China weighs response to Chen Shui-bian shooting

The Chinese government found itself in a tricky position on Friday, debating how to respond to the shooting of a Taiwanese president it does not recognise and wants out of office.

There was no immediate comment on the dramatic scenes in the southern Taiwanese town of Tainan where President Chen Shui-bian was shot in the stomach and Vice President Annette Lu was hit in the knee.

None of China’s state-run press reported the story hours after it broke.

“We cannot immediately comment on this,” a foreign ministry spokesperson told AFP. “Please ask the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council.”

Telephones at the Taiwan Affairs Office’s news division were not being answered after officials earlier indicated that a response would be forthcoming.

State-run news agency Xinhua and China’s biggest TV network, CCTV, completely ignored the shooting as Chen campaigned for Saturday’s presidential vote.

None of the major Chinese websites dared mention it either.

Chen was listed as “stable” in a hospital intensive care unit after the apparent assassination attempt.

Analysts said it had put China, which sees Chen as bent on seeking independence for the island it views as part of its territory, in a tough position and Beijing was likely to carefully weigh what response to give.

“China is going to be very cautious,” said Gilles Guiheux, director of the Hong Kong-based French Centre for Research on Contemporary China.

“They might be able to use the event to push the idea that Taiwan’s democracy has many drawbacks, but they don’t want to upset Taiwanese voters.

“If they make any unpleasant comments, [it could]. Chen Shui-bian is still the president of Taiwanese people so people will be sensitive to any negative comments.”

Instead, China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province to be reunified, will likely adopt a low-profile approach until after the election on Saturday, Guiheux said.

Beijing is also concerned that it will look like the biggest suspect, he said.

Kou Chien-Wen, a China researcher and analyst at the National Chengchi University in Taiwan, said that responding by expressing concern for Chen may work in Chen’s favour.

“If there’s no response at all, it will seem strange.
People might wonder if China sent a hitman over to Taiwan to kill ‘A-Bian’ (Chen),” Kou said.

If and when China responds, it will be a neutral, bland statement, analysts said.

“They might say they are concerned about the stability of Taiwan,” said Guiheux.

Kou added: “China might say it hopes the Taiwan elections will go smoothly and that Taiwan’s stability will be maintained but it might not mention Chen Shui-bian’s name at all.”

The Chinese government’s main concern is what impact the shooting will have on the results of the presidential polls, they said.

China dreads the re-election of Chen, who has enraged China by proposing a referendum be included as part of the election asking voters to approve boosting defences to counter the missiles China has aimed at the island.

Guiheux said the shooting is likely to help Chen win.

“There will be more voters who will feel more sympathy for the president. The incident might favour Chen Shui-bian,” he said.

Analysts linked to the Chinese government refused to speculate on who might be responsible.

“It’s hard to say. Who fired the shot, and have they caught the guy who did it?” said Guo Zhenyuan, a senior research fellow at the think-tank China Institute of International Studies.

He dismissed any speculation that China could be involved.

“That’s nonsense. How could the Chinese government possibly do something like this?” - Sapa-AFP

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