Milk Tea Alliance: The Last Wave of Decolonization


Date: Thursday 14 April

Time: 10:15-11:30 AM Helsinki Time (9:15-10:30 AM Copenhagen Time)

Speaker: Professor Wasana Wongsurawat, Associate Professor of History, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand

Discussant: Professor Duncan McCargo, Professor of Political Science and Director of Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Moderator: Professor Julie Yu-Wen Chen, Professor of Chinese Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland

People tend to think of decolonization in Asia as being a phenomenon of the Cold War Era, where European colonizers, having survived humiliating blows of Japanese occupation of their Asian colonies during the Second World War, reluctantly but unavoidably relinquished their suzerainty and allowed numerous new nation-states to emerge in the Asia-Pacific through the first three decades of the postwar period.  

In reality, the South China Sea and its surrounding political entities have always been a realm of influence of a superpower external to the region; the British Empire during the Colonial Era and the US through much of the latter half of the 20th century. No sooner US influence started to recede with the conclusion of the Cold War, than South China Sea starts to experience the hegemonic encroachment of rising China. Taiwan feels the heat of increasing PRC pressure upon her precarious independent status in the global arena, while Hong Kong’s freedom once guaranteed by the Basic Law and the ‘1 country 2 systems’ principle has been continuously and methodically dismantled from the earliest years of Xi Jinping’s presidency. The democratizing trend of Southeast Asia has suffered similar setbacks, with Thailand and Myanmar reverting back to military rule and returning to draconian measures to suppress pro-democracy protesters.  

The online pro-democracy network known as the ‘Milk Tea Alliance,’ which emerged in April 2020, among netizens of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and Myanmar, is the first online movement to vocalize what has been a long standing yet unspeakable suspicion among the younger generation of this region—that the Chinese Communist Government is a mutual obstacle for democratization of the Asia-Pacific. For the first time in history, the fight for Taiwan independence, Hong Kong’s freedom, and Thailand and Myanmar’s democratization becomes one and the same, united by the superpower threat against democracy and human rights in the form of PRC influence across the region. The ‘Milk Tea Alliance’ quest for freedom is the last of the unfinished business from the colonial era. It is the long overdue last wave of decolonization in Asia. 

About the speaker

Wasana Wongsurawat is associate professor of modern Chinese history and department chairperson at the Department of History, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University. Her research interests include the history of the Chinese Diaspora, China-Southeast Asia interactions, nationalism, transnationalism, and global history. Wasana has edited and co-edited a couple of collections; Dynamics of the Cold War in Asia: Ideology, Identity and Culture (Palgrave Macmillan 2009) and Sites of Modernity: Asian Cities through the Transitory Moments of Trade, Colonialism and Nationalism (Springer 2016). Her first monograph, The Crown and the Capitalists: The Ethnic Chinese and the Founding of the Thai Nation was published with the University of Washington Press in 2019.

This event is organised in cooperation with Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS), University of Copenhagen, Denmark.