Thursday. 23/4/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Tyler Brûlé

Will Beijing feel the burn?

On Tuesday the US state of Missouri did its bit to turn up the heat on China by launching a lawsuit against the world’s second biggest economy for damages caused by coronavirus. From a PR point of view, it’s just the type of action that captures imaginations, stokes simmering anger and brings into sharp focus a topic that’s been missed by the high-intensity media spotlight. Just as those in the more excitable corners of conservative America have been jumping in their cars to protest against lockdowns, can a “Made in China” backlash be far off?

To be clear, it’s not just the wacky right or opportunistic populists who are fed up with China; a sizeable portion of the world’s population is now focusing its attention on Beijing coming up very short as a responsible global citizen. As lockdowns lift and economies make attempts to restart, there’s no shortage of coverage and comment about whether lockdowns were too heavy-handed or long-lasting, or whether support trickled down fast enough from finance ministries to SMEs. While these questions must be asked of governments and banks, there’s also a sense that this damage is not the fault of measures implemented by the Austrian chancellor, the Danish prime minister or the French president – this is all on Xi Jinping’s watch and it’s time for China’s president (pictured) to own up.

While the Missouri move is, so far, the most audacious call-out of China, it comes off the back of Canberra suggesting some type of investigation into Beijing’s conduct around the virus outbreak and both France and Germany also turning up the heat. What shape such an international inquest might take is anyone’s guess but it will be a toothless affair for sure. Already there’s so much tiptoeing around some of the most basic facts about animal welfare, hygiene and transmission in China that it’s hard to see where any of this could go. The World Health Organization told The Briefing that Wuhan has long been a hotbed for viruses. But it stopped short of saying that there needs to be a complete shutdown of certain consumer and dietary behaviours if we’re to see an end to such pandemics. Is this really too big an ask of a UN organisation? Is it too much for Beijing to ask of its citizens?

Companies and countries are reviewing their supply chains like never before; manufacturing will be moving back within the city limits of Paris and Toronto. And while it’s not easy to buy a smartphone or laptop that’s not made in China, it only takes a couple of million disenfranchised consumers and a clutch of well-placed relocation-incentive schemes to see the sweat beads start to form on Beijing’s brow.

Politics / Canada

Home improvement

Much-needed renovations are being made to the official summer residence of Canada’s prime minister. A 2018 report revealed that Harrington Lake (pictured) in Gatineau Park, Québec, was in “critical condition” due to decades of underfunding (the same goes for the asbestos-plagued 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa, which is the prime minister’s official home, even though Justin Trudeau has never occupied it). The CA$8.6m (€5.6m) earmarked for Harrington Lake is part of an effort to revive the country’s official residences. Dr Nelson Wiseman, political scientist at the University of Toronto, says that previous prime ministers had feared being criticised for spending tax dollars on their digs. “What strikes me [now] is that it doesn’t seem to be a big issue with the public,” he says. Nor should it be. Leaders require official residences that are safe and comfortable, and capable of hosting foreign dignitaries or state functions. Since these meetings aren’t happening with any great frequency during lockdown, it's a good time for Canada to invest in its soft-power foundations.

Hospitality / Japan

Golden rule

Japan’s biggest annual break, Golden Week, is fast approaching. This string of national holidays in early May usually marks a high season when many Japanese travel and tourism boosts the economy. But this year coronavirus is forcing municipalities to do something that goes against the nature of Japanese hospitality: refuse to welcome tourists. Ahead of Golden Week (officially from 2 to 6 May, although it’s common practice to take a few extra days off to extend the festivities), Shirakawa village, a popular Unesco World Heritage site in Gifu prefecture, is closing its doors, shutting down car parks and stopping buses from arriving during the holiday. And after many Tokyo residents drove to Kamakura (pictured), a popular beach town in Kanagawa, last Sunday, the prefecture’s governor, Yuji Kuroiwa, firmly asked people not to visit Kanagawa during Golden Week. It’s a wise move: although Japan is under a national state of emergency, it could still do with a greater sense of urgency.

F&B / Global

Fair spread

Restaurants around the world are working overtime to keep things ticking over by turning to takeaway and deliveries – but it’s delivery-app firms that have profited more than most. For businesses, using these apps isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Companies such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats will often take a commission of about 30 per cent of the price of an order or more, leaving restaurants with lower margins – and even less on which to survive in a crisis. Now some cities are taking matters into their own hands: San Francisco has capped commissions for delivery apps at 15 per cent and Toronto is trying to do the same, with mayor John Tory this week urging (but not requiring) delivery firms to “show some leadership” and reduce commissions. In times when money is tight, every little helps.

Culture / Global

Better connected

A productive team is made up of people who not only work well together but enjoy spending time with one another. Building a sense of cohesion and social bonds between employees is an art – a group hike or an all-staff cycle can go a long way. Though that’s true at any time, it’s even more fundamental when people are working from home. From setting aside a budget for attractive home-office set-ups to online workouts and free mental-health days, there’s plenty that brands can do to keep their workforce motivated, stimulated and committed. In the latest issue of The Entrepreneurs, out today and available to order here, we checked in with some friendly firms to find out how their company culture has adapted to a new reality.

M24 / Food Neighbourhoods

Recipe edition, Nicole Pisani

Continuing with recipes from some of the world’s best chefs, we hear from Nicole Pisani, co-founder of the Chefs in Schools initiative.

Monocle Films / Belgium

Urban growth: Solitair tree nursery

Cities are often seen as the flipside of nature: synthetic, sleek and sometimes impersonal. For places that pine after being greener, the Solitair tree nursery provides a blueprint. Monocle travels to Belgium to visit it and discover the value of investing in the future.

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