2017’s Biggest International Stories – Part 1


Despite 2017 being a year of long lifespans, the lowest number of fatal diseases and the fewest people in poverty, many of the year’s biggest stories paint a stark picture of conflict and tension. Here are four highly influential stories of the year that will continue to grab headlines into 2018.

One Year Into Donald Trump’s Presidency

The most inexperienced, unconventional and controversial candidate in recent history won the Oval Office after a fierce and scandal-ridden election year. Would his behaviour change upon taking office?

Trump’s first year in office has been eventful. Among other stories, there’s been mass protests, a ban on immigration from several Muslim-majority countries which was  blocked and then passed by the Supreme Court, plans to replace Obama’s Affordable Care Act fell flat, the biggest tax reform in decades and a dismantling of environmental protection.

Meanwhile, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia, which is known to have meddled in the election, continues to develop. Some high ranking members of Trump’s campaign team and administration have already been convicted or indicted. Whether Trump’s firing of FBI Director and key investigator James Comey constitutes an obstruction of justice remains to be seen. Throughout, Trump has deflected criticism and attacked the media in general, transforming the relationship between politicians and the press that holds them to account globally.

Love him or loathe him, Donald Trump’s presidency shows no signs of adhering to convention as he continues to fulfil conservative victories and incite controversy.

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North Korea Ups The Ante

Before this year, threats of nuclear conflict seemed unlikely. However, this year North Korea conducted sixteen missile tests, including three of its new Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, for a proposed nuclear warhead, the first of which flew directly over Japan in February. The DPRK poses a direct security threat to distant nations like Australia and the US for the first time, which the US responded to with return threats. Meanwhile, ever tightening UN sanctions further isolated the regime that considers its nuclear programme essential for its survival, while millions of civilians have inadequate food to sustain themselves, can be imprisoned in labour camps, or executed for criticism or dissidence.

In one of the year’s most bizarre stories, Kim Jong-un’s half-brother and Kim Jong-il’s oldest son, Kim Jong-nam, was murdered in the lobby of Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport in January using chemical WMD VX, in an apparent assassination coordinated by Pyongyang. The nerve agent was administered by two women who claim they were tricked into thinking this was a YouTube prank, while all North Korean suspects returned home. North Korea denied all involvement and a heated diplomatic row between Malaysia and North Korea ensued, ending decades of ‘friendly’ relations.

North Korea continues to threaten international security, calling UN sanctions ‘an act of war’ and reiterating commitments to nuclear weapon development on December 25th. The Trump administration is lobbying for China’s cooperation with sanctions in return for trade and entertaining options for direct intervention. Although North Korea supports itself through elaborate under-the-radar overseas businesses, China is the DPRK’s most powerful ally, but is also preparing for a potential influx of refugees should the regime topple.

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The Middle East’s Cold War

Iran and Saudi Arabia have been rivals since Iran’s 1979 revolution, partly due to religious differences – Iran follows Shia Islam, whilst Saudi Arabia follows Sunni. Both countries have different allies within the Middle East, and support different groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen conflicts in a ‘proxy war’.

Regional tension mounted in 2017. In July, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and expelled its citizens over Iran and terrorist ties, which Qatar ignored by strengthening relations with Tehran. In November, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri unexpectedly resigned after reportedly being forcibly detained in Saudi Arabia, apparently in an effort to thwart support for Iran-backed Shia group Hezbollah, who are powerful in Lebanon.

Meanwhile in Yemen, Saudi coalition airstrikes continue to bombard areas held by Iran-backed Houthi rebels, in a colossal humanitarian crisis where 8 million civilians risk starvation, 80% of the population lack food and water, and 1 million are thought to have cholera. The Syrian Civil War also rages on, with foreign interests fueling the conflict.

2017 marked big changes in the Middle East, and with Saudi Arabia still passing historic reforms and protests erupting in Iran this week. Expect more in 2018.

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Myanmar’s Refugee Crisis

Myanmar, or Burma, remained a closed nation for decades under a military dictatorship. 2016 marked the first time in a generation that a democratically elected government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, was permitted in Myanmar, although the military still holds vast influence and independence from government control through a power-sharing agreement.

Hundreds of thousands of the Rohingya ethnic minority in the poor Western region of Rakhine have fled persecution from military forces. In a predominantly Buddhist nation, the Rohingya Muslims aren’t recognised as a native group and are denied citizenship in spite of long-term residence there, making the majority stateless. A Rohingya militant group coordinated attacks on police and army infrastructure on August 25th, to which the military responded by destroying villages, opening fire on civilians and planting landmines near the Bangladeshi border.

Journalists and UN investigators have been blocked from investigating. Allegations of sexual violence, butchery with machetes and people being burned alive have arisen, while some migrants have fallen victim to human trafficking. Once abroad elsewhere in South & Southeast Asia, refugees face uncertain futures. Bangladesh signed an agreement with Myanmar to send hundreds of thousands back home, and conditions in camps are poor and overcrowded; a diptheria outbreak occurred just last week.

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The international community responded with allegations of genocide, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. Buddhist nationalism calling for discrimination against Muslims is widespread within the Myanmar population and government alike, meaning local attitudes differ greatly. Suu Kyi’s deflection of international criticism has consolidated local support. With multiple complex issues driving it and no solution in sight, the persecution and exile of Rohingyas is unlikely to change soon.


Masters student, Biology & Marine Biology. Interested in tropical ecology, palaeontology and mass extinctions, and music and international politics on the side. Lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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