As the final post for this module, and partly (well, mostly) due to a lack of time to scour through journals for interesting articles, I decide to situate it within the present, letting my mind roam free in search for anything remotely relevant to transnationalism in my life, resulting in a miscellaneous bag of fragmented thoughts.
Last week, the story of the Panama Papers broke out, as well over 10,000 documents from the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonsaka were leaked. The Guardian calls it “history’s biggest data leak”, and my hometown, Hong Kong, occupied a rather prominent place in the whole unfolding story. Hong Kong has the highest number of intermediaries – banks, accountants, law firms – which serve the clients of this Panama-based firm. The world’s richest people are almost all implicated, many of whom set up offshore companies with the help of nominees so that their names don’t even have to appear. These companies exploit the loopholes in the international system to their own benefits, as being registered in tax havens helps the real owners to save millions worth of taxes. Journalists are still ploughing through the mountain of files, but well-recognised names are already spilling out.
This treasure trove of scandalous materials for a hungry world exposes in concrete details a suspicion that has to have floated at the back of many people’s minds. Rich people hide their wealth, Mossack Fonsaka shows exactly how, and the extent to which they do it. For a student in transnational history too, this case exemplifies the interconnectivity of the modern world, how institutions and companies collaborate to form an intricate web of linkages to serve the interests of the world’s ultra-rich and powerful. Our discussions previously in class about how transnationalism doesn’t always have to be ‘progressive’ or ‘rosy’ couldn’t have found a better example. Since the story broke, I have been discussing with my family whether this should shake our faith in Hong Kong as an international financial centre, forcing us to ask ourselves the question ‘to what end?’ if we know it only facilitates a minority bent on duping the system. Nonetheless, Hong Kong has been an important node in the international system since the West started trading in the East, as this former British colony carved out a tiny space in the southeast corner of the world’s most populous country that abides by a set of rules set down by the West. It is the place where secret societies traded gunpowder and dynamites to be smuggled into the mainland, but it is also a place that showcased the superiority of the Western governance and the capitalist system, acting as both an inspiration and a sanctuary for revolutionaries.
Before I get too excited about Hong Kong, I should move on to the other fragment that comes from a family friend who is a surgeon based in Hong Kong, but often travels to parts of the world that are in the most dire need for medical assistance. I was sent a message which he wrote when he was still in Aden, Yemen, over two weeks ago. This has allowed me a glimpse into the global exchanges promoted by organisations such as ICRC and MSF, as surgeons from around the world use their expertise to help places that have a shortage of personnel and train local surgeons. Dr Au mentions that he would be replaced in a week’s time from his time of writing by a Japanese lady surgeon, who had replaced him twice before in Hangu, Pakistan. They had also met in Gaza in 2014 during the war. He also wrote about mentoring a local lady surgeon, Dr Samar, who lacked the chance to practice on her own because for most part she had to assist senior male surgeons. So he decided to give her more opportunities to operate, and also assisted her to ‘repair a torn radial artery’, which was her first time. I have much admiration for the work that he does, as he has to risk his own personal safety, has a lot of patience and does a world of good.
I certainly think that our outlook on the world is inevitably influenced by all that is happening around us. Whereas a dominant view in history has focused on tensions or outright conflicts, transnationalism is more invested in discovering how people make connections and form networks, and how these in turn shape the world as we know it. In a way, I feel more empowered by this perspective on history, and I think others will too, because it is centered around individuals, showing us the microcosm of history and the agency of people, veering away from a mypoic fascination with the actions and decisions of powerful figures.