Milk Tea Alliance

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - April 11, 2021 - 12:00am

There are so many critical events in Asia today that have global implications. The countries and territories involved are geographically diverse – Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Myanmar and in the Uyghur homeland in Western China. There are diverse issues, but the one common denominator is the involvement of China in one form or another.

The Philippines is the victim of incursions by Chinese maritime vessels in the Juan Felipe Reef, which is well within Philippine territory. Filipino fishermen have been driven away and have lost their livelihood. Chinese embassy officials have had different claims about their vessels in the area.

First, these were supposed to be fishing boats that were seeking shelter from a storm. However, Defense Secretary Lorenzana, in a tweet, said: “I am no fool. The weather has been good so far, so they have no other reason to stay there… These vessels should be on their way out. Umalis kayo diyan (Get out of there).”

Then the Chinese officials claim that this area was traditional fishing grounds for Chinese fishermen. However, Juan Felipe Reef is 374 kilometers from the southern tip of Palawan and is well within the country’s 370 km exclusive economic zone. Photos also showed that the maritime vessels included gunboats and maritime militia vessels.

In another recent story, a civilian vessel with some news people seeking to cover the incident was met by Chinese missile boats and was told to go back.

China has already occupied several territories, including Mabini Reef and Hughes Reef. The Philippines has not occupied any reefs presumably for fear of antagonizing Chinese authorities. In contrast, Vietnam has built structures on Sin Cowe Island, Roxas Reef and Landsdowne Reef – all in the West Philippine Sea in defiance of Chinese threats.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Locsin has also filed diplomatic protests. These protests are not conclusive about the stand of the Philippines because Malacañang has not issued any statement on the Philippine protests.

Chinese authorities are also saying that Juan Felipe Reef is part of Nansha Island and should be called Niu’e Jiao. This is part of its sweeping claims that China owns almost the entire South Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.

Meanwhile, tensions between China and Taiwan have become more intense in recent weeks. There have been increased activities near Taiwan being conducted by Beijing. A group of 15 Chinese aircraft, including 12 fighters, were flying in the area between the Philippines and Taiwan. Taiwan sent up its own fighter jets to intercept and warn the Chinese away. Naval exercises were being conducted by Chinese vessels in the seas facing the eastern shores of Taiwan.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu recently said: “We are willing to defend ourselves without any questions and we will fight the war. And if we need to defend ourselves to the very last day, we will defend ourselves to the very last day.”

It should be noted that Taiwan has a democratically elected government while China is an authoritarian government with Xi Jin Ping intending to be ruler for life.

Milk Tea Alliance

The Milk Tea Alliance is an online solidarity movement made up of netizens from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and Myanmar. While it is considered to be an online movement promoting democracy, it has also become anti-China in its messaging.

According to what I have read, milk tea is seen as a symbol of anti-China Communist Party solidarity by Southeast Asians due to it containing milk which Chinese tea lacks. Taiwanese bubble tea, Hong Kong style milk tea, Thai tea and Burmese lahpet are all local variations of milk tea with strong similarities.

The movement emerged due to a “meme” war between pro-democracy activists in Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan against pro-China nationalist trolls.

This development of an alliance of activists across boundaries is surprising because of the diversity in East and Southeast Asia. The driver was originally the regional decline of democracy. However, this has expanded into an anti-China movement as the perception grew that China was supporting its authoritarian model of government all over Asia. The suppression of a popular democratic movement in Hong Kong is just one facet. Protesters in Thailand who are calling for democratic reforms also criticize the close alliance between the Thai generals and the Chinese Communist Party.

In Myanmar, protesters also condemn that China has refused to condemn the coup and the shooting of protesters in the streets of cities all over Myanmar. Suspicion of Chinese is still potent among Indonesians. There were strikes and labor protests in Indonesia last year against a “job creation” law that raised concern that jobs would be outsourced to Chinese migrant workers.

Three-finger salute

A three finger salute that originated from the “Hunger Games” movie has also been adopted by activists from Thailand to Myanmar. In a world where rebels fought for freedom against an all-power tyrant, this symbolic gesture started among student protesters in Thailand. It has now been banned in that country. In 2020, the gesture was revived in spite of the ban.

The pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong also stopped using the salute for a time. However in 2020, Hong Kong protesters revived its use, inspired by its renewed usage in Thailand.

The three-finger salute is now widely used in Myanmar not just by student protesters and activists, but also by ordinary citizens like market vendors, laborers and transport workers.

China may have the support of the political elite in many countries in Asia, but the presence of the Milk Tea Alliance, the three-finger salute and the identification of the Chinese Communist Party with repressive regimes show that the feelings of the domestic population, especially the youth, include anti-China sentiments.

*      *      *

Young Writers’ Hangout via Zoom on April 24, 2-3 p.m. with Neni Sta. Romana Cruz.

Contact writethingsph@gmail.com. 0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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