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Taiwan Billionaire’s Daughter Joins Presidential Race As Opposition VP Candidate

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Cynthia Wu, the daughter of Taipei billionaire Eugene Wu, on Friday was named as a vice presidential candidate in a Taiwan election scheduled for January that could have a big impact on geopolitics and international financial markets. Wu’s presence underscores a generational shift in wealth and power among some Taiwan’s richest business families.

The younger Wu joined a ticket with presidential candidate Ko Wen-je, chairman of Taiwan People’s Party, or TPP. The TPP and Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang, or KMT, are seen as favoring closer ties between Beijing and Taipei, and had been expected work together rather than compete in the race.

That plan dramatically fell through at the end of last week. Charismatic media personality Jaw Shau-kong was announced as the KMT’s vice presidential candidate on Friday, joining a ticket with the party’s flag-bearer New Taipei City Mayor Hou Yu-ih.

Cynthia Wu, a TPP legislator and daughter of Shin Kong Financial Holding’s 78-year-old billionaire ex-chairman Eugene Wu, is now paired with Ko in a move that puts the family in the presidential election spotlight to succeed Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party. Tsai isn’t allowed under Taiwan’s constitution to seek another term, and incumbent Vice President Lai Chin-te, the Democratic Progressive Party’s independence-leaning presidential candidate, has been criticized by Beijing media as fueling tension between the two sides.

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Shin Kong traces its business roots to Cynthia Wu’s late grandfather, Wu Ho-Su, who built a fortune from trading and textiles amid Taiwan’s rise as one of Asia’s “Four Tigers” (along with South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore) after World War II.

The family diversified into financial services in a big way following reforms in the hitherto state-dominated industry in the 1990s, a change that gave rise to billionaire fortunes among shareholders at Shin Kong Financial, whose former long-term chairman Eugene Wu currently has a fortune worth $1.2 billion on the Forbes Real-Time Billionaires List.

Cynthia Wu’s uncle Thomas Wu also during that era set up his own financial services company, Taishin Financial Holding and ranks as a billionaire worth $2 billion on the Forbes Real-Time List. Other companies associated with clan members include publicly traded Shin Kong Insurance, Shinkong Synthetic Fibers, Great Taipei Gas and Taipei Shin Kong Security.

Cynthia Wu, 45, holds an undergraduate degree. from Wellesley College, where she majored in international relations and art history, as well as an M.A. from the Courtauld Institute of Art, according to a biography posted by the World Economic Forum. She worked as an analyst at Merrill Lynch in London before joining the family business, and also earlier was a parliament assistant to Peter Bruce Lilley, a former deputy leader of the British Conservative Party in the UK. She joined Taiwan’s legislature as an at-large TPP member in 2022, rather than through a direct election win.

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The global stakes in Taiwan’s election are big. Mainland China, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan – a self-governing democracy of 23 million — hasn’t ruled out the use of force to unify and recently stepped-up military activities around the area. Under the Taiwan Relations Act, “the United States makes available defense articles and services as necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability,” according to the U.S. State Department.

Taiwan is a vital link in the electronics industry as a supplier of advanced semiconductors. Taiwan businesses that rank on the Forbes Global 2000 list of the world’s top publicly traded companies include Hon Hai Precision — the big supplier to Apple founded by billionaire Terry Gou, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp., or TSMC, which makes computer chips for Intel.

The leadership of many of the biggest Taiwan businesses to emerge after World War II is now in transition to a new generation. The top 10 Taiwan members of the Forbes Real-Time Billionaires List are all over age 60. Among them, Fubon billionaires Daniel and Richard Tsai, who took over the business from their father Tsai Wan-tsai, are now in their 70s.

Hon Hai’s Gou, himself now 73 years old, dropped out as an independent candidate last week with low public support. Hon Hai is better known outside of Taiwan by its trade name Foxconn.

So far, it doesn’t seem that Ko’s decision to team with Wu is helping his ticket. Since September, support for the TPP has been flat at around 21%; the Democratic Progressive Party has gained one percentage point to 31%, and the KMT has climbed to 29% from 20%, according to a poll on Taiwan media today.

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@rflannerychina

Source: Fox Business

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