Thursday. 25/6/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

China in charge

The Chinese Communist party (CCP) certainly loves its symbolism: Beijing’s controversial national security bill for Hong Kong is likely to be passed just in time for the 1 July anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to the mainland. However it’s time to put a stop to the narrative, pedalled by US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and many others, that this has all been done while the international community was distracted by the coronavirus.

The decision to take action against Hong Kong’s protests was made by China’s president Xi Jinping and members of the party leadership during a meeting at the end of October. As the communiqué said at the time: “We must establish a sound legal system and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security in the special administrative regions.” The warning was there but few in Hong Kong saw it, let alone overseas. If anything, the Covid-19 outbreak only slowed the timing of the security bill as the CCP had to wait two months to convene its delayed rubber-stamp parliament in May.

Accusing Beijing of acting opportunistically during this year's pandemic blatantly disregards the CCP’s long track record of doing what it wants, when it wants – especially on what it considers to be home soil or sea. The disputed waters of the South China Sea? The Philippines has been defending its claim against China since 2013. Building internment camps in Xinjiang? President Donald Trump has admitted to being more interested in signing a trade deal than challenging Beijing on such human rights violations. Coronavirus frustrations probably played a role in the border clashes with India but the deadly decision-making is far more likely to have come from an over zealous local army commander than the central leadership. We need to stop being distracted by the red herrings and face up to reality: China has become an authoritarian superpower under Xi and it doesn’t need to use the pandemic as an excuse.

Diplomacy / Global

Uphill battle

The UN has urged Yemen’s warring factions to lay down their arms and implement an immediate ceasefire. It follows renewed violence between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and Saudi Arabia-backed forces in a conflict that has lasted for five years and claimed more than 100,000 lives. The war in Yemen is perhaps the most pressing humanitarian crisis that groups such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are continuing to deal with during the coronavirus pandemic. “The skyrocketing budgets of humanitarian organisations point to the fact that conflicts are not resolved – and are very often papered over – by humanitarian assistance,” ICRC president Peter Maurer (pictured) tells Monocle 24. “We would be the first to recognise that we need more diplomacy not less, and better international institutions and not [fewer of them].” You can hear more from Maurer by tuning into The Big Interview: The Chiefs Edition on Friday.

Elections / USA

Primary colours

Official results from the congressional and senate primaries that took place in several US states on Tuesday won’t be announced for some days but one thing is clear: the internal battle between the Democratic party’s moderate and progressive wings is far from settled. Jamaal Bowman, a middle-school principal and progressive candidate for New York’s 16th congressional district, looks set to have achieved a notable upset over the veteran, centrist Democratic congressman Eliot Engel.

By contrast, Amy McGrath (pictured), a former military pilot who is favoured by the Democratic establishment, could yet fend off her more progressive challenger Charles Booker in Kentucky’s senate primary. Add to that a Republican primary for a seat in the House of Representatives in North Carolina, in which Donald Trump’s favoured candidate was soundly defeated. An already unprecedented election year in the US, where not just the presidency but Congress will be up for grabs, appears to be getting even harder to predict.

Transport / UK

Point and scoot

Segway has announced that it is finally ending production of its notoriously unstable scooters. Though they were initially considered a method of transport that would have a huge impact on our daily lives, the self-balancing transporter suffered from impracticality and a lack of manoeuvrability. While production of these two-wheeled contraptions is at an end, another is going from strength to strength: the e-scooter (a market that Segway has tried to infiltrate since 2017). You can currently find e-scooter ride-share schemes in more than 100 cities. Green alternatives to public transport have become a higher priority during the pandemic and even those vehemently opposed to this technology – largely because e-scooters strewn across pavements have become an eyesore and obstructive in some cities – are having a rethink. The UK government’s change in stance is a prime example: although it’s currently illegal to ride them on roads in the UK, rental trials of e-scooters have hastily been brought forward this month by the Department for Transport.

Health / Switzerland

Natural high

Switzerland is on the move: a study published last week by Baspo, the Swiss government’s sports agency, found that more than 80 per cent of the population lead an “active lifestyle” and just 16 per cent admit that they don’t exercise. That means that the Swiss rank among the most active people in Europe, behind Finland and Sweden. Hiking is the most popular pastime and the most enthusiastic participants are aged between 15 and 24 or 65 and 74 (anyone who has been overtaken by pensioners sprinting to the peaks en route to Stoos, Rigi or Creux du Van can attest to that). That penchant for physical activity has been key to keeping spirits up during the pandemic as national TV stations adjusted their programming to include home-fitness classes. And in recent weeks the reopening of amateur sports clubs (more than one fifth of the population actively participate in one) has provided welcome relief. The economy benefits too: the Swiss spend an average of CHF2,000 (€1,900) per year on sports, outdoor equipment and classes.

M24 / The Menu

Food Neighbourhoods 190: Recipe edition, Heinz Beck

This week’s recipe comes from Heinz Beck, who runs the world-renowned La Pergola restaurant in Rome.

Monocle Films / Armenia

Yerevan's open doors

We shine a spotlight on entrepreneurship in Armenia. Yerevan’s boulevards are lined with magnificent Soviet architecture but venture beyond the imperious façades and you’ll find a busy start-up scene and well-funded art centres. Armenia shows how a small nation can benefit from building strong ties to its powerful diaspora.

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