The Milk Tea Alliance or how the Internet society can provoke change.

Milk Tea Alliance Flag. Source: Wikipedia

Nowadays, the Internet plays a big role in society’s everyday life. Many and different things can be found through browsing the web. Among those, a term called internet meme (or just meme) has managed to establish itself mainly within the newer generations. In simple terms, a meme can be described as “an amusing or interesting item or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media”.[1] To be more specific, the structure that a meme follows revolves around having a picture or a video, which is accompanied by a caption. Having said that, this leads us to the main topic at matter, namely the Milk Tea Alliance which is an online democratic solidarity movement that originally started as a meme posted on Twitter in response to the increased presence of Chinese moral and nationalist commentators within social media platforms. In spite of starting as a meme, nowadays it has evolved into a dynamic multinational protest movement which advocates democracy.[2] Furthermore, the Milk Tea Alliance was initiated by netizens (a term used for “users of the internet”) from Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan, later on joined by Myanmar.

How it all began…

To gain a bit more context into the Milk Tea Alliance, lets trace back its roots. It all started in April 2020 when the Thai actor Vachirawit Chivaaree, who gained popularity through starring in the Thai TV drama 2gether which also became popular in China, reposted an image on Twitter.[3] The said image enlisted Hong Kong as being a separate “country”. The issue with this comes from the fact that, as you would probably know, Hong Kong is still considered and recognized as a city, part of China, though retaining a high degree of autonomy.[4]

Thai actor Vachirawit Chivaaree. Source: Twitter

Many conflicts have been occurring throughout the years between Hong Kong and Mainland China leading to a tense relationship between both sides and, as you would image, the Chinese netizens were not especially pleased with the Thai actor’s repost. Numerous negative reactions were generated following the image and a boycott of his show was called upon. Even though Vachirawit ended up apologizing and taking the post down, the scandal did not end there.

Flag of Taiwan. Source: Edarabia

After further digging, Chinese netizens managed to find a tweet, dating from 2017, in which the actor’s alleged girlfriend, Thai influencer Weeraya Sukaram, had insinuated that Taiwan was an independent country as well.[5] 

The statute of Taiwan is ambiguous since it is considered as a separate country from China, but it is not fully recognized as such.[6] Weeraya’s post was followed by new attacks by the Chinese netizens which, this time, also included insults regarding various aspects of Thailand such as the King and the Prime Minister. Unhappy with the occurring, Thai netizens joined the social media war on Twitter in order to defend Vachirawit by also taking the opportunity to apply generalized criticism towards China. This move led to a digital battle ensuing between the Chinese embassy, located in Bangkok, and the Thai netizens after a statement condemning the criticism was released by the embassy on Facebook. During this online battle, Thailand also showed support towards Hong Kong and Taiwan since a common goal could be noticed as all parties were on the pro-democratic side with anti-Beijing sentiment and fighting against the authoritarian platform. Soon after, Twitter users from Taiwan and Hong Kong joined the Thai users in the “war” in what was considered by The Telegraph as “a rare moment of regional solidarity”.[7]

Background on Thailand and its part within the alliance

Flag of Thailand. Source: WallpaperCave

Turning sights specifically about Thailand’s contribution to the alliance, lets first take a look at its profile and background. Thailand is a country located in Southeast Asia with a population of nearly 70 million people.[8] Its official name is Ratcha Anachak Thai (Kingdom of Thailand) and the capital city is Bangkok.[9] When it comes to the form of government of the country, Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with the monarch as the head of state. Currently that position is taken by King Vajiralongkorn, with the prime minister being Prayuth Chan-ocha who came in charge after being the leader of the 2014 Thai coup d’état which resulted in a new government coming into power.[10]  As can be gathered, the population of Thailand does not have much say regarding the political matters occurring within their country, with the younger generations becoming more conscious of the oppression exerted on them and appealing for a change.

Coming back to the Milk Tea Alliance, the new Thai generations find it as a medium, where they could share their ideas more freely and find compatriots who are not afraid to express their opinions and push for a “revolution”. On this path, as mentioned previously, joined users from Hong Kong and Taiwan, with both “countries” showing a stance and willingness towards fighting for change to occur, something that the Thai users find relatable to their own situation (whether it is for gaining full independence or asserting a more democratic approach within their governmental system).

Milk Tea Alliance. Source: SouthEast Asia Globe

Furthermore, the aforementioned anti-Beijing sentiment and the anti-authoritarian platform were also among the cornerstones leading to the creation of the Milk Tea Alliance and the relatability between the countries since each of them (meaning netizens deriving from Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan) show a sort of level of resentment towards China and its political system.[11]

When it comes to the origin of the name, Milk Tea Alliance, it is considered that Chinese tea lacks the usage of milk, whereas members within the alliance, such as Thailand, Taiwan and Honk Kong all share similarities when it comes to preparing milk tea.[12] Therefore, milk tea is used, in a way, as symbolizing the anti-China Communist party solidarity by the Southeast Asian members. Soon after being created in April 2020, the Milk Tea Alliance has managed to evolve from an anti-Beijing meme into a:[13]

…leaderless protest movement pushing for change across Southeast Asia.

Heather Chen

Senior Staff Writer, VICE Asia

Developments of the Milk Tea Alliance

Taiwan cartoon showing Lord Rama slay Chinese dragon. Source: The Print

Following the 2020 China-India skirmishes, revolving around disputed territories within the Kashmir region, India was also partially included within the Alliance with masala chai being a traditional representative of milk tea. To show solidarity towards the fallen Indian soldiers during the skirmishes, a cartoon was developed by a Taiwanese user which involved Lord Rama slaying a Chinese dragon which gained popularity and was well accepted.[14] On the other hand, posters near the Chinese embassy in New Delhi could be seen on October 10th congratulating Taiwan for its 109th National Day which were put by Indian netizens in sign of solidarity towards Taiwan. These acts were not left unnoticed as politicians in both India and Taiwan highlighted the existence of the Milk Tea Alliance and appreciating each other’s support.[15]

Pro-democracy protesters gather at Victory Monument in Bangkok, Thailand on Oct. 21, 2020. Source: Time; Credit: Lauren DeCicca

In August 2020 pro-democracy protests were renewed in Thailand which found support and solidarity from both Taiwanese and Hong Kongers, with #MilkTeaAlliance being used heavily by protesters on Twitter.[16]

Myanmar solidarity. Source: France24

In February 2021, during the period in which the coup d’etat was occurring in Myanmar, activists in Myanmar and neighboring Thailand began adopting the Milk Tea Alliance in order to show their solidarity on the situation at hand.[17]

Social media has a big influence on our daily lives. It enables us to stay connected with people from different countries who share the same interests as us and aim towards the same goals. The Milk Tea Alliance is the perfect example of the positive influence social media can have, by unifying different parties which find themselves at similar positions pushing towards change through raising their voices and showing solidarity on the Internet. Its importance cannot be overstated even more so with the current situation in Thailand.

With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Thai government introduced new restrictions which oppress even further the basic human rights of the people. This move led to the political situation within the country to rapidly worsen with the youth-led democracy movement demanding political and constitutional reforms as well as the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha.[18]

Speech during protest in Thailand. Source: HRW; Credit: Supitcha Chailom

As of yet, the alliance is still quite a recent phenomenon which means that its effects are yet to be seen and some time is necessary to figure out further moves which would lead to change. Nevertheless, the new generations are showing willingness for a change to occur and believe that through unity many things can be achieved. A certain saying goes:

Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.

Alexander the Great

It is suitable mentioning it in this situation since, through each user expressing their opinion freely within the Milk Tea Alliance, a unification can be created which could manage to push for a change that would affect all.

References:

[1] Meme. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meme.

[2] Bunyavejchewin, P. (2020, May 02). Will the ‘milk tea war’ have a lasting impact on china-thailand relations? Retrieved from https://thediplomat.com/2020/05/will-the-milk-tea-war-have-a-lasting-impact-on-china-thailand-relations/.

[3] Teixeira, L. (2020, April 17). Thais show how to Beat China’s online army. Retrieved from https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/04/17/nnevvy-bright-firewall-thailand-china-online-army/.

[4] GovHK. (2021, March 22). Hong Kong – the facts. Retrieved from https://www.gov.hk/en/about/abouthk/facts.htm.

[5] Teixeira, L. (2020, April 17). Thais show how to Beat China’s online army. Retrieved from https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/04/17/nnevvy-bright-firewall-thailand-china-online-army/.

[6] Albert, E. (2020, January 22). China-Taiwan relations. Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-taiwan-relations.

[7] Smith, N. (2020, May 03). #MilkTeaAlliance: New Asian youth movement BATTLES Chinese TROLLS. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/05/03/milkteaalliance-new-asian-youth-movement-battles-chinese-trolls/.

[8] Thailand population (LIVE). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/thailand-population/#:~:text=The%20current%20population%20of%20Thailand,the%20latest%20United%20Nations%20data.

[9] Library NHL Stenden. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://academic-1eb-1com-17qqjs5rm018f.access.nhlstenden.com/levels/collegiate/article/Thailand/111153.

[10] Taylor, A., & Kaphle, A. (2014, May 22). Thailand’s Army just announced a coup. Here are 11 other Thai coups since 1932. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/05/20/thailands-army-says-this-definitely-isnt-a-coup-heres-11-times-it-definitely-was/.

[11] McLaughlin, T. (2020, October 13). How milk tea became an anti-china symbol. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2020/10/milk-tea-alliance-anti-china/616658/.

[12] Barron, L. (2020, October 28). What is the MILK Tea Alliance? Behind the democracy movement. Retrieved from https://time.com/5904114/milk-tea-alliance/.

[13] Chen, H. (2020, August 18). Milk tea Alliance: How a Meme Brought activists From Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Thailand Together. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en/article/y3zkzb/milk-tea-alliance-how-a-meme-brought-activists-from-taiwan-hong-kong-and-thailand-together.

[14] Deol, T. (2020, June 18). ‘We conquer, We kill’: Taiwan cartoon showing Lord Rama slay Chinese Dragon goes viral. Retrieved from https://theprint.in/world/we-conquer-we-kill-taiwan-cartoon-showing-lord-rama-slay-chinese-dragon-goes-viral/443814/.

[15] Cheng, J. H. (2020, October 20). The Taiwan–India ‘Milk Tea Alliance’. Retrieved from https://thediplomat.com/2020/10/the-taiwan-india-milk-tea-alliance/.

[16] CBC Radio. (2020, November 06). Thai pro-democracy activists ‘not alone’ in their fight, says Hong Kong Lawmaker. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-nov-6-2020-1.5792160/thai-pro-democracy-activists-not-alone-in-their-fight-says-hong-kong-lawmaker-1.5792799.

[17] Duangdee, V. (2021, February 04). #MilkTeaAlliance has a new target brewing – the generals behind the Myanmar coup. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/3120526/asias-milkteaalliance-has-new-target-brewing-generals-behind.

[18] Human Rights Watch. (2021, January 13). Thailand: Rights Crisis Rapidly Worsens. Retrieved March from https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/01/13/thailand-rights-crisis-rapidly-worsens.

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