Geopolitics

The Waning Phase Of Globalization Has Begun

The economic slump has slowed the globalization process, but it's not just cyclical. As alliances crack and problems spread, the interconnected world system may have just maxed out.

Beginning of the end? The anti-globalization protests in Seattle at the 1999 WTO summit.
Beginning of the end? The anti-globalization protests in Seattle at the 1999 WTO summit.
Felipe de la Balze*

-OpEd-

BUENOS AIRES — There has been an upheaval in how modern societies function in recent decades, with the dizzying integration of global trade and finance, cheaper transport and easier communications through the Internet.

What is roundly referred to as globalization has ushered in an explosion of new productive capabilities. International trade has grown at rates superior to that of the global GDP, capital crosses frontiers seeking opportunity, and foreign investment has multiplied at the hands of multinational firms.

In many emerging countries, accelerated growth has substantially raised the living standards of hundreds of millions of people. The citizens of developed countries have benefited not only from lower interest rates but also from numerous, cheaper imported products.

But the financial crisis that began in the United States in 2008 and extended across the world has slowed the world economy's integration process. International trade has become fragmented, and there has been a break in the trade talks that helped forge an institutional framework for the expansion of global trade in past decades.

The last round of talks, the Doha Round, broke down, and the World Trade Organization's recent efforts to forward particular items, such as trade facilitation from the Bali Package, have been halted.

In regional terms, European integration is faltering. The Mercosur bloc comprised of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela — is paralyzed, and U.S. efforts to forge ambitious trade liberalization accords face problems. International flows of capital have shrunk compared to pre-crisis levels. Banks are lending less, and liquidity has decreased on secondary bond markets.

The economic downturn has shown the need to reform multilateral financial institutions (the IMF and World Bank, especially), though there has been little progress so far. Meanwhile, emerging powers such as China and Russia are promoting alternative mechanisms (direct loans or currency swaps) to resolve crisis situations outside the multilateral system.

Coordination of economic policies among the great powers worked in the first phase of the crisis, through the G7 and G20, before its efficacy began to fade. The next increase in U.S. interest rates could generate exchange and financial tensions among countries whose macroeconomic cycles are not aligned.

After the failure of the 2012 Copenhagen meeting, global warming negotiations have faltered, and the main actors seem to have found no common denominator allowing progress in this issue.

Virtual threats too

Globalization is also threatened on the Internet. The idea that everyone can access the same information on the Web is being questioned. Countries with authoritarian governments such as China and Russia are trying to block Internet to suppress dissent and silence opponents.

Protests in 2011 in Athens. Photo: Ggia

Privacy issues are also threatening the Web's universality. Spying by U.S. and other governments and repeated violations of user privacy by some Web and IT firms are threatening fragmentation.

The internal policies of many states, and increasingly vigorous "anti-establishment" parties and separatist movements in Europe, confirm and contribute to these tendencies. Protectionism is back on the agenda, with the imposition of discreet, non-tariff barriers.

The main geopolitical conflicts (Russia/Ukraine, Middle East, China vs. Japan and other states of the South China Sea) have prompted a string of trade and financial sanctions that thwart economic integration and undermine confidence among countries.

The current slowing down may of course pass. The process of integration may partly recover its pace when the crisis ends and with the mitigation of some of its negative consequences — reduced growth, job losses and problems of competition. Yet there are structural reasons for believing that globalization will slow down in the future. For it requires a political architecture to sustain it: a hegemonic nation or concert of great powers that define and administer the rules of the game.

In the second half of the 20th century, U.S. strategic and economic interests were aligned with globalization's progress. Pushing for the liberalization of global trade and finance, promoting European unity, incorporating China into global capitalism and forging North American economic integration through NAFTA — all were U.S. national objectives in line with the march of globalization.

Now, the U.S. doesn't seem ready to pay the costs of maintaining its leading role as guarantor of a system that is swiftly redistributing power and riches to its main rivals. China, India and Russia seem in turn disinclined to accept responsibilities and become garantors of the multilateral system they have helped create.

We are entering globalization's waning phase. The benefits of global interdependence are showing their limits, and conflicts among nations and a more brutal rivalry between the great powers ushers in a new era of fragmentation around the world.

* Felipe de la Balze is an economist, academic and businessman specializing in international issues.

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Geopolitics

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

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"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.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

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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