No Mr. Trump, The Art Of The Deal Won’​t Work For Diplomacy

The new U.S. president might want to think twice about taking a business-world approach to international affairs.

Trump and Japan's Shinzo Abe last month
Trump and Japan's Shinzo Abe last month
Farid Kahhat


LIMA — Donald J. Trump is the first person in U.S. history to become president without any prior experience in either politics or the military. That may be why, when it comes to foreign policy, he draws on lessons he claims to have learned in the world of business, many of which were spelled out 30 years ago in his book Trump: The Art of the Deal.

This, however, poses a serious problem: there is a qualitative difference between doing business deals and negotiations among state actors. Business talks generally proceed within the bounds of the laws of one or more states, and when firms have irreconcilable clashes of interests, they submit to the authority of tribunals or arbitrating bodies envisaged in by the laws of the jurisdiction. If a firm then refuses to recognize the relevant ruling, the state has the coercive means required to eventually make it comply. In other words, companies do not settle their disputes with force. Nor do they lay siege to the offices of their competitors.

But that, of course, is not necessarily the case when it comes to nations. Thus, warning China that the United States might reverse its longstanding support of the One China principle — which deprives Taiwan of international recognition as the "Republic of China" —is not akin to warning a rival corporation of a possible "hostile" takeover. Eventually, if a standoff between nations is not resolved, things could get hostile in a very real way.

States seek allies is to share the cost of attaining common objectives

In the 19th century, powers like Britain forced China to grant trading concessions through the Opium Wars, which, alongside other conflicts, contributed to China's territorial dismemberment. It was forced, for example, to cede Hong Kong to Britain at the end of the First Opium War. In the second half of the 19th century, during the Second Opium War, China's empire suffered the Taiping Rebellion, possibly the deadliest civil war in history.

Such historical events may give use clues as to why the Chinese have ruled out any talks until the U.S. government drops its One China threat. Indeed, the Trump administration already seems to be backtracking — albeit as quietly as possible.

One might also look at another incident in the early days of the presidency: Trump's treatment of Prime Minister Michael Turnbull of Australia, a solid U.S. ally. One reason states seek allies is to share the cost of attaining certain common objectives in the international system. But unlike corporations, states cannot always turn to an arbiter to force compliance with the terms of an alliance. That's why they go to such great lengths to reassure each other, to demonstrate time and again that they are trustworthy partners.

Australia did this by engagaging in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. It even participated in the U.S.-led Iraq War, perhaps for no other reason than to honor its alliance. Certainly it would be hard to argue that Iraq represented a security threat to Australia. But trust must be reciprocal, and after Trump's aggressive telephone exchange with Turnbull last month. Australia is waiting for clear signals that it won't be left by the wayside in critical times. The same goes for other U.S. allies. At the very least, they expect to be treated with respect, ally and adversary alike. Trump should know that whatever his experience in the world of business, there are standard operating procedures that must be applied to international diplomacy.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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