Terry Gou, founder of iPhone assembler Foxconn, replaced by instant noodle moguls at top of Forbes Asia’s Taiwan rich list

Ryan Swift

Terry Gou, once Taiwan’s richest man and a former presidential candidate, has slipped from first to fourth place on Forbes Asia’s latest rich list of Taiwanese billionaires and their families. Gou, who ran in the Kuomintang primary to compete in the 2020 Taiwan presidential election, saw his fortune fall from US$7.3 billion to US$6.9 billion.

Gou made his fortune as founder and chairman of Foxconn, the world’s largest contract manufacturer and Taiwan’s largest employer. CNBC reported in May 2019 that Foxconn was the biggest assembler of Apple products.

Overall, Taiwan’s 50 richest people or families saw their net wealth rise 7.7 per cent to US$112 billion from US$104 billion in November 2018. That gain was relatively poor, considering that Taiwan’s benchmark stock index rose 22 per cent in the same period, Forbes said.

The richest family in Taiwan is that of the Wei brothers, who jointly own Ting Hsin International, which owns some of the most popular instant food brands such as instant noodles in China and is a shareholder in the Taipei 101 building. The Wei brothers are now worth an estimated US$7.2 billion. Ting Hsin International was at the centre of food scandals in 2013 and 2014, including the so-called Gutter Oil scandal, in which cooking oil was mixed with waste oil and animal feed.

Tsai Eng-meng of snack maker Want Want China added US$1.4 billion to his net worth, rising to No. 3 on the list with a net worth of US$7 billion.

Forbes Asia reported that 25 members of the list gained this year, and nine of them made their fortunes in the technology industry.

China’s drive to roll out 5G has boosted the fortunes of technology providers. Wu Li-gann saw his wealth rise 138 per cent thanks to his shareholding in WUS Printed Circuit, which is a supplier to Huawei and ZTE Corporation. Shares in WUS Printed Circuit have doubled in value since the beginning of 2019.

Tsai Ming-kai’s fortune rose 80 per cent thanks to shareholdings in MediaTek, a developer of 5G chips.

Moody’s Investors Services noted that Taiwan’s government had successfully incentivised Taiwanese manufacturers back to Taiwan in the midst of the US-China trade war in its most recent credit opinion on Taiwan in November 2019. The Statistical Bureau of Taiwan has forecast GDP growth of 2.7 per cent in 2020.

How well Taiwan’s billionaires do in 2020 may depend on the political landscape.

Taiwan re-elected the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen as president in a landslide victory over Kuomintang candidate Han Kuo-yu, who favoured closer ties with mainland China. Though the DPP party is aligned with Taiwan’s independence movement, Tsai has not said she would declare independence, but she has rejected the one-country two-systems model of integration favoured by China.

In remarks made just before the elections, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that the Taiwanese people “must understand that independence will only bring hardship”.

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