New Global Rules in 2017: A Challenge for Thailand and the World

With the new global rules of 2017, while the world is turning right at the biggest moment in world history, what role should Thailand play?


  • From the Brexit phenomenon to the electoral victory of President Donald Trump and the rise of right political parties of all over Europe affecting ‘right populism’ around the world.
  • In 2017, there will be general elections in France and Germany. If the right parties win the elections, this will be the biggest moment of turning right in the world. Even in the World War II, it was not all Europe that turned right, nor the United States.
  • The trend of turning to right populism in powerful countries affects the global rules of the liberalism which we have gotten used to. It affects the world in terms of security, international commerce, and the international agreements between countries on all sides.
  • The coming trend of right populism shows that the global rules of liberalism have some errors and cannot answer some questions such as unemployment and the ever-widening gap between the poor and the rich. 
  • The right political parties in Europe and Latin America are those whose policies answer the problems of the lower class of society that make up their electorate. Meanwhile, the right political Thai parties depend on the authoritarian regime in order to wield power. 

Before the end of 2016, if we look back at the beginning of the year, we will see that last year we faced the terrorism from the attack at Brussels, a driver driving a truck crashing into a mass of people in Nice, the tragedy at the end of the year which was the driver crashing a truck into the crowd of people at the market in Berlin on Christmas, and the aggressive situation in which the Turkish police killed the Russian ambassador at the gallery in Ankara.

From the picture of the Syrian people facing the war to the picture of immigrants setting up tents in the middle of Paris, these situations are similar to many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle reflecting the fact that the original global rules, or the global rules that liberalism used since World War I, are in crisis.

This was evident in the referendum in the United Kingdom on leaving the European Union. It is clearer when we see that Donald Trump becomes the 45th President of the United States of America.

The original global rules are being questioned and challenged from all directions.

While Thailand still faces domestic political uncertainty, the importance of foreign policy is downplayed. But if the global rules are changing, then this means that foreign policies must change too.

How can Thailand deal with this?

The directions of the global politics are too nearer that we expected. Therefore I talk about the directions of the global politics in 2017 which all Thai people should realize before the next year comes.

The original global rules were challenged from all directions in 2016

The global rules or World Order are the main trend which the world has held since the end of World War I and which are the global rules of liberalism. These rules were popular in the Cold War because the world began to face the globalization trend which brought democratization, the good governance including the market economy, and the neoliberal economy.

The globe and we as individuals get used to liberalism even though the global rules of liberalism were challenged in World War II and the Cold War. If we observe this closely, then the global trend has been the liberal trend. The Nazis, for example, tried to fight against this but lost. This means that Hitler could not change the global rules. In the Cold War, we saw attempts by Communist Parties and the failure of these parties at the end, especially in Russia and with the reunion of Germany. 

The history of global politics affirms that the global rules of liberalism always won until Brexit in 2016 and the victory of Donald Trump in the United States elections. These show that the global rules of liberalism cannot answer the problem of terrorism, dealing with immigrants, and economic inequality. It is harder for left parties to seek the issue to fight with the right parties. Therefore, politics in the United States and Europe turn to another global rule which the right parties offer. When stepping into 2016, I admitted that I was shocked. At the beginning of the year, I started to see the attempt of conservatism in the United Kingdom. It was believed that it was time that the United Kingdom must be independent from the European Union. I thought that when we followed the news, we were dominated by liberalism which meant that Bremain would win. We hardly opened our mind to the possibility that Bremain would lose, but finally it lost.

Brexit and the victory of Trump are followed by the more popular trend of Marine Le Pen, the leader of extreme right politics in France, the phenomena of rising right parties in Austria and Germany, even though the right party was not accepted by the Austrian people in the past, the right party winning the referendum in Italy, and the socialist parties’ loss in elections in Spain. These are the signals that the world may face the biggest changes in 2017 since World War II. 

While in 2016 showed the biggest change, 2017 will clearly specify which direction the world is heading. Let’s start with President Donald Trump officially being in charge of the United States. At the beginning of 2017, we will see his council of ministers and policies more clearly. At the end of 2016, mass media can only expect and analyze the global direction before he starts working at the White House.

In Europe, there will be general elections in powerful countries such as France and Germany. This will be an important change if the right party wins, because this means that the world is significantly refusing the rules of liberalism as we have never seen before. 

Elections are Angela Merkel’s biggest problem. Angela stands in the middle of the way of the right party, and it is not even necessary to talk about the left party in Germany. If the elections in Germany swing to the right party, this will be the biggest right swing similar to before World War II when Hitler and Mussolini ascended to power. Nevertheless, not all of Europe has turned right, but if the German elections turn right, this will set a right trend for all of Europe. The world is showing us that we are to expect big changes and in 2017 the right trend of populism is coming. 

The world has been organized by the notion of the liberalism since World War I. After the establishment of international organizations like the League of Nations, which became United Nations, these organizations have been similar to the associations or clubs of the powerful countries which influence the global direction. At the time, these powerful countries professed the ideology of liberalism, but now they are turning to the right trend of populism. 

We will see a global club of the right wing. If all global trends are right, then it is daunting that we will see the Security Council of the United Nations as a right assembly. This would be, as I call it, a world club of the right wing. Since our generation has been alive, we have never seen such a right-wing on the global state. Try to imagine that the Security Council of five countries, the United States under Donald Trump, Russia under Putin, China under Xi Jinping, the United Kingdom under Theresa May, and perhaps France under Marine Le Pen. I cannot tell if this is a joke or the real trajectory of global change. 

We can expect that in the coming future, the world may not use the rules of liberalism anymore. Then what will happen next?

Three poles of the new global rules

We have never seen the occurrence of a right wing on such a macro-scale rising up like this trend, except for the significant, final time when Hitler rose to power. I do not say this meaning that we are preparing for the war, but rather that history has seen a reaction like this. What is really worrying is the unpredictability of future policies. 

Because the global rules concern the policies, I will try to separate them in order so that we can see the world divided into 3 poles which are:

  1. Rules concerning security
  2. Rules concerning commerce and the international economy
  3. Rules concerning commitment

Let’s start with the rules concerning security. Although the world is turning towards the right trend, the arguments are still there. The competition of the powerful countries is still visible in many places in the Middle East.  If the United States can terminates the role of ISIS, and let’s imagine that Mosul collapses, then where will the ISIS fighters go? We may guess that some of them will go to Europe in order to set a new base or commit new terrorist attacks. What is frightening is that they may come to South East Asia. Those who follows the news in this region have seen that in 2015 and 2016, militants in South East Asia, such as in Indonesia and the Philippines, declared their cooperation with ISIS.

Another worrying thing in Asia is North Korea’s development of nuclear weapon. What cannot be answered is if the new US administration under Trump will allow North Korea to continue to experiment with the nuclear weapons. If not, how will the United States act? In the past, we saw that the United States invaded Iraq and overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein under the pretext of weapons of mass destruction. If the United States decides to do the same with North Korea, then this means that it will begin a war with North Korea directly. Therefore, this is a very big question mark for Asia.

In addition, Trump’s decision to call the President of Taiwan is a contradiction of the One China policy which the United States has held to for a long time. This clearly shows that Trumps does not care to walk in the footsteps of Barack Obama. It is obvious that next year, Asia will face increased tensions between China and the United States. As for Thailand, the Thai point of view is significant not only for our country but also for the neighboring region as a whole. I do not want to see Thailand choosing a side, acting as a child choosing between parents one of the adults’ policies change. We cannot adapt ourselves in time. This situation also surfaced when the United States’ representatives visited Beijing in 1971. 

As for the new global rules in terms of commerce and the economy, it is clear that under globalization the world works within the framework of liberalism, which praises free commerce and the market economy. Especially after the loss of state socialism in the USSR, if right wing populism comes to power, then there will be a problem with this economic model which must be considered. We must think how the world will change, specifically the important role of powerful states like the United States and Europe, as well as such institutions as the World Bank and IMF. If today the market economy is increasingly being challenged by the right-wing populist trend, then what form of global economic rules will prevail in 2017? This is a big question mark too. If the doctrine of blocking commerce comes into practice, then Thai exports must be prepared, because commerce might not be closed but at least reduced. 

This expectation was shown in the latest news from December 22nd, 2016 that it is possible that Trump is going to increase the commercial tax rate on imported goods according to the policy of America First which he campaigned under.

The last aspect of the global rules which back up the present global order is the commitments made between countries in the form of agreements on security, such as NATO, agreements in the form of non-proliferation treaties, or commitments to the environment and climate change such as the Paris one, or the role of the United States in pushing the process of building democracy in numerous countries. We can see that, given that the United States is an important actor that has determined global processes for a long time, Trump’s arrival and his changed notions could replace original concepts.

Trump wants to reduce the expenses on arms which are used to aid Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. Trump does not attach importance to global warming and he does not care about promoting democracy. International commitment relate to the powerful states. I believe that Trump’s policies could cause worry and shockwaves. For example, Trump’s policy which he campaigned for coal factory workers makes it possible that the United States will step back to using old version of energy and increasing global pollution. The US could turn its back on the Paris agreements, which may cause other countries to turn their back too. If every party returns to use “dirty energy”, we will return to the old world of having more the pollution. And if the United States decides not to promote democracy, then there is also the question of which countries will return to “dictatorial” forms of governance. 

If the world develops along the expectations mentioned above, then it is clear that in 2017, we will be faced with dealing which shifts which are enormous challenges for the world and Thailand. 

How can Thailand deal with the arrival of right-wing populism in 2017? 

When the global rules of liberalism are met with one of the biggest challenges from the right trend of populism, the question is begged if the global rules of liberalism, which have been considered to be all good, will fail.

This is what European intellectuals are discussing. We must admit in context that these global rules have some errors and some mistakes, such as the problems of unemployment, income gaps, etc.. Globalization widens the gap of many problems. It is harder for developing countries to catch up but if the countries can catch up a step, there will be some social classes which can step forward, and others will be left behind. This means that there will be a social class being left behind around the world. Then the workers or the lower classes will dream of coming back and having a job because a job means a salary. 

Hillary is not the answer of American people, the European Union is not the answer of the United Kingdom, and many more trends are coming in 2017 which show that liberalism is not the answer for many countries. So we come back to the question of whether we see the right wing in Thailand coming back and how the right side of Thailand looks. 

The right-wing trend of populism in Europe and the United States does not neglect the lower classes, but tries to connect with them. But the right side in Thailand dislikes the lower classes. If we are speaking of right-wing populism against globalization, then I think that this is possible. But in Thailand this will be more complicated than a mere trend against globalization, because this resistance to globalization necessitates the cooperation of the working classes. 

Why the right trend in Thailand was extreme in 1976 is understandable. However, for the first time since globalization, I think that the right side in Thailand is nonsensically extreme because I do not see what the answer of the extreme right in Thailand is and what the core of the ideology of the right in Thailand at present is.  My simple suggestion is that the right in Thailand must adapt itself. Right populism in other countries does not have power by overthrowing the government, but through elections. The right in Thailand must learn to seek and gain power through elections. It should not use authoritarianism. If it does, the world will not accept this right and will not have a chance on the global stage. It is also difficult to believe as do the right-wing ministers that capitalism will be a tool for guaranteeing the future of the Thai government. This right failed a long time ago in Latin America and has no chance of being reborn. The right in Latin America now also seeks power through elections. Thailand is not only the final carriage, but it could be the carriage which other countries leave aside on the railway, and no trains will be picking us up. 

If last 2016 showed changes, then 2017 will be a year of fluctuation faced by everyone with uncertainty of the coming future in terms of both domestic and foreign politics. 

Is there any hope in 2017?

I think the advantage of the shock held in store by the changing situation in 2017 is that it poses us with the need to depend on knowledge and wisdom. If we do not adapt ourselves, then we will lose. We must not excuse one another from discussing this. My request is therefore not different from that of European intellectuals’. If we think conservatively, we will lose. There will be a lot of fog next year, and I do not know where the fog lamp is. I believe that this year is a year of argument and discussion. Although the political rules may give a chance for us to talk, I believe that the search for wisdom will increase more over this next year. Finally, the search for wisdom must be cooperative. The torch lighting the fire for the bright light never ends. Sometimes, there may be some wind and the fire is put out, but it is up to us. Do we help light up this torch? 

In 2017, no matter problems the world will face, the challenges or changes, we must cooperate in the search for wisdom. The search for wisdom will not be useful at all if society is still stuck in the same trap, which lacks contributions by one another and relies on temper more than consciousness and wisdom. And you? Would you help us light up the torch of wisdom?