Prem (Sakdipong Sirisuttinunt)
Origination of the Milk Tea Symbolism
Having started off as a Twitter trend and now the symbol of democratic solidarity in Asia, the #MilkTeaAlliance hashtag first appeared in April 2020 to “counter attacks by pro-Beijing trolls and bots,” on a Thai actor who “perceived to have slighted China.”1 The actor in question, Vachirawit (Bright) Chivaaree, has reposted a picture which listed Hong Kong as a country, “offend(ing) Chinese fans by implying that Hong Kong or Taiwan were not part of China.”2 The repost was later responded by the Chinese Embassy in Thailand Facebook account, reiterating the One-China Principle and claiming that the “recent online noises only reflect bias and ignorance,” sparking an online war between One-China advocates and the supporters of the coalition.3
The coalition consists of netizens from three different locations where their tea preparation method is well-known and unique to each area: Taiwan (ROC) with the tapioca Zhen Zhu Nai Cha, Hong Kong SAR with the silk stocking Kong Sik Nai Cha, and Thailand with the orange colour Cha yen. The term Milk Tea Alliance emerged from the fact that tea is commonly consumed with milk in Eastern and Southeastern Asia, except the PRC. The different colours of milk tea represented on posters and unofficial flag of the alliance is said to symbolize “the political struggles in each of these places have their own characteristics.”4
 An artwork depicting the connection between the three countries forming the Milk Tea Alliance
W., Tpagon. Milk Tea Alliance. Digital image. Twitter. @Tpagon, 15 Apr. 2020.Web. 27 Feb. 2021.
The Free Youth Movement, a Facebook page followed by over 1.5 million people, was created by a group of high school and college students calling for a reform on the constitution and monarchy. With the demands of “revoking the king’s legal immunity…(and) ending military rule in politics,” the movement organizes and promotes protesting events in and around Bangkok, the country’s capital.6
Like history repeating itself, protests held in Thailand are surprisingly similar to what happened in Hong Kong back in 2019. “Thai democracy activists are increasingly adopting tactics used by their counterparts in Hong Kong, as they defy a ban on gatherings after months of mounting protests targeting the prime minister and king.”7 Different protesting strategies used in the Hong Kong protests were borrowed by Thai protesters: hand signals were used for communication, umbrellas for protection, and the construction helmets for safety.
The first wave of the mass protests was organized after the enforced break up of a popular pro-democracy party back in February 2020, but it was later halted due to the use of Emergency Decree directives on COVID-19 control measures.8 The second wave followed after the relaxation of the Degree in autumn; and thus, flash mobs, closure of streets, and suspension of train lines were then continued. Protests were organized almost everyday for a week back in October; people living in Thailand, including myself, were required to continuously check Twitter, Facebook, and even TikTok as they were the most reliable sources telling us where and when the next protest was going to happen. Despite the second wave of COVID-19 infections, protests are still being organized. The one held yesterday (February 26, 2021) and today (February 27, 2021) were in front of the Bangkok Remand Prison, demanding for the release of democracy leaders, and the one happening tomorrow will be at the Victory Monument as publicized on the Free Youth Movement Facebook page.
Protests are now becoming what I see as a part of a daily routine, and so I question what these protests will actually achieve. The first few months of protesting have gained mass attention internationally, but since it is happening for almost every day with little to no progress, it slowly dies down. As long as the one in power is a military personnel who has direct control over the entire army, I personally believe that it is difficult and unlikely for the country to experience a democratic reform.
 Facebook Post announcing the next protesting event
Free YOUTH. ""REDEM IS CALLING"." Facebook. @FreeYOUTHth, 25 Feb. 2021.
The tension between the people of Hong Kong and the PRC government dates back to over two decades ago, when the British government handed Hong Kong to China in 1997. Since then, the PRC “has been chipping away at Hong Kong’s freedoms,” creating mass conflict between the people and the government, including the 2012 protest on an attempt to change Hong Kong schools’ curricula, the 2014 Umbrella Movement, the 2019 Anti-Extradition Law Amendment, and the annual 1 July protests.14
Taiwan and Hong Kong are two places that the PRC claims to be part of China, but a high proportion of the population living there do not identify themselves as being Chinese but instead Taiwanese and Hong Kongers.16 The president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, has been supporting Hong Kong’s fight for independence even before the formation of Milk Tea Alliance. The president once commented that “We stand with all freedom-loving people of #HongKong…As long as I’m President, ‘one country, two systems’ will never be an option.” 15 The formation of the Milk Tea Alliance further expands the global network of supporters. The black Bauhinia flags began appearing in Bangkok protests. Now, the protesters are not only protesting for themselves, but also for their alliance members.
 Black Bauhinia flags flown during the 28/02/2021 protest in Bangkok, Thailand
In early February, then State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested by the military after the landslide election won by her National League for Democracy (NLD) party back in November 2020.10 The military claimed that the election result was “fraudulent;”11 however, the people disagreed. Mass protests began to cover the streets of Myanmar, citizens began demanding for the release of the “unlawfully arrested...calling for the international community to support the ‘fight against the military dictatorship’...and digitally savvy protesters have united online under the hashtag #MilkTeaAlliance, named after the shared love for the beverage in Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan – and now, Myanmar:”12 where, surprisingly on a side note, Laphet Yay, the country’s version of milk tea, is also commonly consumed.
“It’s a shame that it’s a coup that brought us (Milk Tea Alliance members) together, but now is the time for us to unite.”12 From the Hunger Games signature three finger salute used in Thailand to the umbrellas and construction helmets used in Hong Kong, protesters in Myanmar have adopted symbols and tactics used by their alliance during the protests. Equally, protesters in Thailand have also incorporated the use of kitchen appliances in the protests which, according to a news article, is a Myanmese traditional folk remedy to expunge unwanted spirits.13
With 18 people killed on Sunday, February 28, 2021, the protests currently happening in Myanmar is, out of all the members, the most severe and requires an immediate action.18 According to a BBC article, “There was a predictably bland statement from China (in response to the protests happening in Myanmar)...China looks like a winner from the coup, as the one superpower willing to engage with the new regime and keep supplying it with weapons and investment.”19 From military brutality to the continuous protesting events happening in Asia for the past 10 years, is this considered to be the new normal as freedom and democracy will never be attained?
1. Barron, Laignee. "What Is the Milk Tea Alliance? Behind the Democracy Movement." Time. Time, 29 Oct. 2020. Web. 26 Feb. 2021.<https://time.com/5904114/milk-tea-alliance/>.
2. Chan, Christina. "Milk Is Thicker than Blood: An Unlikely Digital Alliance between Thailand, Hong Kong & Taiwan." Hong Kong Free Press HKFP. 02 May 2020. Web. 26 Feb. 2021. <https://hongkongfp.com/2020/05/02/milk-is-thicker-than-blood-an-unlikely-digital-alliance-between-thailand-hong-kong-taiwan/>.
3. Chinese Embassy Bangkok. "Statement by the Spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in Thailand Concerning Recent Online Statements Related to China." Facebook. @ChineseEmbassyinBangkok, 14 Apr. 2020. Web. 27 Feb. 2021. <https://www.facebook.com/ChineseEmbassyinBangkok/posts/2942654555781330>.
4. Barron, “What Is the Milk Tea Alliance?,” HKFP
5. W., Tpagon. Milk Tea Alliance. Digital image. Twitter. @Tpagon, 15 Apr. 2020.Web. 27 Feb. 2021.
6.SCMP Reporters. "Why Are There Protests in Thailand and What Will Happen Next?" South China Morning Post. 20 Oct. 2020. Web. 27 Feb. 2021. <https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/3106250/why-are-there-protests-thailand-and-what-will-happen-next>.
7.Jha, Preeti. "Thailand Protest: Why Young Activists Are Embracing Hong Kong's Tactics." BBC News. BBC, 22 Oct. 2020. Web. 27 Feb. 2021. <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-54626271>.
8. Thanthong-Knight, Randy. "Students Step Up Protests Against Thailand’s Army-Backed Premier." Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 28 Feb. 2020. Web. 27 Feb. 2021. <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-02-27/students-step-up-protests-against-thailand-s-army-backed-premier>.
9. Davidson, Helen. "Hong Kong Activist Joshua Wong Jailed for 13 and a Half Months over Protest." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 02 Dec. 2020. Web. 27 Feb. 2021. <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/02/hong-kong-activist-joshua-wong-jailed-over-protest-police-hq>.
10. Lau, Jessie. "Myanmar's Protest Movement Finds Friends in the Milk Tea Alliance." The Diplomat. 13 Feb. 2021. Web. 28 Feb. 2021. <thediplomat.com/2021/02/myanmars-protest-movement-finds-friends-in-the-milk-tea-alliance/>.
13. "Thais to Make Some Noise, Myanmar-style, against Military Rule." Coconuts. 09 Feb. 2021. Web. 28 Feb. 2021. <https://coconuts.co/bangkok/news/thais-to-make-some-noise-myanmar-style-against-military-rule-tomorrow/>.
14. Maizland, Lindsay, and Eleanor Albert. "Hong Kong's Freedoms: What China Promised and How It's Cracking Down." Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, 17 Feb. 2021. Web. 28 Feb. 2021. <https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/hong-kong-freedoms-democracy-protests-china-crackdown>.
15. Morris, James X. "Hong Kong Protests: The View From Taiwan." The Diplomat. The Diplomat, 12 June 2019. Web. 28 Feb. 2021. <https://thediplomat.com/2019/06/hong-kong-protests-the-view-from-taiwan/>.
16. Lin, Syaru. "Analyzing the Relationship between Identity and Democratization in Taiwan and Hong Kong in the Shadow of China." ASAN Forum. 20 Dec. 2018. Web. 28 Feb. 2021. <http://www.theasanforum.org/analyzing-the-relationship-between-identity-and-democratization-in-taiwan-and-hong-kong-in-the-shadow-of-china/>.
17. @MilkTeaTH_MTAT. "การรวมตัว." Twitter. Twitter, 28 Feb. 2021. Web. 28 Feb. 2021. <https://twitter.com/MilkTeaTH_MTAT/status/1366016333108846597>.
18. Schwartz, Matthew S. "At Least 18 Killed By Myanmar Security Forces In Deadliest Day Since Coup." NPR. NPR, 28 Feb. 2021. Web. 28 Feb. 2021.
19. Head, Jonathan. "Analysis: Can Asia Help Myanmar Find a Way out of Coup Crisis?" BBC News. BBC, 26 Feb. 2021. Web. 28 Feb. 2021. <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-56192105>.
20. Free YOUTH. ""REDEM IS CALLING"." Facebook. @FreeYOUTHth, 25 Feb. 2021. Web. 27