Friday, March 19, 2004

Conspiranoia in Taiwan

It seems that Europe and America aren't the only parts of the world plagued by the conspiracy mindset at the moment. The reaction of supporters of Taiwan's Nationalist Party to the shooting of President Chen Shui-bian betrays a level of cynicism and suspicion that is hard to credit.

The president and vice president of Taiwan were shot in this southern Taiwan city Friday afternoon on the eve of bitterly contested national elections, but neither suffered life-threatening injuries and the central election commission said that the vote would proceed as scheduled today.

President Chen Shui-bian and Vice President Annette Lu were standing next to each other in an open-roofed red Jeep being driving slowly through streets crowded with supporters in Tainan, the president's hometown, when the president was struck in the stomach by a bullet, the police and government spokesmen said.

Supporters lining the route of the motorcade were discharging large numbers of firecrackers, and the president initially thought he had been hit by one of them, only to find his stomach becoming wet with blood, Chiou I-Jen, the secretary general of the presidential office, said at a news briefing in Taipei. The president and vice president were taken to the Chi Mei Medical Center in Tainan, where they were treated and released. They returned Friday night.

The precise circumstances of the shooting, which many observers surmised could affect voting in the tight race, remained unclear through Friday night. There was even speculation that the shootings might have been staged in an effort to increase support for Mr. Chen.

A bullet was found lodged between the skin of the president's stomach and his undershirt, having apparently torn a wound four inches long, an inch wide and an inch deep, Dr. Steve Chan, the medical center's president, said in a televised briefing.


Mr. Lien and other top Nationalist Party officials repeatedly called for calm and emphasized that they were mainly concerned with the health of the president. But they also called for a full explanation of the shooting.

Some supporters of the Nationalist Party, speaking on television call-in shows, in Internet chat rooms and in street interviews, raised the possibility that the incident was arranged in advance to generate a last-minute sympathy vote for Mr. Chen. Several people said the event reminded them of a "ku rou ji," an ancient Chinese term for a self-inflicted wound intended to trick a foe. (emphases added)

One would have to be pretty gutsy to stage a "trick" of this nature, where the difference between survival and certain death would only be a matter of a few inches. We can chuck that theory in the bin right away, alongside the "Bush knew in advance" and "Clinton killed Vince Foster" nonsense with which we've had to deal in this part of the world. I have to give the Nationalist Party supporters espousing this theory their rightful due, however: it takes real chutzpah to attempt the rhetorical jujitsu of using Chen Shiu-bian's close brush with death against him.