Milk is Thicker than Blood: The Rise of the Milk Tea Alliance in Southeast Asia

Since the start of this year, the news have been dominated by a constant flow of reporting on the recent outbreak of the coronavirus from China. The rise of this global pandemic has been a news source within itself, with the People’s Republic of China’s international image being severely dented by the outbreak and its alleged coverup. This has resulted in the Chinese Government to begin a massive charm campaign with its own neighbours, especially those within Southeast Asia. Since then, a major online feud has broken out between Thailand and China.

With the rise of the Hong Kong protests from last year, many citizens throughout the Asia-Pacific region have come out in support of the pro-democracy protesters. Part of this has now involved a major online feud between two Thai celebrities and the Chinese embassy in Bangkok. The result of such a feud has meant tens of thousands of young Thais have begun to display signs of solidarity with Hong Kong’s protestors, with a growing online movement dedicated to Hong Kong’s and Taiwan’s freedom from the PRC’s authority.

The name of this movement is the ‘Milk Tea Alliance’. The name of this so-called alliance is due to its members’ shared love for Asia’s tea drinks. It has led to a massive wave of online anger towards the Chinese government while it is attempting to recover its international image during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Milk Tea Alliance movement has within the last few days gone into the forefront of Southeast Asia’s public eye, after Chinese trolls abused a young Thai actor online; the latter’s television show being very popular within China. The reasoning for this abuse is due to comments made online by the actor and his partner that explicitly showed his support for Hong Kong and Taiwanese democracy against China. Within Thailand, public approval and support for both Hong Kong and Taiwan has become a major issue for Thais to rally behind due to their own government’s links to China.

Due to such divisions, the hashtag ‘#MilkTeaAlliance’ has become the highest trending hashtag for Thailand’s Twitter sphere on Wednesday. In addition to this, another hashtag, ‘#MilkTeaIsThickerThanBlood’ (when translated from Thai), had nearly one million tweets on Wednesday too.

China’s embassy in Bangkok attempted to address the issue on late Tuesday night. This was done through a Facebook post, which challenged Thais who attacked China and its foreign policies, especially in regard to the ‘One China’ principle towards those nations. The response to this post generated over 17,000 replies, nearly all of which were by angry Thais. What this might show is that Hong Kong’s protesters and Taiwanese nationalists have found needed allies within the Asia-Pacific region from Thailand. In addition to this, Taiwan’s incumbent president Tsai Ing-Wen tweeted a post on Tuesday night addressed to Thailand, sending its best wishes for a happy new year (which began the day before on Monday).

Also wading into the debate was pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong from Hong Kong, who posted an online meme of three individuals drinking milk tea while calling for a non-Chinese pan-Asian united front committed to fighting off China and its alleged authoritarianism.

Overall, the rise of the Milk Tea Alliance in East and Southeast Asia might be the beginning of a resurgence of anti-Chinese sentiment that has been developing since the coronavirus’s outbreak, one shared by a common love of milk tea and a desire to shake off the perceived chains that China has kept them imprisoned in.