Localizing Contentious Politics in Contemporary Southeast Asia and China

Title: 1065 | Localizing Contentious Politics in Contemporary Southeast Asia and China
Area: China and Inner Asia
Stream: Political Sciences
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Stephan Ortmann, City University of Hong Kon, Hong Kong (organizer, chair, presenter)
Andreas Buschmann, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, United States (presenter)
Yufei Du, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (presenter)
Zi Zhu, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (presenter, discussant)


While the ongoing protest in Hong Kong has attracted the world's attention, it is by no means the only place experiencing frequent forms of contention. In many ways, movements across the region and the globe have emerged which are driven by disaffection with the ability of governments to deal with growing social problems amid heightened expectations and the rise of social media. At the same time, however, the Hong Kong protest demonstrates many regional particularities that are often inadequately captured in the academic discourse on contentious politics. The panel deals with two issues that are of particular relevance in the Asian context. On the one hand, this is the role of an expansive and nationalistic China. On the other, the nature of strong states in Asia requires a different approach toward the question of repression and tolerance toward protests and non-governmental organizations as well as coalitions of activists. This raises the question to what extent activists can challenge authorities and eventually contest political power. In this context, the panelists will discuss four neglected cases of contentious politics which are found at the intersection between China and Southeast Asia.

Panel Abstracts:
The Use of AirDrop, Apple’s Peer-to-Peer Technology, in the 2019 Hong Kong Protests
Hong Kong is currently seeing the largest mass mobilization in its history. Many observers have ascribed the success of the Be Water movement to its “leaderless” and “self-organized” character. Telegram groups and social media platforms have been well-known means for organizing collective action, and prior to the 2019 Hong Kong protests, another technology also emerged. In late June, protesters started using AirDrop, Apple’s peer-to-peer technology, to anonymously send calls for protest action to people on public transport and at popular public places across Hong Kong. How has this specific technology been used, and how has it contributed to mobilization in Hong Kong? More specifically, who sent these messages, when and where were they received, and how did recipients respond to them? My paper will elicit these and other questions by reporting findings from three waves of protest surveys, a natural as well as a field experiment conducted at multiple protest sites in Hong Kong. Investigating the use of AirDrop at the Hong Kong protests is important because it is likely that AirDrop will be adopted by future protest movements elsewhere, especially in authoritarian regimes where other means of technology are regularly monitored.

From "Anti-Chinese" to "Anti-China": A Shift of Focus in Southeast Asia's Contentious Politics
It is true the "China" factor always underlies Southeast Asia's domestic politics involving its Chinese nationals. However, there is merit to emphasize a shift of focus from ethnic politics to international relations for two reasons. First, China has risen to become a regional hegemon with more economic power than ever before. Goods and infrastructures have replaced communism ideology as its main exports to the region, along with a new wave of emigrants. Second, most Southeast Asian countries have also undergone significant changes as ethnic-centric politics became less blatant though no way diminished. Civil societies in those countries more often rally around more global concerns such as environmentalism and labor rights issues. Their coordination with international NGOs also renders ethnicity less a concern. Moreover, the relationships between old and new Chinese migrants are also not straightforward. Worth noting is that Chinese migrants had always fallen under sub-regional and linguistic lines: the Hokkien, the Hakka, the Canton, the Teochew and the Hainan, etc. Their relationships were fraught, to say the least. As a collective, their integrations with host societies vary by country, yet there is a consensus that it has increased in the last two decades. The new Chinese migrants, however, come from more diverse home provinces, and they often retain closer ties with China. In my paper, I will provide an updated picture of Southeast Asia's contentious politics involving China. I will focus on two countries: Indonesia and Myanmar. Hopefully, it can point to some new directions for future scholarly investigation.

Environmental Protests in Vietnam: From Tolerance to Repression
Unlike in China, environmental protests frequently appear in Vietnamese newspapers. In general, these reports show that the Vietnamese authorities are willing to tolerate many forms of protest against serious pollution or even the fear of potential pollution from planned development. The reports also demonstrate that angry residents have used many strategies from petitions to blocking the roads or company gates and in some cases even vandalism. While it is possible for Vietnamese journalists to report on different incidents of contention, interviews with editors and journalists reveal that not all incident make it into the paper. By studying the reports that show government tolerance toward protesters and incidents that were either not reported about or focused on repression, this paper seeks to explain this discrepancy. The main factor that is identified relates to the scope of the protest which ranges from local protests that are generally tolerated to nation-wide movements which are viewed as a potential risk to the ruling party. In addition, deep-seated antipathy toward China also makes protests involving companies identified with Chinese capital more sensitive.

Coalition without Alliance: The NGO activism and the environmental protests in China
Scholars of Chinese environmental politics have mostly treated the “environmentalist” activism dominated by ENGOs and the popular environmental protests from ordinary citizens as two separate environmental forces. Concerning the high political sensitivity of popular protests within the restrictive context of China, the ENGOs tend to distance themselves from mass protests to avoid any possible political risk that may endanger their survival and long-term outcomes. Yet, a set of recent cases suggest that linkages exist between the ENGO activism and popular protests. Taking the 2013 anti-PX protests in Kunming as an example, this article addresses this NGO-citizen linkage in environmental activism. It identifies a special form of opposition coalition, that is, the “coalition without alliance”, in China’s restrictive political environment. The coalition is found to be implicit and indirect without any established and formal alliances formed among the participants. It is instead achieved through a series of strategical attempts by the involved ENGOs who had shifted their roles at different phases of the contention. In doing so, the ENGOs effectively empower the mass protest and utilize the outcome of the protest to advance their own agenda. The findings contribute to fill the gap of research into contention coalition under authoritarianism and advance our understanding of the dynamics of environmental activism in China

This panel is on Thursday - Session 02 - Room 7

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