Activist Napassorn Saengduean reads out a statement during the protest on Oct. 1, 2020.
Activist Napassorn Saengduean reads out a statement during the protest on Oct. 1, 2020.

BANGKOK — A handful of student protesters marked Chinese National Day on Thursday by holding a rally close to the Chinese diplomatic mission in Bangkok, where they slammed alleged human rights abuses in mainland China and showed solidarity with pro-democracy movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Around 20 people joined the protest in front of the Chinese Embassy and held signs condemning the “One China Policy,” mistreatment of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, and Beijing’s growing influence in Southeast Asia, which is perceived by the protest leaders as an effort to vassalize the region.

“In the spirit of the Milk Tea Alliance, we show our solidarity with the people of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, and the Uighurs, who’re suffering with Xi Jinping’s oppression,” activist Napassorn Saengduean read out a statement. “They’re fighting for freedom, just like us Thais.”

The Milk Tea Alliance refers to a symbolic coalition of activists who support democracy and oppose Chinese influence in Thailand, Hong Kong, and Taiwan – united by their fondness for the sweet drinks.

Placards supporting the Chinese Mongols and Tibetan people.
Placards supporting the Chinese Mongols and Tibetan people.

The rally was organized by a group calling themselves “Anti One China TH,” which was created last month by Napassorn, a political science student at Chulalongkorn University. Organizers said police blocked their attempt to stage the protest in front of the embassy’s gate, saying that it “obstructs the walkway.”

With several sticky notes bearing slogans such as “Save Uighurs” and “Thailand Province” on her black dress, Napassorn said she wanted to raise awareness among Thais about the plight of the minorities in China and erosion of freedom in Hong Kong by the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP.

“I want to declare that I’m against the CCP,” Napassorn said. “They destroyed everything. People in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, and the Uighurs have been threatened by them. The Uighurs were sent to reeducation camps and the Tibetans had to protest by self-immolation because of the One China Policy.”

China stands accused by Western governments – namely the United States – of detaining at least one million Uighurs in internment camps and prisons across Xinjiang province. The existence of detention camps was confirmed in an investigative report published in 2019 by The Associated Press, citing Chinese classified documents.

Beijing has insisted that those camps are vocational training centers to improve their skills and eliminate poverty.

Napassorn said she’s also worried that Thailand would eventually become a vassal state of China due to its overdependence on China’s economy.

In 2019, Thai exports to China reached 902.2 billion baht, making it the country’s largest trading partner and an important source of foreign investment.

“I’m concerned that Thailand will become under Chinese control,” Napassorn said. “But I will stand in its way. Our government is authoritarian too. They’re following the same model with China. They tend to have very close relations with each other such as weapon purchases and joint military training.”

Another activist, Bunkueanun Paothong, blamed China’s dams for restricting the water flow in the Mekong, leading to a disaster felt in Thailand and other riparian countries down the river.

“The Chinese government has been known to hoard water resources only for themselves,” Bunkueanun said. “The Mekong River is now no more than a desiccated land. The Chinese government’s greed in controlling every resource possible is not acceptable. It’s inhumane.”

Asked whether their activism is part of a coordinated effort by the U.S. or other foreign governments to undermine the Chinese influence in Thailand, Bunkueanun denied the claim and said he is merely exercising freedom of expression.

“We’re broke AF,” Bunkueanun said. “I’m running on my parent’s welfare right now.”

Protesters display the flags of the Hong Kong and Taiwan independence movements.
Protesters display the flags of the Hong Kong and Taiwan independence movements.

Some of the placards and banners held by the protesters advocate Hong Kong and Taiwanese independence. Cups of Thai milk tea and milk tea candies were also handed out to symbolize the online ‘alliance.’

One of the younger faces at the protest was a Mathayom 4 student who only identified herself as “P.” She said she became interested in China’s actions after one of her idol celebrities expressed support for the One China Policy.

“I knew about it from the boycott of my former idol Lai Kuan Lin,” P said. “He is a Taiwanese singer but he betrayed his own country by openly supporting the Communist government. I urge all of his fans to lower down the obsession with their idols and see all these horrors.”

Demonstrators sang the Hong Kong protest anthem “Glory to Hong Kong” and held up yellow umbrellas in a reference to the protest in Hong Kong, before dispersing peacefully at around 7pm.

The Chinese Embassy has not issued any response to the rally.

Protesters hold yellow umbrellas in a reference to the protest in Hong Kong.
Protesters hold yellow umbrellas in a reference to the protest in Hong Kong.