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.
In a loose confederation of Twitterati known as the "Milk Tea Alliance" and using the hashtag #nnevvy, Weeraya's Twitter username, users from Thailand, Hong Kong and democratic Taiwan 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, Thai users responded with photos of collapsed apartment buildings due to substandard building materials linked to official 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!"
'Your mother is dead'
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."
The alliance was soon joined by users from Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, South Korea and India.
One meme, posted by Twitter user Amazing, referenced the anniversary of the Boxer Rebellion against the Qing Dynasty on Tuesday.
In a retake of a painting commemorating the Seymour Expedition of 1900, the meme shows an overwhelming force of soldiers carrying aloft the flags of eight nations, including that of Taiwan, and advancing on a lone Chinese who utters the words "NMSL."
The punitive expedition -- which didn't actually end in victory, although a later one did -- is taught to Chinese nationals as an example of national humiliation at the hands of foreign oppressors.
"Taiwan is not China," Amazing wrote. "Free Hong Kong and Xinjiang and Tebet! (sic) Thank you Thais Free mainland china ... bomb the wall! #nnevvy #freechina"
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.
Taiwan supports 'alliance'
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!"
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 RFA. "This was a government action, a part of its overseas influence [operations], and a part of its ideology of expanding its reach overseas."
In Thailand, exiled pro-democracy activist Zhao Changfu said that while people there may admire China's economic achievements, they are less impressed by the Chinese government's persecution of religious believers and its indifference to public safety.
"They have more freedom of speech here, more freedom to [criticize] the government, what it does badly," Zhao said.
"The people are not very happy about their current prime minister and think they are too dependent on the Chinese Communist Party," he said.
Pent-up anti-China feeling?
Thai police have detained and deported Chinese dissidents at Beijing's request in spite of their having U.N. recognized political refugee status, and allowed the departure of Swedish national and Hong Kong-based bookseller Gui Minhai from his holiday home in Pattaya in 2015, in murky circumstances.
Fellow Thailand-based activist Li Xiaolong agreed.
"A lot of countries have maintained their ties with China based on the business that it brings in, the tourism, and a lot of them have become economically dependent [on China]," Li said.
"They have let China get away with stuff for so long ... but I think the coronavirus pandemic has triggered a lot of pent-up [anti-China] feeling which has all come out at once," he said.
Chinese current affairs commentator Jin Shan said China's education system trains everyone to think the same thing, which means its students typically lack the habit of independent thought.
"It's that sense of entitlement paired with a blinkered attitude you get in people from a powerful country," Jin said. "They are overly fragile about certain issues, and over-react to things, getting very upset."
"They take very seriously stuff that wouldn't really bother us at all," he said.
He said another factor was Chinese President Xi Jinping's policy of expanding China's overseas influence.
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'."
Reported by Wang Yun for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.