Wednesday. 23/9/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

Collection point?

Signs that China has returned to normal come in various shapes and sizes, from photographs of water parks in Wuhan crowded with inflatables to news of a private museum opening in Foshan, a southern city in the Pearl River Delta. The He Art Museum (or Hem) opens next week on 1 October, China’s national day. Those who manage to attend the inaugural exhibition in person (the mainland remains blocked to international visitors) will be able to see both the gallery designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando and some of the 500 or so artworks collected by Hem’s founder, He Jianfeng, director of the home-appliance brand Midea and the son of one of China’s richest men.

The opening, postponed from earlier this year, is certainly cause to celebrate; making art available to the public is generally preferable to hiding it away in private homes or, worse still, in storage. But does China really need another private museum? Shanghai has far too many already and often these vanity projects feel like empty architectural shells rather than genuine contributions to China’s rich cultural landscape.

“My vision for Hem is to bring art and culture to the people of my hometown,” the founder said in a press release issued last week. It’s a noble statement and Foshan’s residents certainly stand to benefit from seeing a mix of modern and contemporary Chinese art alongside western names such as Anish Kapoor, Olafur Eliasson and Damien Hirst. Nonetheless, China’s wealthy art collectors could do with being a bit more collectivist. The mainland still lacks a public art institution to match the calibre of New York’s Moma or London’s Tate Modern. Pooling resources could create a national institution that really is worth a visit.

Trade / EU

New green deal

Following 20 years of negotiations, the EU and the South American free trade group Mercosur – comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – agreed a deal last year that was to be the biggest ever struck by either bloc. However, final ratification stalled following a report on Brazil’s rampant deforestation and France has all but declared the pact dead without new climate commitments included as conditions. Few would argue with this on principle but the EU would be wise not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. This was the sentiment expressed this week by German economy minister Peter Altmaier, who sought to revive the stalled talks and argued that a “sustainable solution” can still be found. His comments in Berlin came against the backdrop of the UN’s 75th annual summit in New York. It’s a reminder that it takes work to keep multilateralism alive in the face of the rising tide of protectionism.

Diplomacy / Iran

Mixed message

The US secretary of state Mike Pompeo (pictured) this week announced renewed sanctions on Iran and demanded that the EU should follow suit. The Trump administration says that the measures targeting a number of high-profile Iranian military leaders and nuclear scientists are a continuation of a UN arms embargo and that the UK, France and Germany should comply. But both the EU and the UN say that it’s not up to Washington to dictate terms.

“The Americans are attempting to present this as a united front but the US abandoned co-ordinated policy when it withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is better known as the Iran nuclear deal,” says Scott Lucas, professor of international relations at the University of Birmingham. Lucas warns that while Washington’s sanctions are clearly having an impact, they’ve so far led to escalation. If the US really wants resolution rather than confrontation, it would do well to rejoin international efforts to bring Iran back to the negotiating table.

Society / Germany

Open debate

Germany’s Ethics Council is a 24-member panel convened by a law passed in 2007 to consider thorny ethical questions facing the country’s government. Yesterday it issued a 55-page report on the justifiability of “risk-free certificates” that would allow those who are immune to coronavirus to move around more freely. Their verdict? It’s complicated. All members agreed that the science still isn’t conclusive enough to tell whether people who have had Covid-19 are immune and for how long. But the panel was split on what happens if those facts can be determined: 12 members favoured a step-by-step process for introducing certificates in limited circumstances; the other 12 believed that state-sanctioned certificates would never be justified as they would infringe on freedoms. While some ethics councils seek compromise, council chair Alena Buyx considers it a strength that Germany’s is honest about disagreements. As she tells the Monocle Minute, “It’s our duty to inform the public about controversy, to make transparent that there are justified positions on both sides.”

Climate / New York

Winds of change

If all goes according to plan, Governors Island in the New York Harbor will one day become a focal point for climate-change research. The Trust for Governors Island recently released a proposal to transform a part of the territory into a “living laboratory”. The plan centres on a research institution but includes an offer of public programming and office space for climate-focused technology companies and non-profits. It’s estimated that the new district could create 8,000 jobs and generate $1bn (€854m) for the city. But climate activists shouldn’t celebrate just yet. This isn’t the first time that Governors Island has been proposed as the home for an ambitious development: past suggestions to add a university campus or even a global health centre have come to nought. So it will take some work to attract new businesses. But New York would do well to make this a reality: ambitious and concrete plans are needed to contend with the climate crisis.

M24 / The Menu

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