[Full Story] Why is Twitter Trending #MilkTeaAlliance and #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar

Months of protests in Thailand reached a critical juncture on Oct 16 when police deployed water cannons – the strongest use of force against protesters calling for reform of the Thai monarchy and removal of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha.

This sparked a flurry of online posts on popular social media platform Twitter under the hashtag #MilkTeaAlliance.

Netizens from Hong Kong and Taiwan posted messages of support for Thai activists. Student activists in Hong Kong and Taiwan organised physical rallies in solidarity with Thai protesters.

Thai protesters even took a page out of Hong Kong protesters’ playbook, and wore hard hats, goggles and gas masks for protection following showdowns with the police.

But that didn’t stop another round of police unleashing water cannons on protesters on Nov 8. Developments, fortunately, did not escalate and the protesters were able to hand over a letter to the king outlining their concerns.

SHARED LOVE FOR MILK TEA AND MORE

The Milk Tea Alliance spans Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand, and gets its name from a shared love of the drink.

The grouping was born in April from an online battle between Chinese and Thai netizens, triggered by Thai actor Vachirawat Chivaaree and his girlfriend’s tweets of support for Hong Kong independence.

A loose alliance of netizens from Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan created the hashtag #MilkTeaAlliance to rally supporters to push back against Chinese netizens by posting memes and other self-depreciating content on Twitter and Facebook.

Some memes emphasise the unity between members – a popular one is an illustration of three varieties of milk tea linking arms together – while others poke fun at the perceived braggadocio of Chinese nationalists.

The online initiative has evolved into a regional movement for greater political autonomy.

Activists and protesters are for the most part, young professionals, university and high school students. They are tech-savvy and have actively participated in protests.

Members of the alliance have worked together to promote their protests. Hong Kong activists have raised the three-fingered salute, a symbol for reform in Thailand, while protesters in Thailand have highlighted the plight of 12 Hong Kong youths detained by Chinese authorities in September.

However, just as milk tea is drunk differently, the specific goals of the protests in the alliance vary.

Thai protesters advocate for the reform of Thailand’s military leadership and the monarchy, while Hong Kong protesters want greater autonomy from China.

While some Thai protesters have also explicitly expressed concerns over the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) influence in Thailand and the region as a chief area of their platform, domestic issues have clearly taken precedence.

THE ROLE OF MESSAGING APPS AND SOCIAL MEDIA

Their ability to mobilise quickly, through instant messaging, social media and word-of-mouth, allows protesters to stay one step ahead of authorities.

Encrypted messaging chat apps such as Telegram are used to communicate information and share strategies for rallies and marches.

While these protests are leaderless – with no single or obvious leaders – their flat hierarchy allows decisions to be made quickly. Strategies evolve from the ground-up, through online forums or messaging chat groups on Telegram, where participants vote on the next course of action.

This has provided protesters fluidity in changing circumstances. Gathering points for rallies are posted in messaging platforms at the very last minute, allowing protesters to create spontaneous flash mobs, hampering efforts by authorities to rapidly break up crowds.

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