As a new pro-democracy movement called the Milk Tea Alliance sprouts up in Asia, a Hong Kong lawmaker says the international community must stand in solidarity “to show the tyrannies in the world that … it’s not a matter of one nation — it’s a matter of all.”
“Looking at the scenes like water cannons and all the batons [being used against protesters in Thailand], it really breaks our heart and reminds us of how we’ve gone through the tough year last year with our freedom movement,” said Ted Hui, a politician with Hong Kong’s Democratic Party who is involved in the alliance.
“I think it’s important to show the world that we activists, protesters who fight for freedom and democracy … are not alone,” he told The Current‘s Matt Galloway.
Thousands of demonstrators have gathered in Bangkok in recent weeks to protest what they say is a dictatorial government, and to demand democratic change from their prime minister and king.
The mainly youth-led, peaceful protests have gathered support from pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and Taiwan, leading to a loose coalition dubbed the Milk Tea Alliance. It sprouted up earlier this year after a Thai celebrity ruffled feathers in China with a tweet apparently expressing support for Hong Kong independence.
The hashtag #MilkTeaAlliance surfaced on social media as a result.
Warin Patrick McBlain, a Thai pro-democracy activist based in Bangkok, said protesters have three demands: that the Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha resign, that the constitution be rewritten, and that the Thai monarchy be reformed.
“The subject of Thai monarchy has always been a taboo in Thailand in the sense that no one really wants to talk about it,” McBlain explained. “But it’s actually an elephant in the room throughout Thai politics.”
He said demonstrators would like to see the monarchy’s power curbed.
Free speech ‘difficult’: Hui
Hui was himself arrested by Hong Kong police this summer for charges related to last year’s anti-government protests. He said that people are living under Draconian laws and face threats for speaking up about democracy or freedom in many countries around the world.
“It is difficult for us to speak for ourselves. So if we speak in Hong Kong, we speak for the Thai. In Thailand, they speak for Belarus. And in Belarus, they speak for Hong Kong,” said Hui.
“And I think that’s a safer and more clever way of speaking up against tyrannies.”
Janjira Sombatpoonsiri, a researcher with the Institute of Asian Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, described the demonstrations in Thailand as “uplifting.”
“I think it [symbolizes] a democratic culture, that finally there’s free speech, even though there’s a cost for that,” she said.
However, she cautioned that trying to tackle the monarchy will not necessarily bring about sustainable democratic change.
Although the Milk Tea Alliance has raised awareness about some of the issues with having an “unchecked royal institution,” that doesn’t mean people will “accept this kind of … outright disrespect of the monarchy,” Sombatpoonsiri explained.
“The military [supports] the monarchy, a lot of big [businesses] support the monarchy, and you have a lot of Thai people who are still loyal to the monarchy,” she said.
“There are a lot of interest groups that would lose out if the monarchy is undermined.”
But if the prime minister were willing to step down, that would show that the movement has taken a small step toward success, she said.
“In contrast to this rise of autocratic regimes around the globe, we have the rise of youthful protest,” said Sombatpoonsiri.
“And I think this Milk Tea Alliance is a good example that this international solidarity can be tangible, and perhaps this is the only way to defend democracy from global autocratization.”
Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Jennifer Chen.