Wednesday. 19/8/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Benno Zogg

Call to action

The world is paying attention to Belarus like never before. Many observers, including myself – I have covered Belarusian foreign and domestic policy for years – have had to revise our previously held assumptions about the country after 26 years of authoritarian rule by Alexander Lukashenko. And it’s a pleasure to do so.

What we’re seeing in the country today is the development of a civil society almost entirely from scratch. Whereas Belarusians had long appeared apathetic, apolitical, even appreciative of their stable political system, they are now confidently voicing their demands for change. Following the gross mishandling of the pandemic by the country’s leadership and accusations of a rigged election last week – the electoral commission published an incredible 80 per cent of votes for Lukashenko – the public were outraged and took to the streets. In the past week, hundreds of thousands of protesters have defied a massive police crackdown that had resulted in thousands being arrested, many of whom were beaten up.

The peaceful nature of these protests is overwhelming, as I experienced in Warsaw last week at a rally held by Poland’s considerable Belarusian community. Even Lukashenko and his remaining followers must recognise that they have lost popular support. After the president was booed off stage when he faced strikers in a Minsk tractor factory on Monday, he started hinting at constitutional reform and new elections at some point. But he has so far rejected calls for dialogue with his opponents that could pave the way for any kind of transitional rule. In the meantime, protests and strikes will continue until they achieve genuine political change. People are taking their fate in their own hands – and the world will be watching closely.

Diplomacy / India & Pakistan

A boon for Kashmir?

Kashmir has been at the centre of a tug of war between India and Pakistan for decades. New Delhi’s decision last year to downgrade the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir's status, reducing its autonomy, has only created further tension between the nuclear-armed nations. It might seem strange, then, that commentators in South Asia are linking Joe Biden’s presidential running mate Kamala Harris (pictured), who is of Indian and Jamaican heritage, to the fate of the Himalayan province. “It is interesting that the media in both India and Pakistan have created so much material on Kamala Harris,” Sajjan Gohel, visiting lecturer at the London School of Economics and Political Science, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. Could her family’s ties to South Asia really help end Kashmir’s ongoing crisis? “I think there’s a lot of overreach in this,” says Gohel, noting that Harris is unlikely to play a significant role in US foreign affairs. Still, at the very least she’ll have an open invitation to visit.

Economy / Canada

Split decision

It was meant to be a meeting in which Canadian finance minister Bill Morneau and Justin Trudeau ironed out their tensions but on Monday evening Morneau (pictured) promptly resigned and was replaced yesterday by Chrystia Freeland. Trudeau had reportedly grown sceptical that Morneau was the right person to lead Canada’s economic recovery and had even sought some outside help – former Bank of England governor Mark Carney – for informal advice.

But Trudeau’s political opponents claim that the move is designed to deflect from an ongoing charity scandal that has resulted in both men being investigated for possible conflict of interest. “Morneau is the sacrificial lamb,” says political scientist Nelson Wiseman, noting that all reports of tension have come from the prime minister’s office. “This whole [resignation] has nothing to do, in my opinion, with policy differences.” It seems a risky manoeuvre for Trudeau: having your finance minister resign during the greatest financial crisis in modern Canadian history doesn’t breed confidence.

Travel / Asia

Return ticket

Singapore and Malaysia opened their air and land borders on Monday for the first time in five months, allowing travel to resume between the two Southeast Asian neighbours for essential business and employment purposes. Strict restrictions are in operation, as is a daily quota – only about 2,000 Malaysians are able to cross the two land borders, which is considerably down from the 300,000 who regularly commuted to and from Singapore before the pandemic. Economic necessity is resulting in travel corridors being slowly opened across Asia but the tourism industry is still lagging a long way behind after Thailand and Indonesia pressed pause on their plans to welcome overseas holidaymakers. But Macau could be the first out of the blocks. The casino mecca plans to start issuing tourist visas to certain mainland Chinese travellers from next week. It’s a gamble for the territory’s government, which collects most of its revenues from taxes on gaming.

F&B / China

War of the wines

Any wine connoisseur knows that it’s not about quantity but quality. Just don’t tell that to China, which yesterday launched a trade investigation into Australian wine, a precursor to possible tariffs. Why? Besides fraying diplomatic relations between the two nations, China has reached a point of viticultural self-sufficiency, says Chandra Kurt, author of several books on wine. “China has been planting like crazy over the past few years: it has the second-largest wine-production surface after Spain and replants vineyards that cover land the size of Switzerland every year,” says Kurt. “It makes sense for them to encourage domestic consumption of their domestic product now.” What might seem like a canny choice for China will prove difficult to swallow for Australia’s 2,000 or so vintners. As its biggest buyer, China accounts for AU$1.2bn (€728m) – about 40 per cent – of Australia's wine exports, meaning that any trade barriers would plunge the industry into jeopardy. But until then, drink up.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

Claire Oakley, director of ‘Make Up’

The director of new British psychosexual thriller Make Up, speaks to Robert Bound about the holiday parks, music and dreams that inspired her debut feature.

Monocle Films / Switzerland

The Chiefs: Monocle summit in St Moritz

The past few months have shown us that there’s no substitute for face-to-face conversations. As we begin to look forward with optimism, there are opportunities to be discussed, ideas to be shared and challenges to be met. Join us this September in the Swiss Alps for inspiring discussions, great hospitality and new connections. Get your ticket here.

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