Thursday. 16/7/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

News dispatch

Newspaper headlines rarely capture the whole story. This fact is highlighted by reports about an announcement by The New York Times that the company is moving a third of its staff away from Hong Kong because of the city’s new national security law, which has the potential to severely undermine free speech. Actually, only its digital team is moving; it is being dispatched to the newspaper’s Seoul office. Its reporters are staying put, along with the sales and marketing teams. This business-continuity strategy will ensure that The New York Times website remains operational around the clock even if the authorities were to shut down its Asia headquarters in Hong Kong.

It’s a worrying development for Hong Kong but not yet a clear sign about the law’s actual effect on press freedom. The New York Times believes that its coverage of Hong Kong is likely to increase. Besides media companies, most other international businesses are taking a wait-and-see approach, according to a poll of members released this week by Hong Kong’s American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham). About two thirds of firms have no plans to leave Hong Kong just yet but plenty will be quietly drawing up similar contingency measures.

Although the Amcham survey reveals little optimism about Hong Kong’s business prospects, some respondents do welcome an end to last year’s street protests and anticipate an influx of Chinese investment. The biggest concern right now is the security law’s ambiguity: getting to work might no longer be a problem but business executives are less sure about what they can and cannot say when they get there. Uncertainty about the law’s application and enforcement will have to be addressed if Hong Kong is to remain an international business hub, as well as an Asia HQ for foreign media. For now we all have to read between the lines.

Defence / Japan & USA

Base rate

Nearly 140 US marines at bases in the subtropical Japanese prefecture of Okinawa have now been diagnosed with coronavirus, prompting consternation from Japanese officials. “We need to more strictly scrutinise the situation with the US military in Japan,” said Taro Kono, the country’s defence minister, earlier this week. Okinawa, which hosts most of the 50,000 American troops in Japan – at facilities such as MCAS Futenma (pictured) in Ginowan – has only had 148 infections to date among its population outside the bases. US military personnel are a controversial presence there at the best of times, with a catalogue of complaints and protests about noise and crime over the years. Recent Independence Day parties, a lack of transparency about infection numbers and the arrival of service personnel from the US during the pandemic have all added to the disquiet. Okinawa’s governor Denny Tamaki has called for the US military to step up its prevention measures and multiple bases are now in lockdown. Even so, this is a major misstep for the US in Okinawa.

Migration / Estonia

Tallinn show

Despite the Trump administration’s desire to restrict immigration visas during the pandemic, one such effort, to prevent foreign students whose courses are now online from living in the US, was reversed under pressure this week. Estonia, meanwhile, has gone down an entirely different route. The Baltic nation this week launched a “digital nomad visa” that it hopes will bring non-European freelancers into the country. An estimated 1,800 applicants are expected every year, bringing a swathe of skilled high-earners into an economy which, like many around the world, is heading for recession. The benefits for freelancers who take up the visa offer will include the right to work in the country legally and to travel easily throughout the EU’s border-free Schengen zone. It also comes on the back of a successful “e-residency” programme, launched in 2014, that has made Estonia an extremely attractive place in which to base a remote-operating business. All in all, a good deal for nomadic workers seeking a new home.

Design / UK

Ground control

The Landscape Institute, the UK’s professional body for landscape architects, believes that its time to shine has arrived. Its president Jane Findlay, who assumed the post this month, emphasised the need to raise the profile of the profession in an online seminar this week. Landscape architects, along with planners and architects, are responsible for the design of our streets, parks and plazas. In light of the pandemic, which has prompted discussion on such topics as ensuring equal access to the public realm and the distribution of road space, Findlay says that the institute’s 5,500 members should be taking a leading role in design decisions. “We’ve always been seen as a bit of a ‘nice to have’, rather than a ‘must-have’,” she said in the livestreamed talk on Monday. “We need to make our voices heard because we have some of the answers.” Those answers weren’t immediately forthcoming but with a two-year tenure, she has some time to lay out her strategy.

Fashion / China

Dressed for success

There has always been a strong global element to Chinese luxury retailer Lane Crawford’s annual Creative Call Out competition, which offers funding, commercial deals and mentorship across a range of fashion-related disciplines. It’s claimed that the contest has helped to launch more than 70 young labels over the past five years. Previous events have been held in Sydney and Los Angeles but this year’s contest will focus on “homegrown talent and creativity”, with one cash prize reserved for contestants from China and another for Hong Kong-based entrants. International aspirants are still able to apply – and the panel of judges includes US designer Alexander Wang – but the shortlisted finalists will be expected to present in-person in China. This might be seen as a politically motivated or logistical move given current travel restrictions but it’s also part of a growing trend: Chinese luxury customers are increasingly valuing their own talent and brands rather than looking to French and Italian fashion houses.

M24 / Food Neighbourhoods

Recipe edition, Ralph Schelling

A seasonal recipe by one of Monocle’s favourite Swiss chefs.

Film / France

Paris retail: La Grande Epicerie

The newly opened La Grande Epicerie on the Parisian rive droite celebrates the importance of physical retail. Monocle Films pays a visit to admire the heritage brands and tasty produce.

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