View Original Notice ? Did Laguna Woods church’s support for Taiwan independence factor in shooting?
Politics and religion are tangled up in many parts of the world, and Taiwan is no exception.
The Taiwanese Presbyterian church has long favored independence from China — a position that infuriates China’s mainland communist government, which considers Taiwan one of its many provinces.
Experts and law enforcement officials suspect that the man who killed one and shot four others in a Laguna Woods church on Sunday, May 15 may have targeted the Taiwanese Presbyterian congregation out of anger over the church’s pro-independence stance. David Wenwei Chou, a 68-year-old Las Vegas resident, had notes in his car suggesting he “was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan” and harbored “hatred of the Taiwanese people,” according to Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes.
The Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church conducts services at Geneva Presbyterian in Laguna Woods and had a gathering after its service Sunday.
Chou lived both in mainland China and Taiwan, emigrated to the U.S., became a citizen and has lived here for decades, officials said.
“The majority of people in Taiwan do not want unification with China — but there are fringe groups that are connected to larger, pro-China groups,” said Lev Nachman, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies who got his Ph.D. at UC Irvine. “The shooter, perhaps, is tied to one of these groups.”
Taiwan sits about 100 miles off China’s east coast. After the Chinese Communist Party won control of China in 1949, about 3 million members of China’s nationalist party — known as the Kuomintang and led by Chiang Kai-shek — fled to Taiwan and set up a government there, imposing decades of martial law on the island and persecuting critics who dared favor democratic self-rule for Taiwan.
“During that time, it was illegal to form a political party or talk about local self-rule,” said Clayton Dube, director of USC’s U.S.-China Institute.
And Chou, at age 68, is of the age that might remember the tensions of identity politics between the mainlanders and the island’s local residents well.
“I believe his hatred of Taiwan manifested when he was residing there in previous years, possibly in his youth,” OCSD’s Barnes said. “He was not well received while living there, according to what we believe we’ve collected so far.”
Taiwan emerged from martial law in 1987 and, over a short quarter-century, established a solid democracy and a strong economy, all while existing in a strange netherworld where it’s not recognized as an independent nation by most of the world, and continues to be claimed by China.
While these passions have cooled with younger generations, they still burn strongly in many older people, Dube said. “This divide does still matter.”
Most people in Taiwan are happy to stick to the status quo, he said. While they might favor independence, they know that China has threatened war if the island declares independence, so they’re satisfied to remain in limbo. Only about 5% to 6% favor unification with China.
Tensions between Taiwan and China are the worst they’ve been for 40 years, Taiwan’s defense minister has said. Some 1,900 Chinese missiles are pointed at the island. China’s incursions by air and sea into what Taiwan defines as its territory are common. And there are fears that, as Russia tries to take what it insists belongs to it in Ukraine, China may become emboldened to do the same with Taiwan.
It appears that the alleged shooter was very systematic, and it wasn’t a spur-of-the moment decision — but politics could get jumbled with business or romantic disputes or some other perceived slight in a troubled mind, Dube said.
“This background noise may have played some role, but it’s far too early to know for sure,” he said.
Nachman, of Harvard, is inclined to agree.
“I think there is a desire to frame this as China attacking Taiwan in the U.S.,” Nachman said. “That’s a pretty big overstatement. I really think it has more to do with the instability of the shooter.”