The Global Affairs team share some of the most important weekly headlines that you may otherwise have missed.
A note from the editor
The Israel-Hamas war have instigated more destruction, as Iran affiliated militias have attacked US bases across the Middle East, killing 3 US soldiers. In retaliation, the US and UK have struck at least 30 Iran-backed Houthi sites in Yemen.
In Northern Ireland, a nationalist party have come into power for the first time after a two year boycott of the Stormont Assembly by the Democratic Unionist Party.
A Ukraine-born Miss Japan have stepped down amid controversy on her crowning as the first ever European-descent Miss Japan.
As week 5 blues approaches, we hope this week’s Outside OX1 helps to bring some global perspective.
Stormont makes a return with Northern Ireland’s first nationalist leader, following an end to a unionist boycott
The devolved government of Northern Ireland has been restored for the first time in 24 months, making history as the first republican candidate takes the position of First Minister.
Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin, Ireland’s most prominent nationalist party, was sworn in with the 90-member Stormont Assembly at 13:00 GMT on Saturday. This follows a deal between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Westminster that has ended the DUP’s two-year boycott.
Sinn Féin, a left-leaning party that advocates for Irish reunification, emerged as the largest party in the Northern Irish Assembly for the first time in the elections of May 2022. Under the power-sharing system of government in the North, Sinn Féin is entitled to the position of First Minister, whereas the second-place DUP, a right-leaning, pro-union party, has instituted MLA Emma Little-Pengelly as Deputy First Minister. Despite their naming, both these positions are equal, and one position cannot be held without the other, yet the role of First Minister carries symbolic weight. As the DUP could not occupy either position in their boycott, the Assembly was unable to operate.
The DUP had boycotted holding office due to concerns about post-Brexit trading arrangements contained within the Northern Ireland Protocol. As part of the Brexit deal, a border must be imposed to allow for regulatory divergence on trade between the UK and Ireland, an EU member state. A ‘sea border’ was established to avoid violation of the Good Friday Agreement, the landmark deal that allowed for the end of most of the violence caused by the Troubles. Unionists, a largely pro-Brexit demographic, saw this border as a threat to the union, hence have been in strong opposition to checks on trade flowing between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland.
The new deal has been laid out in a document entitled “Safeguarding the Union”, which aims to simplify trading rules and relax checks on trade within the union. Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the DUP, has been met with some opposition to this agreement from his own MPs and MLAs, opposing the fact that some sections of EU law will remain in the North under this deal.
The new leadership will face a large amount of challenges upon their return. After years of political paralysis, the North is facing significant challenges. This includes stagnant wages, which drove more than 100,000 public sector workers to stage a mass walkout a few weeks ago. Northern Irish health and social care staff remain some of the lowest paid in the UK, and long NHS waiting lists remain a pressing issue for many.
Ukraine-Born Miss Japan steps down amid controversy
Karolina Shiino, a Ukraine-born model, was crowned Miss Japan 2024 in the contest held in late January. Having spent most of her life in Japan, Shiino became a naturalized citizen in 2022.
Her crowning was met with controversy, as many Japanese believe that she does not embody the traditional Japanese beauty standards from within and out. According to some critics, the position of Miss Japan should represent Japanese beauty, and as Shiino is of Ukrainian origin, she is unable to fully personify the standard.
However, many have defended Shiino, especially praising her understanding of Japanese culture and language.
Shiino’s win begs the question to the Japanese society of what constitutes a Japanese person. Is nationality what is most significant, or is it the way one acts? If it is the way one acts, what truly is a Japanese way of acting, when there are 125 million Japanese nationals who certainly do not have homogenous characteristics.
In her acceptance speech, Shiino commented on her struggle with being accepted in Japanese society. She hoped that her crowning will diversify what is considered the standard Japanese beauty, and make the Japanese society more inclusive.
Despite her goals of creating a diverse and inclusive Japan, she has stepped down as Miss Japan 2024 two weeks after her crowning for having an affair with a married man. Shiino published a public apology letter upon the breaking of the news, whilst the man in question, who is a celebrity doctor, has not made any comments. The story of Shiino in the last two weeks has not only sparked questions on the inclusivity of Japanese society, but also on sexism in Japan.
Red Sea crisis continues as UK and US strike Iran-backed Houthi targets in Yemen
The US and UK struck at least 30 Iran-backed Houthi sites in Yemen on Saturday, as part of a wider move intended to reduce the capability of Iran-backed groups to target US and global interests. The strikes are in direct response to Houthi attacks on shipping through the Red Sea, which they claim are against ships headed for Israel, as a response to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
The strikes follow the US hitting Iran-affiliated militias in Iraq and Syria on Friday, in retaliation to a drone attack on a US base in Jordan that killed 3 US soldiers. Iran has denied any role in these attacks.
Secretary of State for Defence Grant Shapps claimed that the strikes in the Middle East are ‘not an escalation’ of the conflict, instead intended to protect lives and preserve freedom of navigation through the Red Sea. Iran has called the strikes a ‘mistake’, arguing that the move will only ‘[intensify] tensions and instability in the region’.
The Red Sea is a vital shipping route, with 12% of global trade passing through it each year. Combined with a drought in the Panama Canal, global supply chains have been squeezed; many ships have adapted by rerouting around Africa, with serious financial and environmental consequences due to the large increase in fuel required.
The Houthis have committed to responding in the coming days, with their military spokesman claiming that the strikes ‘will not pass without response and punishment’.
Foreign Secretary David Cameron said that Iran will be ‘held accountable’ for its ‘proxies’, arguing that Iran cannot ‘disclaim responsibility’ despite their lack of direct control of the Houthi movement. Cameron claimed that the Houthis had been subject to ‘repeated warnings’ before the strikes, and that the attacks on shipping through the Red Sea ‘must stop’.
The attacks on international shipping are likely to continue, as the Houthi movement claims that they will not stop until a ceasefire is announced in Gaza.
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