Social media users from Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong have taken to Twitter in recent days to hit back at China's “Little Pink” nationalists, who started trolling Thai users after an online altercation with Thai actor Vachirawat Cheevaari (known as Bright) and his girlfriend Weeraya Sukaram.
The row erupted after online supporters of the Chinese Communist Party, known as Little Pinks, took issue with a tweet from Bright, the star of hit Thai TV show 2gether, who seemed to imply Hong Kong was a separate country from China.
Weeraya also drew their ire by suggesting the coronavirus originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, prompting Chinese netizens to threaten to boycott Thai soaps and not to travel to the country as tourists after the pandemic.
Thai users hit back with video of Chinese tourists piling their plates and shoving each other at an all-you-can-eat buffet, and multiple references to the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, including the “Tank Man” image in a number of guises, including an impromptu sculpture made from fast food.
A loose confederation of Twitterati from Thailand, Hong Kong and democratic Taiwan – using the hashtag #nnevvy, Weeraya's Twitter username – also fought back with a string of memes.
Meanwhile, Weeraya commented that she dressed more like a “Taiwanese” after being told she looked like a “cute Chinese girl,” drawing down further Little Pink ire on the couple.
While Chinese users hurled insults at the Thai king and called Thais poor, Thais retorted with humor, such as thanking them for highlighting Thai problems to the world, and with photos of collapsed apartment buildings due to substandard building materials and corruption in China.
When they claimed Taiwan as belonging to China, Thai users asked why Chinese nationals need a visa to visit the democratic island, which remains a sovereign state as the 1911 Republic of China.
The clincher, according to some comments, lay in the Thai users’ keenly developed political humor and their freedom to deploy it, for example, when a Thai user responded to a Chinese insult targeting the Thai government with the words: “Say it louder!”
‘Milk tea alliance’
The flame war quickly drew the attention of other Twitter users tired of being targeted by Little Pinks, who need to use a banned VPN to evade their own government’s Great Firewall of censorship, and whose comments often include the insult “ni ma sile” (NMSL), meaning “your mother is dead.”
“Taiwan is not China,” Twitter user Amazing wrote. “Free Hong Kong and Xinjiang and Tebet! (sic) Thank you Thais Free mainland china ... bomb the wall! #nnevvy #freechina”
Taiwan and Hong Kong twitter users praised Thais for speaking out on their behalf.
Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong joined in with a meme showing Hong Kong, Thailand and Taiwan depicted as three types of milk tea, labeled the “Milk Tea Alliance.”
Wong posted a selfie while watching 2gether, and urged Hong Kong to “stand with our freedom-loving Thai friends.”
“Perhaps we can build a new kind of pan-Asian solidarity that opposes all forms of authoritarianism!” he wrote.
From Taiwan, the mayor of Taoyuan city, Cheng Wen-Tsan, threw his support behind the alliance.
“Thank you our friends from #Thailand,” Cheng tweeted, along with the flags of Taiwan and Thailand.
“Thailand has long been a popular travel destination for the Taiwanese. We look forward to increased exchanges after the #COVID19 outbreak!”
‘Bias and ignorance’
The Chinese Embassy in Thailand weighed in on its Facebook page on Tuesday, insisting that the Thai government and Thais have supported the One China Principle, whereby China insists that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China.
“The recent online noises only reflect bias and ignorance of its maker, which does not in any way represent the standing stance of the Thai government nor the mainstream public opinion of the Thai People,” the Facebook statement said.
It also accused “some particular people” of sabotaging the friendship between the Chinese and Thai people but said “they will not succeed.”
The statement was slammed by some Thai internet users, among them Nuttaa Mahattana, a prominent political rights activist.
“The Chinese embassy has crossed the line in telling Thai people how to think on this very issue. “That’s why it caused a lot of anger among Thai netizens,” Nuttaa told BenarNews.
“They are not a fan of authoritarians. They have long been opposed to the Thai government under the Prayuth regime, and then they see there is no difference between China and Thailand,” she said, referring to Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, a former general and junta leader.
Meanwhile, Vorasakdi Mahatdhanobol, a lecturer at Thammasat University, called the incident an outburst of dissatisfaction over the way China has asserted its power in the region.
“Many sensitive issues have been included in this quarrel because it opens the opportunity for people to express their thoughts on how China has played its role in the region,” he said.
“China always talks about peace, fairness and mutual benefit when it comes to its relationship with other countries. However, many incidents prove otherwise. For Thais, how China handles the Mekong issue is an example of power playing for the benefit of China only.”
China has built numerous dams along its portion of the river that is lifeline to Southeast Asian countries downstream. According to a recent study by a U.S. research firm, China compounded a devastating drought last year by restricting the flow of huge amounts of water.
Backed by Beijing
Anti-China hashtags have been at the top of Thai twitter for several days. Hashtags such as #Nnevvy, #savennevvy, #Milk tea alliance, #Milk tea is thicker than blood, and #stopmekongdam have several million posts combined.
Former 1989 student leader Wang Dan said the Little Pinks may appear to be acting as individuals, but they have strong incentives for behaving this way.
“The so-called Chinese netizens who came out and insulted people overseas obviously had government backing,” Wang told Radio Free Asia, an online affiliate of BenarNews.
“This was a government action, a part of its overseas influence [operations], and a part of its ideology of expanding its reach overseas.”
Citizen journalist and computer expert Zhou Shuguang, who is now a national of Taiwan, said the Thais were widely seen as having won the #nnevvy battle.
“I think the Thais crushed the Little Pinks with their attitude and their experience,” Zhou said. “All the Little Pinks knew how to say was ‘your mother is dead.’”
Radio Free Asia, an online affiliate of BenarNews, contributed to this report.