#MilkTeaAlliance is a growing online movement that started brewing in April of 2020 as a war of words between Chinese and Thai netizens. Triggered by Thai actor Vachirawat Chivaaree and his girlfriend’s tweets expressing support for Hong Kong’s independence, the movement has now taken up a regional momentum that criticises China and its perceived power and political dominance.
The movement, named after a mutual love for milk tea, which is not shared by China, is a very loose alliance of netizens from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand. The main goal of the movement being, rebuffing Chinese netizens and their aggressive trolls by posting memes on Twitter and Facebook. While some memes stress on the unity between the members, others take a jab at the perceived rodomontade of Chinese nationalists on the internet.
In Thailand, students have taken to the streets demanding fresh elections, a new constitution along with the call for the removal of Thailand’s military leadership and the reform of the monarchy. In Hong Kong, it is a fight for political freedom from China. And in Taiwan, it is the concern over the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) pledge to reunify the island to the mainland, by force if necessary.
Hashtags, including #MilkTeaAlliance and #MilkTeaIsThickerThanBlood, has been garnering over a million tweets among the youth in these countries and is among the top trending on Twitter. Beijing’s ‘One China Policy’ towards Hong Kong and Taiwan, along with the fight for democracy in Thailand has led to a mutual embrace of regional support among the social media users and the youth of these countries. One of the comments, posted by Facebook user Duangporn Sangchan stated, “One China Principle is only China’s. Don’t force it on others.” Along the way, the Thais’ fight against authoritarianism, together with the pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong and Taiwan has given rise to an Anti-Beijing sentiment that acknowledges the freedom of expression.
Even though their demands may be different, in Thailand, demonstrators take up the chant of ‘Free Hong Kong,’ while waving Hong Kong democracy and Taiwan independence flags. In Taiwan and Hong Kong, students and activists have been showing support for Thai protests. The Milk Tea Alliance has given rise to a new form of pan-Asian solidarity that stands for greater political autonomy and the peoples’ rights. It is a fight against the political establishment as well as authoritarianism. The leaderless protests taking place in these nations, guided by social media and technology platforms, is paving the way for questioning political leadership as well as rooting for an inclusive society.
The movement is a step towards a Neo-Pan-Asian discourse that is being resonated in countries such as Laos, #IfLaoPoliticsWasGood, a criticism against corruption and inequality in the country, along with #MasalaChai in India following the China-India border skirmishes. Politicians, including Taiwan’s Vice President, Lai Ching-te, and the spokesperson from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga have taken to sharing #MilkTeaAlliance.
The Neo-Pan-Asian discourse brought about by the Milk Tea Alliance is one that is shouldering for pro-democracy and human rights in the region; a mutual agreement of China’s growing influence in the region and the country’s ‘Wolf Warrior Diplomacy.’ A term used to criticise China’s confrontational rhetoric as well as the increasingly aggressive rebuffing of any criticism of the country by its nationalist netizens. While Pan-Asianism was all about promoting Asian cooperation by resisting Western imperialism and highlighting the significance of the ‘Asian values’, today it has evolved into one that portrays the significance of democracy, its ideals and values.