanese businesses there into declaring their political positions ahead of Taiwan’s 2024 presidential election, Vice President Lai Ching-te (賴清德) said Sunday, after it was reported that a major company was being targeted by Beijing.

Lai, who is running for president next January, said at a campaign event that the Taiwanese company Hon Hai, also known as Foxconn, should be given nationwide support at home, amid the tax audits that are reportedly being carried out at some of its subsidiaries in China.

It is Taiwanese companies’ decision “to choose which countries they want to invest in, and regardless of where they decide to go, the government and the people (of Taiwan) should support them,” said Lai, the candidate of the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Furthermore, Taiwanese businesses are making significant contributions to China’s economy, and they are valuable assets that should be cherished and protected by China, Lai said at the event in Kaohsiung.

China should refrain from any actions that would force Taiwanese businessmen to declare their political stance during election periods, Lai said.

Following the report on Beijing’s propaganda platform the Global Times about the ongoing tax audits at Foxconn subsidiaries in China, the company issued a statement Sunday afternoon, saying it is committed to legal compliance as a foundational principle and to actively cooperating with relevant authorities in its ongoing operations.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs said Sunday it had reached out to Foxconn, expressing its readiness to provide assistance, if needed.

So far, Chinese officials have not explained the reasons for the tax audits and land use inspections of Foxconn, an iPhones assembler, nor have they announced the results of the inspections.

The Global Times, however, quoted Chinese scholar Zhang Wen-sheng (張文生) as saying that “while Taiwan-funded enterprises, including Foxconn, are sharing in dividends from development and making remarkable progress in the mainland, they should also assume corresponding social responsibilities and play a positive role in promoting the peaceful development of cross-strait relations.”

Chinese authorities have been known to target large Taiwanese businesses at sensitive times, on previous occasions.

The context of Taiwan’s presidential election next January adds another layer of complexity, as Foxconn founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) is poised to run for president, having declared that he has obtained the required number of signatures to enter the 2024 race as an independent candidate.

While the China government’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) has not commented directly on Gou’s presidential bid, Lee Cheng-hung (李政宏), president of the Association of Taiwan Investment Enterprises on the Mainland, said in September that the majority of Taiwanese businessmen there were “very disappointed and worried” about Gou’s impending candidacy.

In November 2021, the TAO said that some chemical fiber textile and cement companies affiliated with the Taiwanese Far Eastern Group had violated laws and regulations across five provinces and cities in China. The group was subsequently fined approximately NT$ 2.06 billion (US$ 67 million).

At the time, TAO spokesperson Zhu Fenglian (朱鳳蓮) said that Taiwanese businesses with investments in China should clearly understand the importance of not supporting “stubborn advocates of Taiwan independence.”

A few days after Zhu’s statement, Far Eastern Chairman Douglas Hsu (徐旭東) published a letter in the media, affirming his stance against Taiwan independence and his support for the “1992 consensus.”

The “1992 consensus” refers to a tacit understanding reached in 1992 between Beijing and the Republic of China’s (Taiwan) then-ruling Kuomintang (KMT) that both sides of the Taiwan Strait acknowledge that there is only “one China,” with each side free to interpret what that means — the ROC or the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Another instance of China pressuring Taiwanese businesses occurred in 2016, when the restaurant chain HaiPaWang, which has several outlets in China, was fined for “false labeling” and other alleged legal violations.

Later that year, the group published a full-page advertisement in the media, endorsing the view that both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to “one China.”

In the ad, HaiPaWang also distanced itself from the family of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), saying that it had only a landlord-tenant arrangement with them, referring to its lease of a property from Tsai’s brother.

Source: Focus Taiwan