Successive governments have rightly boasted of Taiwan’s transformation from an authoritarian regime into a vibrant democracy and its peaceful transfers of power. Taiwan has also been heralded within and without as the first (ethnic) Chinese democracy, a beacon not only for those across the Taiwan Strait, but elsewhere in Asia.
The growing commitment to human rights by the citizens of this nation and the government — as evidenced by the passage into law of two key UN covenants and a willingness to tackle abuses internally and condemn those who commit such outrages in other nations — is also noteworthy, even though much remains to be done domestically to improve the treatment of migrant workers, especially in the fisheries industry.
Taiwan is held up both as a model of what is possible and as a rebuke to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its regime in Beijing to whom the merest whiff of criticism is anathema. In particular, under the two Democratic Progressive Party administrations, there has been much talk of using Taiwan’s soft power to counter China’s aggressive posturing and its continuous efforts to block this nation on the international stage.
However, one major “soft power” achievement has come not from the government, but from the grassroots level, although it is one that deserves the government’s full support.
Much has been written about how the Sunflower movement in the spring of 2014 — and its occupation of the Legislative Yuan — had a major impact on the development of the “Umbrella movement” that grew out of the Occupy Hong Kong protests that began in September 2014.
The exchange of ideas and visits between Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and young Taiwanese since 2015 led to an outpouring of support in Taiwan for Hong Kongers during the anti-extradition protests in the territory that erupted a year ago.
While Taiwanese finding common cause with Hong Kongers who want to retain the rights and freedoms that they have enjoyed is easy to understand — for as Hong Kong goes, so could Taiwan — what is really interesting is that young people and democracy advocates elsewhere in Asia are increasingly willing to speak up for Hong Kongers and Taiwanese in the face of China’s blatant oppression, both on the street and over the Internet.
A “Milk Tea Alliance” among netizens in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and the Philippines emerged this spring, trolling China’s increasingly jingoistic online army that lashes out and threatens celebrities, multinationals and anyone else who directly or indirectly challenges Beijing’s “one China” mantra.
Like the Sunflower movement and pro-democracy supporters over the past year or more in Hong Kong, the alliance is self-initiated and spontaneous, interested in greater democracy in their own countries and others, as well as countering Beijing’s cudgel diplomacy, military assertiveness and regional ambitions, even if their own leaders are hesitant to do so.
Whether it is countering the CCP’s historical claims, China’s aggressive dam-building program that threatens those along the lower reaches of the Mekong River or Beijing militarizing the South China Sea, the power of the #MilkTeaAlliance is growing.
While members of this expanding pan-Asia alliance do not share the same language or culture, they share a conviction that they have the right — if not a duty — to criticize and challenge those in power for the betterment of their nations.
They are the living embodiment of the CCP’s worst nightmare — free-thinking individuals who are not afraid to speak their minds.
Just how much the CCP fears such people was made abundantly clear by Beijing’s overreach in its new National Security Law for Hong Kong, which includes the threat to go after anyone suspected of inciting secession even if they do not reside in the territory.
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