This is the second of a two-part series exploring Thai-Chinese views on the Hong Kong protests, and how Thai-Chinese citizens stay informed.

While their agong and ama shuffle through Chinese newspapers, Thai-Chinese millennials are reading US-based online news and scanning the Twitters and Instagrams of their Hong Kong friends.

On the Thai internet, most posts are in favor of the Hong Kong protesters. Some millennials are even trilingual and scan through feeds in three languages: Thai, English, and Chinese.

On June 4, Suphanut “Jui” Aneknumwong, 19, took his passion from the online to the offline world. He protested in front of the Chinese embassy with the likes of student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal to mark a brutal crackdown that ended the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

They propped up cardboard tanks and held signs in support of then-jailed activist Joshua Wong.

“I agree with the protests because they need to rebel against the Chinese government’s control and interference,” Jui, the first-year political science student at Chulalongkorn University, said. “I think the protest methods are completely okay. They haven’t killed anyone. The economy has to be sacrificed to fulfill this mission.”

To keep up with Hong Kong protest news, he reads either Thai sources – new liberal media like The Standard or The Matter – or English-language publications such as The Guardian. He said he read somewhere that the Hong Kong police are using real bullets, but isn’t completely sure.

What Do Thai-Chinese Think About the Hong Kong Protests? (Part II)
Suphanut “Jui” Aneknumwong

“There’s an information war, where each side is only reading the pages they agree with and believe. But I don’t think there’s a way out for that, unless you fact check everything,” Jui said.

A third-generation Teochew Chinese immigrant, Jui cannot read Chinese and so doesn’t read Chinese media. He says he doesn’t feel any sort of ethnic connection with the Chinese diaspora in other countries.

As an activist and someone who largely reads pro-Hong Kong news, what would it take to change his mind about the protests?

“If [the protesters] start viciously hurting people, lose their direction, or lose sight of their mission, this would make a lot of people change to being pro-China,” Jui said.

What Do Thai-Chinese Think About the Hong Kong Protests? (Part II)
Policemen pull out their guns after a confrontation with demonstrators during a protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Hong Kong police have rolled out water cannon trucks for the first time in this summer’s pro-democracy protests. Photo: Vincent Yu / AP

Pichaya “Coco” Petrachaianan, 26, is trilingual and also declares himself staunchly pro-Hong Kong. He scrolls on Instagram to check out a Hong Kong-based account for protest updates, before reading an article or two from the New Yorker or Straits Times.

“I would much rather read and believe Western news because news from the mainland isn’t so reliable. It could be propaganda, who knows?” Coco said.

A digital lifestyle writer for upscale magazine Thailand Tatler, Coco said he never looks at mainland media. His reading skills are better in English than Chinese, so naturally English-language news is more accessible.

What Do Thai-Chinese Think About the Hong Kong Protests? (Part II)
Pichaya “Coco” Petrachaianan

“I know about Hong Kong from my IG friends in Hong Kong and Taiwan. They’re young and they all cheer for Hong Kong,” he said. “Of course, I’m not cheering for the mainland. I feel sympathetic for Hong Kong. It feels like it’s something close to me because some of my friends are in the protests.”

To him, the divide between mainland China and Hong Kong is not just political but also cultural.

“I think only old people like my grandpa think that there’s one big Chinese cultural unity. Hong Kong has its own identity apart from China. Ideally, Hong Kong should get complete freedom, but that may not be possible since China is so powerful,” Coco said.

He added, “I relate more to Hongkongers because they have more manners. Plus I love Wong Kar Wai films.”

In contrast to Coco and Jui, trilingual Nidawan Asavataweechok, 27, reads news in all three languages to gauge what to make of the situation. She works as an MC for Chinese culture-related events, and as a singer.

“I think English and Chinese news is polarized, while I feel like Thai media is more neutral,” she said. “In my master’s course, I like to talk to mainland Chinese about the issue. Everyone knows that you can’t just use Chinese news as a sole reference.”

She says she applies the same standards to news from Western outlets.

What Do Thai-Chinese Think About the Hong Kong Protests? (Part II)
Nidawan Asavataweechok.

“Western sources try to tone down the protests to make them look much softer,” Nidawan said. “Imagine the backlash if protests closed a Western airport. Some sources were apologists for the airport closing, while others explicitly ignored it.”

For Nidawan, the war on information was best exemplified when Liu Yifei, the lead actress in the upcoming Disney live-action remake of “Mulan,” announced her support for the Hong Kong police. “I support the Hong Kong police,” Liu Yifei wrote on her Weibo account. “You can all attack me now. What a shame for Hong Kong.”

“So the critics are tweeting #BoycottMulan, while her supporters are on Weibo,” Nidawan says. “Neither side is looking at the other, each in spaces where the other side doesn’t look.”

As a Thai-Chinese, Nidawan said she feels some pan-Chinese sentiments for her overseas brethren.

“Personally, I think Hong Kong and China are all ethnically Chinese, like Thai-Chinese people. We have Chinese blood that binds us, no matter the background. No matter what the result is, I hope they work it out,” Nidawan said.

What Do Thai-Chinese Think About the Hong Kong Protests? (Part II)
In this July 1, 2019, file photo, protesters deface the Hong Kong logo at the Legislative Council to protest against the extradition bill in Hong Kong. Photo: Vincent Thian Yu, File / AP

Finally 25-year-old Subhanath “Sammy” Chatdecha, who works in a legal office, is a proud Sinophile. He says he’s been raised on Confucianism and would politically identify most with an American Republican.

“Of course there’s a clear bias in Western media, because in today’s world being left is a cool thing. It’s cool to side with the protestors and be all anti-establishment,” he said.

According to the Hong Kong Free Press, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she was most immediately motivated to push for the extradition bill by pleading from the Poon family, whose daughter Poon Hiu-wing, 20, was allegedly murdered in Taiwan by her boyfriend Chan Hong-kai. Chan was not charged with murder due to the lack of extradition treaty.

“The parents of the victim have not stopped writing letters to the government. …If you have read these letters from Mr. and Mrs. Poon, you would also feel that we must try to help them,” Lam said.

After mounting protests, Lam suspended the bill on June 15.

What Do Thai-Chinese Think About the Hong Kong Protests? (Part II)
Protesters crouch behind a barricade during a protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Photo: Kin Cheung / AP

“It’s like they’re afraid of activists being sent to China way more than criminals coming to Hong Kong,” Sammy said. “Coming out to protest like this shows that they can’t take having to come under Chinese rule. I think the One Country, Two Systems idea is already extremely generous.”

As for media consumption, Sammy says he doesn’t really read mainland Chinese news, but is on a steady diet of Bloomberg, BBC, and the South China Morning Post (“So left!”).

“After you read what the left is saying, you can guess what the right will write, so it’s not necessary,” he said. “No matter how fluent I am in English, I won’t be radicalized by reading English articles.”

After describing his “impossible” dream of a pan-Sinosphere where China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are all under Kuomintang rule, Sammy said he believes Westerners should consume media more responsibly.

“Calm down and look at all sides, not just what you want to look at or agree with. If you want to be a leftist, then be the smart kind,” Sammy said.

This is the second of a two-part series exploring Thai-Chinese views on the Hong Kong protests, and how Thai-Chinese citizens stay informed.

What Do Thai-Chinese Think About the Hong Kong Protests? (Part II)
Demonstrators hold signs opposing the recent firings of Cathay Pacific employees as they gather for a demonstration at the Edinburgh Square in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Photo: Vincent Yu / AP

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What Do Thai-Chinese Think About Hong Kong Protests? (Part I)