Twitter pokes China with emoji supporting #MilkTeaAlliance

Twitter Inc. has supported the Milk Tea Alliance of democratic movements in Hong Kong, Taiwan and other parts of Asia, challenging China at a time when Beijing is punishing Western companies for commenting on what it considers internal affairs.

The social media company on Thursday featured flags from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Myanmar and Thailand, while revealing an emoji to support pro-democracy activists in places that have seen historic protests in recent years and share a love of milk drink and caffeine popular in Asia. It will appear automatically when users post the hashtag #MilkTeaAlliance, which, according to the company, has appeared 11 million times since it first appeared a year ago.

While Twitter gets most of its revenue from the United States and is banned in China along with Facebook and Google, Asia is generally considered to be a growth area for the company. American internet giants gain publicity revenue from Chinese companies and organizations wishing to reach global audiences.

Chinese officials have also increasingly adopted Twitter to curb criticism on a range of topics, from the demise of the democracy movement in Hong Kong to allegations of forced labor in western Xinjiang. Twitter now labels these accounts as government entities and, in January, used its anti-dehumanization policy to to lock the official account of the Chinese Embassy in the United States after a post that defended the policies of the Communist Party in Xinjiang.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters during a regular news conference on Thursday that the Milk Tea Alliance “has consistently maintained anti-China positions and is full of prejudices against China”. After the briefing, Zhao added that he hopes that Twitter can be “fair with the goal” in providing its services.

Olympics boycott risks become next big US-China battle

Last month, Beijing supported a boycott of retailers like Hennes & Mauritz AB amid growing criticism of China’s policies in Xinjiang, where international observers raised concerns about human rights abuses, including detention camps and forced labor in a region that produces much of China’s cotton.

“We are proud of the fact that Twitter is a service where movements are formed, information is shared and changes happen,” said a Twitter spokesman.

A Hong Kong government spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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