California church shooter in Taiwan 'peaceful reunification' group linked to Beijing

Taiwan mourns shooting death, injuries following an attack on worshipers at an Irvine Presbyterian church
By Hwang Chun-mei
2022.05.17
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California church shooter in Taiwan 'peaceful reunification' group linked to Beijing Pastor Xuanxin Zhang speaks during a prayer vigil in Irvine, California, May 16, 2022.
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California church killer David Chou has close ties to a Taiwan 'peaceful reunification' group linked to the ruling Chinese Communist Party's United Front Work Department, a body that has been designated a representative of a foreign government by the U.S. government, according to a report on its founding ceremony.

Chou, who opened fire on a Taiwanese lunch banquet at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Irvine, CA on May 15, killing one person and injuring five others before being restrained, was pictured at the setting up of the Las Vegas Association for China’s Peaceful Unification on April 2, 2019, holding up a banner calling for the "eradication of pro-independence demons," according to an April 3, 2019 report on the Chinese LVNews website.

The group -- whose president Gu Yawen warned the people of Taiwan that 'peaceful unification is the only way to avoid war' in his inaugural speech -- is a local branch of the National Association for China’s Peaceful Unification (NACPU) under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s United Front Work Department.

"The United Front Work Department (UFWD) is the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) organ tasked with co-opting and neutralizing threats to the party’s rule and spreading its influence and propaganda overseas," the State Department said in a statement in 2020. "The CCP regards this party apparatus as a 'magic weapon' to advance Beijing’s policies."

In the same statement, the State Department designated NACPU a foreign mission of China.

"The UFWD ... uses front organizations like the NACPU to advance [Beijing]’s propaganda and malign influence," then Secretary of State Mike Pence said.

Taiwan has never been ruled by the CCP, nor formed part of the People's Republic of China, but its nationals are regarded as Chinese citizens under another administration by Beijing.

The majority of Taiwan's 23 million people say they have no wish to give up their country's sovereignty or lose their democratic way of life under Chinese rule, but CCP leader Xi Jinping has said "unification" is inevitable, and has refused to rule out the use of military force to annex the democratic island.

David Chou holds up a banner calling for the 'eradication of pro-independence demons,' at the Las Vegas Association for China’s Peaceful Unification, April 2, 2019. Credit: LVNews
David Chou holds up a banner calling for the 'eradication of pro-independence demons,' at the Las Vegas Association for China’s Peaceful Unification, April 2, 2019. Credit: LVNews
'Politically motivated hate'

Orange County police said Chou's actions were fueled by "politically motivated hate."

Sheriff-Coroner Don Barnes said Chou -- who reports said was born in Taiwan to parents from China -- had left a note in his car showing he didn't agree that "Taiwan is a country independent of China," and had expressed dissatisfaction with political tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, has been arrested on suspicion of murder and attempted murder after he entered Geneva Presbyterian Church and fired multiple rounds, striking six victims, Orange County police said.

"At the time of the shooting, members of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, which has had a space at the church since 2009, were having a lunch banquet to welcome a pastor who had recently returned from Taiwan," it said.

Five victims sustained gunshot wounds and were taken to local hospitals for treatment, while the deceased was identified as Dr. John Cheng, 52, pronounced dead at the scene after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds when he intervened and tackled the suspect, enabling others to rush in and hogtie Chou to prevent further carnage.

"There is no doubt that Dr. Cheng’s actions that day saved the lives of many other church members. He is a hero and will be remembered by this community as such," Barnes told journalists, adding that Chou appeared to have superglued the church doors shut and had deposited spare ammunition and Molotov cocktails around the building ahead of time.

The five injured victims, four men and a woman aged 66-92, were taken to a local hospital, where they are being treated, police said.

The banquet had been in honor of pastor Chang Hsuan-hsin, who had returned to the church after a two-year absence, local pastor Hwang Chun-sheng told RFA.

"Our pastor and elder hadn't been back to California for more than two years, so most of the older members of the church wanted to go to church for that day's service," Hwang said. "[Dr. Cheng] decided he would bring his mother to church [for the occasion].

'Violence is never the answer'

Chien Ta, a former member of a NACPU branch in the U.S., said more violence could occur over the status of Taiwan, which is a sovereign country formally ruled by the 1911 Republic of China founded by Sun Yat-sen whose government fled to the island after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists in China.

"If we don't deal with this kind of nationalistic hatred, we will definitely see more intense conflicts on the issue of unification or independence in future," Chien warned.

Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen, who has insisted that any dialogue must be on a government-to-government basis, expressed her condolences to Cheng's family via social media.

"I want to convey my sincere condolences on the death of Dr. John Cheng & my hopes for a prompt recovery for those injured in the shooting at the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in California," Tsai tweeted. "Violence is never the answer."

Taiwanese lawmaker for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Lin Ching-yee said via Facebook that the shooting was driven by a "genocidal" ideology, calling for greater awareness of the possibility of politically motivated killings of Taiwanese overseas, in addition to the threat of Chinese invasion.

Presidential Office spokesman Xavier Chang said Tsai had asked Taiwan's top representative to the U.S. Hsiao Bi-khim to visit California soon and support the victims' families.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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