As protesters in Hong Kong gathered outside a court in the city in support of 47 pro-democracy politicians and activists charged with “subversion” under the national security law, some raised the mockingjay salute in solidarity with protesters in Myanmar.
The salute, first seen on the streets of Hong Kong during 2014 Occupy Central movement in a reference to the movie Hunger Games, has been taken up by thousands of unarmed civilians protesting the February military coup in Myanmar, where police are increasingly using live ammunition to disperse crowds.
The solidarity with protesters in another country isn’t new: since Hongkongers and Taiwanese rallied on social media last year in support of pro-democracy protesters in Thailand, using the hashtag #MilkTeaAlliance.
The Milk Tea Alliance has also taken on the Little Pinks, supporters of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in a number of meme wars, amid a growing sense of solidarity and resistance to authoritarian rule.
Myanmar’s military junta brought new charges against deposed country leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday, accusing the detained state counselor of incitement and violating telecommunication laws, as protests continued to rage in major cities following a weekend of violence and bloodshed that left at least 20 demonstrators dead.
In all, the 75-year-old politician faces four charges, carrying a total of up to nine years in jail, while President Win Myint is also being charged with incitement to defame the state.
The parallels between the post-coup crackdown on a pro-democracy opposition in Myanmar and the charging of 47 Hong Kong activists with subversion for taking part in democratic primaries in July 2020 aren’t lost on protesters in Hong Kong, who chanted shouts of encouragement to Myanmar as well as Hong Kong outside the court building on Monday.
Four Myanmar-born residents of Hong Kong raised a banner that read: “Drink Milk Tea! Abolish Dictatorship! Fight for Freedom!” on the top of Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak on Monday, accompanied by a group of Hong Kong protesters.
One of them, Debby Chan, who studies Sino-Myanmar relations, told the media that seeing protesters in Myanmar bravely facing down water cannons and bullets brought back painful memories of the 2019 protest movement in Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong went through all of that in 2019, and so we want to show our support now,” Chan told reporters.
Similar struggles against authoritarianism
Lennon Chang, senior lecturer in criminology at Australia’s Monash University, said the Milk Tea Alliance is an enduring concept because all so many parts of the region are facing similar struggles against authoritarianism around the same time.
“Unfortunately, these places all happen to be going through same thing at a similar point in time,” Chang told RFA. “There’s also a kind of butterfly effect, because technology allows people to gather more quickly and learn from the experience of people overseas.”
“That experience then becomes incorporated into practices in their own country,” he said. “We can see that Myanmar are being run in a manner that is strikingly similar to the anti-extradition movement in Hong Kong.”
Kalvin Fung, research director ASEAN and East Asian Studies at Hong Kong’s Global Studies Institute, said there is a strong sense of identification between protesters in Hong Kong and Myanmar.
“This has been bloody conflict, which has caught everyone’s attention, and it … reminds people of the equipment and methods they used during the 2019 protests,” he said. “This makes people in Hong Kong feel that there is a fundamental connection.”
“I think it’s also about the China factor … as people were talking a lot about whether China was behind the military coup in Myanmar during the first couple of weeks,” Fung said.
Myanmar’s protesters have also been garnering support in Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and Australia, where many protesters have also raised banners representing the Milk Tea Alliance.
Meanwhile, in Indonesia and Malaysia, netizens posted support messages to the people of Myanmar using the #MilkTeaAlliance hashtag, which was used more than 1.7 million times on Twitter on Sunday alone.
In Thailand, police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse protesters who gathered in downtown Bangkok on Sunday, calling on the King to give up his military command. At least 33 people were injured and 22 arrested at the protest.
Media reports also including references to solidarity with Myanmar among the protesters.
Reported by Man Hoi Yan for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.