TAIPEI, Taiwan – Taiwan’s president has condemned the shooting at a Taiwanese church in California by a man driven by hatred of the island, when a lawmaker from his ruling party questioned whether China’s propaganda was a motivating factor behind the violence.
David Chow, 68, of Las Vegas, was due to appear in state court in California on Tuesday on suspicion of murder and attempted murder. Police say he hid the firebombs before firing on a gathering of mostly elderly Taiwanese parishioners at an Orange County church outside Los Angeles on Sunday. One was killed and five were injured, the oldest being 92. A federal hate crime investigation is also underway.
Chou, who said he was born in China and is a U.S. citizen, apparently had his grievances with the Taiwanese community, police said. Chou was born in Taiwan in 1953, according to the Taiwan Central News Agency, citing the head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office at Taiwan’s de-facto consulate in Los Angeles.
According to Taiwanese media, Chou had ties to a Chinese-backed organization opposing Taiwan’s independence, although details were not immediately confirmed.
China claims Taiwan as its own territory, uses force when necessary, and regularly condemns Xi, his ruling Democratic Progressive Party, and their foreign backers in increasingly violent terms.
Tensions between China and Taiwan are at their highest level in decades, with Beijing increasing its military harassment by flying fighter jets over the self-governing island.
In Taiwan, DPP MLA Lin Ching-e said in a message on his Facebook page that “ideology has become the cause of genocide.”
Lin said Taiwanese must face “hate speech and organization” backed by China’s ruling Communist Party, separating the United Front Work Department, which seeks to advance China’s political agenda in Taiwan and the foreign Chinese community.
The United States is Taiwan’s main political and military ally, though it does not extend the island’s formal diplomatic relations out of respect for Beijing.
Taiwan’s de facto ambassador B-Khim Xiao tweeted on Monday that he was “shocked and saddened by the shooting at the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in California.”
“I join the mourning of the families of the victims and the American community in Taiwan and pray for the speedy recovery of the injured,” Hsiao wrote.
Chou’s hatred of the island, recorded in a handwritten note that authorities found, seems to indicate that he did not feel well when he was there.
A former neighbor said Chou’s life was exposed after his wife left him and his mental health deteriorated.
When the Communists came to power on the mainland in 1949, Chou’s family was among about 1 million refugees from mainland China who had fled to Taiwan.
The former Japanese colony was handed over to nationalist Chinese rule at the end of World War II in 1945, and relations between mainlanders and local Taiwanese were often strained.
Apart from language and lifestyle, there were frequent incidents of harassment and clashes between the two sides.
Many mainland youths, concentrated in major cities, joined violent organized crime gangs linked to the military and Chinese secret societies to defend themselves against Taiwan’s rivals.
The Presbyterian Church was the most prominent of Taiwan’s Christian dominions and was closely associated with the pro-democracy movement during the Decade of Martial Law era and later with the cause of Taiwan’s independence.