For around eight months in 2019, the world media became fixated by images of Hong Kong’s protests. These included pictures of millions of people marching through the former British colony’s financial districts of Wan Chai and Admiralty road demanding democratic reforms for the region. This was before the widespread introduction of Hong Kong’s National Security Law during the Coronavirus pandemic earlier this year. However, as Hong Kong takes a democratic hit, many different nations have taken inspiration from Hong Kong’s protest movements. These have ranged from fellow ‘Milk Tea Alliance’ nations (like Thailand) to European nations like Belarus. All of which have aimed to succeed in using Hong Kong’s protesting ‘blueprint’ in resisting governmental authoritarianism.
This comes as dissidents within Hong Kong have often championed the phrase ‘be water’, as inspired by the Hong Kong icon Bruce Lee. The term was used by the pro-democracy movement within the region during the last years extradition protests. The main idea behind the thought is that political movements become leaderless, formless and fast moving (like water) in their tactics and approach. With the rise of social media, protesters have used encrypted phone apps to share second by second information midway through protesting. Such actions were displayed in Hong Kong’s protests and became common place amongst Catalan protests, which aim to defend the region from the central Spanish government. As such, those protesters have called themselves “Tsunami Democrátic,”. When Catalan protesters targeted Barcelona’s Airport in October 2019, they chanted “We’re going to pull a Hong Kong!”.
A more recent example of protest movements that have adopted such a protesting model is that of Belarus. In Minsk, protesters have called for the long running President Lukashenko’s resignation. Such actions have happened before. Belarusian people have in the past complained about Belarus’s Russian backed President in 2011 and 2017. However, in 2020, it has been the first time that the government has struggled with suppressing protesting and criticism. A possible reason for this is that anti-government protesters have used ‘cat-and-mouse’ tactics when targeting the police. Alongside using Telegram channels (like in Hong Kong’s protests) to subvert government authorities.
What this has revealed is that Hong Kong’s dissident model has journeyed from East Asia to Europe (an incredible feat) but has also generated popularity closer to the original protester’s home. In the Southeast Asian Nation of Thailand, protests have also been brewing against the incumbent government of Prayut Chan-o-cha since summer this year. Thai protesters demand that Prayut must resign and that widespread democratic reforms must curtail the current power of the Thai monarchy. Thai protesters have also used the phrase ‘be water’ and have begun to use Telegram to organise protesting. The reason for such actions is that it helps avoid the movement becoming targeted and its leaders being taken out by pro-governmental forces.
The protests in Thailand have quickly elicited close foreign support from the neighbouring nations. The #MilkTeaAlliance, is an online protesting movement. It is aimed at creating solidarity between Hong Kongers, Thai’s and other Asia-Pacific nations. It is based on the resistance to the widespread authoritarianism in Southeast Asia and a shared love of milk tea beverages.
Such political movements are innately leaderless and amorphous in nature. This means that it is essential to be fluid when protesting their respective governments. This begs the question of how such formless movements stay organised? The main central tenet is that of technology and contemporary social movements. Author Carne Ross has stated that “Technology means you don’t need a leader to disseminate strategy, the strategy disseminates horizontally”. (An excerpt from “The Leaderless Revolution: How Ordinary People Will Take Power and Change Politics in the 21st Century”). However, as further protests grow around the world, it may become increasingly obvious that such protesting movements may owe a lot of their inspiration to the original Hong Konger’s ‘blueprint’. The results of which are truly yet to be determined.
Featured image credit: Joseph Chan on Unsplash