Flat White

Fighting for democracy, one tea at a time

31 May 2021

4:32 PM

31 May 2021

4:32 PM

The Milk Tea Alliance — originally some pro-democracy social media geekery in Hong Kong and Taiwan — is racing through South East Asia, with Australia the newest member of the netizen group and West Papua waiting in the wings 

The Alliance, symbolising the most favoured beverage throughout southeast Asia — the orange-coloured condensed-milk tea of Thailand, the more British tea with milk version of Hong Kong, or the tapioca bubble tea of Taiwan — has now added Australia (holding a tin of baby formula) to its hands holding tea meme 

The MTA started as a street-protest symbol; a Pan-Southeast Asian democracy movement which China considered a serious enough threat to its rule in Hong Kong to arrest presumed supporters, along with those seen giving the Milk Tea Girls three-finger salute, the signal of resistance from The Hunger Games books and movies.  

From Hong Kong Central to Bangkok and Taipei to the Philippines and Australia, the Alliance is growing in membership numbers.   

Australia, punished with trade sanctions by China, was brought into the group by Khunprix, a MTA  member in Thailand. (Like most or all MTA names, ‘Khunprix is a nom de plume – ‘Khun’ is ‘Mister’ in Thai).  

In Australia, Badiucao, a Hong Kong-born graphic artist who may have created the Milk Tea Girls imagery, explained that the Milk Tea Alliance is a slogan, not really an organisation. “It doesn’t have a body,” Badiucao said. “It arises because we have the same enemy but more importantly, we seek the same thing: to make our societies democratic.”  

Khin Sandar, a Myanmar-based activist arrested for protesting against the military government supported Hong Kong’s democracy umbrella movement and reached out to Bangkok-based activists.  “We were always working with people who were holding hands together for democracy, whether it’s in your country or for a regional issue.”  

Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong told reporters before his arrest, ‘The innovative idea of Milk Tea Alliance will enhance more students to push forward global solidarity which might confront hardline crackdowns.”  

In Australia, MTA supporters, none of whom wish to be known by name, are centred in student groups in Canberra and Sydney. “Just think of us the next time you buy bubble tea,” one smiling young woman told me.  

China of course, is furious at this spirit of defiance. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian fumed, “People who are pro-Hong Kong independence or pro-Taiwan independence often collude online, this is nothing new. Their conspiracy will never succeed.”  

She added, ‘It’s amazing that the Hong Kong and Taiwan bond expanded Milk Tea Alliance into Thailand, a sovereign country that doesn’t even list Chinese as a national language.”  

Perhaps the Ministry spokesperson doesn’t understand that young netizens don’t need a common language, just common purpose and common dreams.  

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