TAIPEI, Taiwan - Taiwan’s president has condemned the shooting at a Taiwanese church in California by a man reportedly driven by hatred of the island, while a lawmaker from her ruling party questioned whether Chinese propaganda was a motivating factor behind the violence.
President Tsai Ing-wen’s office issued a statement Tuesday saying she condemned "any form of violence," extended her condolences to those killed and injured and had asked the island’s chief representative in the U.S. to fly to California to provide assistance.
The suspect in the shooting, David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, had ties to a Chinese-backed organization opposed to Taiwan’s independence, according to Taiwanese media. Those details could not immediately be confirmed.
China claims Taiwan as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary and regularly denounces Tsai, her ruling Democratic Progressive Party and their foreign supporters in increasingly violent terms.
Tensions between China and Taiwan are at the highest in decades, with Beijing stepping up its military harassment by flying fighter jets toward the self-governing island.
Chou was expected to appear in California state court Tuesday on suspicion of murder and attempted murder. Police said he hid firebombs before Sunday’s shooting at a gathering of mostly elderly Taiwanese parishioners at the church in Orange County outside Los Angeles. One man was killed and five people wounded, the oldest 92. A federal hate crimes investigation is also ongoing.
Chou, a U.S. citizen, apparently had a grievance with the Taiwanese community, police said. Chou was born in Taiwan in 1953, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported, citing the head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles, Taiwan’s de-facto consulate in the city.
In Taiwan, DPP legislator Lin Ching-yi said "ideology has become a reason for genocide" in a message on her Facebook page.
Lin said Taiwanese need to "face up to hateful speech and organizations" backed by China’s ruling Communist Party, singling out the United Front Work Department that seeks to advance China’s political agenda in Taiwan and among overseas Chinese communities.
Asked about Chou’s reported political leanings, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Beijing had "noted the relevant reports."
"We hope the U.S. government will take effective measures to resolve the worsening gun violence issue at home," Wang told reporters at a daily briefing.
The U.S. is Taiwan’s chief political and military ally though it doesn’t extend the island formal diplomatic ties in deference to Beijing.
Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan’s de-facto ambassador, on Monday tweeted that she was "shocked and saddened by the fatal shooting at the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in California."
"I join the families of the victims and Taiwanese American communities in grief and pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded survivors," Hsiao wrote.
Chou’s hatred toward the island, documented in hand-written notes that authorities found, appears to have begun when he felt he wasn’t treated well while living there.
A former neighbor said Chou’s life unraveled after his wife left him and his mental health had been in decline.
Chou’s family appeared to be among the roughly 1 million refugees from mainland China who moved to Taiwan at around the time of the Communist sweep to power on the mainland in 1949.
The former Japanese colony had only been handed over to Nationalist Chinese rule in 1945 at the end of World War II, and relations between mainlanders and native Taiwanese were often tense.
Separated by language and lifestyle, incidents of bullying and confrontation between the sides were frequent.
Many mainlander youth, who were concentrated in the major cities, joined violent organized crime gangs with ties to the military and Chinese secret societies, in part to defend themselves against Taiwanese rivals.
The Presbyterian Church is the most prominent of the Christian dominations in Taiwan and was closely identified with the pro-democracy movement under decades of martial law era and later with the Taiwan independence cause.