The man accused of opening fire inside a Taiwanese church in Laguna Woods on Sunday is believed to have been motivated by hatred of the Taiwanese people and the political belief that Taiwan is part of China, underscoring the geopolitical situation of increasingly tense in the Taiwan Strait.
David Wenwei Chou, a 68-year-old man from Las Vegas, is charged with shooting six people and killing one at the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church. Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said Monday the attack appeared to be a “politically motivated hate incident” and that Chou left notes in his car saying he didn’t believe Taiwan should be independent of China.
Cross-Strait relations have been strained in recent years, as Beijing has stepped up calls for unification, while more Taiwanese oppose mainland aggression and influence. Officials from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles – Taiwan’s de facto consulate – said Chou was born in Taiwan and was a “second generation waishengrenmeaning his parents were from mainland China.
Here’s a look at the issues plaguing the two rivals across the Taiwan Strait.
Is Taiwan part of China?
China’s claim to the island of 23 million dates back to the Qing dynasty, although today’s Communist Party never ruled Taiwan. The Republic of China, founded in 1912, took the island from Japanese forces at the end of World War II in 1945, and the Kuomintang, the Chinese nationalist party, fled there in 1949 after defeat by the Mao Zedong Communists. Taiwan became a democracy in the 1990s, although the Kuomintang, or KMT, is still one of the island’s dominant political parties.
KMT members in Taiwan favor closer ties with mainland China and eventual unification, while the ruling Democratic Progressive Party favors independence. Increasingly, Taiwanese, especially the younger generations, oppose unification and view their culture and identity as separate from China.
What is the Chinese threat?
For Chinese President Xi Jinping, the reunification of Taiwan with the mainland is a priority of his reign. While he called for reunification by peaceful means, he did not rule out the use of force. Beijing sent a record number of military aircraft to Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone last year and used sand dredging vessels to exhaust the defenses of the Taiwanese islands off the coast of mainland China.
The rise of nationalism in China, encouraged by Xi and state propaganda, has sparked enthusiasm for reunification with Taiwan among Chinese citizens. China has embarked on a vast military buildup as part of Xi’s vision for China’s modernization and growing international power.
Overshadowed by the People’s Liberation Army of China, the Taiwanese military also began to strengthen its defenses. Taiwan plans to spend an additional $8.6 billion in defense in addition to a record budget of $17 billion this year. Lawmakers are also considering increasing the length of compulsory military service for Taiwanese men. Conscription was once two years, but has since been reduced to four months.
What is the place of the United States?
The United States maintains economic and political ties with Taiwan, but does not maintain formal diplomatic relations. The United States adheres to the “one China policy”, under which it recognizes that China considers Taiwan as part of its territory, but does not take its own explicit position. The United States also sells weapons to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act.
Balancing the different policies is part of an attempt to maintain stability in the region. The “strategic ambiguity” means that the United States has remained deliberately vague about its possible interference if China tries to take Taiwan by force. A statement that it will not come to Taiwan’s aid could comfort Beijing, while an outright guarantee of support could prompt military action.
In recent years, US-Taiwan relations have grown stronger while US-China relations have soured. While the United States still maintains strategic ambiguity, it has shown its support for Taipei through diplomatic envoys in times of heightened tension, defense discussions and military training aid.
Will there really be a war in Taiwan?
As tensions between Taiwan and mainland China have risen, some defense experts have warned that a military conflict over the next decade has become more likely. Russia’s attack on Ukraine has also raised fears that China may attempt a similar assault on Taiwan.
However, Beijing would face several challenges if it were to pursue an outright invasion. The Taiwan Strait acts as a natural barrier between the island and mainland China, forcing China to mount an amphibious attack to reach Taiwan’s shores. Although Taiwan is not internationally recognized as an independent country, it maintains close relations with other democracies, such as Japan and the United States, which have a vested interest in its defense.
Taiwan is also a crucial link in the global electronics and semiconductor supply chain. Its chip industry, where nearly all of the world’s most advanced chips are made, has been called a “silicon shield” and a “sacred mountain protecting the country.” Any damage to these facilities could cripple the wider supply chain.