Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies | 2021
The #MilkTeaAlliance: A New Transnational Pro-Democracy Movement Against Chinese-Centered Globalization?
In April 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, memes addressing the Thai monarchy in a critical way appeared on Twitter under the hashtag #MilkTeaAlliance, which for a couple of days trended worldwide. Initially, the Twitter account of a Thai TV star was attacked by Chinese nationalists. But, different from similar incidents in the past, a new pan-Asian solidarity of Twitter users emerged, fought back the attack, and defeated the Chinese nationalists through highly self-ironic, witty, and political memes. In our article, we will discuss the meme war in its historic, political, and social context. Firstly, we claim that it can count as the inception of a new transnational movement comparable to the globalization-critical movement of the early 2000s, in so far as it targets the present, Chinese-led version of globalization. Secondly, we will challenge the dominant interpretation that the meme war was a confrontation between young Thai, Hong Kong, and Taiwanese pro-democracy activists versus state-sponsored trolls from the People’s Republic of China. Despite all distortions caused by censorship measures from the side of the Chinese government and Twitter, the meme war seemed to have opened a transnational space for debate.