Foreign Affairs


Protesters take part in a Universal Siege On Communists’ rally at Charter Garden in Central district on Jan. 19, 2020 in Hong Kong, China. Anti-government protesters in Hong Kong rally ahead of Lunar New Year to continue their demands for an independent inquiry into police brutality, the retraction of the word “riot” to describe the rallies, and genuine universal suffrage. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images/TNS)

Alex Maisenhelder, Online Managing Editor

Foreign affairs as defined by Merriam-Webster are “matters having to do with international relations and with the interests of the home country in foreign countries”. However, in the context of this we are focusing more on the former part of the definition while still touching on the latter, because at this point in history, the United States either has their hand in it, or it affects something that they do have a hand in.

From the Panama Papers, to the annexation of Crimea, to Brexit; these are all pertinent on a global scale either for military implications, implicating numerous world leaders.

While nearly everything that can be said on these issues have been said in one way or another in the numerous publications worldwide, the focus of this article is how even with all of these stories and accounts through the numerous platforms of social media, a substantial amount of people, not just Americans, tend to be naive towards these situations or not knowing the connections between them or their true implications.

The Panama Papers are a collection of documents of the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, which were made public in 2016. This collection of documents implicated numerous heads of state such as Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davið Gunnlaugsson, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko, and to a lesser extent British Prime Minister David Cameron. Both Gunnlaugsson and Sharif were forced to step down as a result of the disclosure of these documents. Panama is referred to as a ‘grey zone’ due to it being a tax haven.

While David Cameron was not directly referenced in the documents, his late father was found to have been keeping the majority of his wealth overseas to avoid paying taxes for a substantial amount of time. However, it should be said that in some cases actions like these are legal, they are in most cases generally frowned upon, but for example, the use of tax havens is outlawed in the United States and you could be prosecuted for tax evasion if caught. While the Panama Papers were a big revelation and exposed a lot of people, it is just the tip of a massive iceberg that may never be fully uncovered.

Americans, in particular, have a stereotype for not being very culturally aware or sensitive, not being able to speak a language besides English, and being willfully ignorant nationalists. Throughout history there has been continued negligence about foreign countries and their respective affairs. For example, everyone has heard about the waves of protests in Hong Kong and how there was violence on both sides culminating the closing of certain educational institutions, but it is more likely than not that these same people do not actually know what incited the protests.

“I believe that it is really important to stay aware of foreign affairs because it can affect our daily lives,” Skylar Kim Government and Comparative Politics teacher said. “We live in a global society and should be cognizant of how policy affects us and others in the world.”

These Hong Kong protests are definitely a topic that has repercussions on a global scale, especially with the reason the protests started. The protests in Hong Kong started over an extradition bill which if passed would allow criminals in Hong Kong to be extradited and tried in mainland China. However, due to the bad relations between the two entities, the people of Hong Kong felt that this extradition bill could lead to unfair treatment of their citizens. Even with Hong Kong having returned to China under the ‘one country, two systems’ idea Hong Kong felt like the extradition bill would challenge their autonomy.

The protests became more frequent and violent with a protestor getting shot with a live bullet in the chest. Even when the extradition bill was withdrawn in September the protestors felt like it was too little too late, and the protests continued.

According to the BBC, the protesters essentially had 5 requests: “for what they were doing to be classified as a protest and not a riot, amnesty for all of the people arrested during protests, an independent inquiry into the alleged police brutality that occurred during the protests, and the implementation of complete and universal suffrage (the right to vote); their fifth the withdrawing of the bill had already been met at the writing of the article, Nov. 28 2019.”    

Events like these touch on issues that have been around for a while, but still remain untouched at a deeper level with most knowledge on the topics coming from mainstream media.

“I feel it is important for the average person to stay up to date on foreign affairs, because they are interesting, and help someone stay informed about things outside our borders that relate to things inside of our country, like the similarities between foreign and domestic leaders and crises,” senior Arie Likhtman said.

Keeping up with foreign affairs, there is a fairly large one that is going on as this is being written, Brexit.

Brexit is the exit of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union. Brexit is likely one of the best known foreign affairs currently, Brexit was originally voted on in a referendum in 2016. However, there has been issues regarding the completion of the process with the Prime Minister at the time David Cameron stepping down because of the passing of Brexit as he was in favor of stay.

The Prime Minister who succeeded Cameron, Theresa May, struggled to deal with Brexit. She was someone in favor of a ‘soft-Brexit’ whereas the more hard-lined conservatives were in favor of a ‘hard-Brexit’. A soft-Brexit is where they would remain somewhat attached to the European Union whereas a hard Brexit would mean they would not have to allow free travel of European Union nationals or be subject to their courts of justice.

However, Theresa May’s handling of Brexit lead to a vote of no-confidence which she survived, but stepped down shortly later. The idea of Brexit is now headed by a hard-lined conservative Boris Johnson. Johnson has taken over and the United Kingdom officially left the European Union on January 31. Brexit has massive implications due to the United Kingdom no longer being a part of the European Union and all of their trade laws.

While the effects of Brexit may not have come to fruition yet, the implications of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union are immeasurable. Even domestically the dispute over the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is hotly contested. How they are going to deal with imports and exports as well as taxes are all questions that are left to be answered in the near future.

These three topics are just the tip of the foreign affair iceberg, other pertinent foreign affairs are the Annexation of Crimea in 2014, the ongoing genocide in Myanmar, and the Yemeni Civil War. While you might recognize the names or even know where in the world these are occurring there is generally a lack of deeper understanding that plagues populations.

Knowledge of foreign affairs is important on many levels, most notably understand world politics and how it might also affect each individual domestically. Which raises the question, what is the best way to stay on top of all of the pertinent social issues?

“Social media can be a great tool if you use it correctly,” Kim said. “You should also read from a variety of sources.”

Social media is an immeasurable wealth of knowledge if you know how to use it and also choose to use it wisely by checking multiple sites for information to see how it is interpreted from each angle and then make a decision based on the culmination of all the viewpoints.