Tuesday. 6/10/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

Warning signals

In July my neighbourhood of Tai Hang was picked as the site for Beijing’s Office for Safeguarding National Security, a secretive agency mandated by the new security law for Hong Kong. Since then my strolls to the supermarket have involved sidestepping police and private security, who stand outside, guarding what was once a mediocre state-owned hotel favoured by mainland tour groups.

As new neighbours go, the security office hasn’t been all that bad. Early fears of huge water barricades blocking the entrance have so far been unfounded and, like many of us, the building’s new occupants seemed to discover their green fingers during the pandemic: the flagpole outside is surrounded by a fetching array of healthy-looking pot plants. Nevertheless this leafy location is nothing short of a show of strength.

A former British army officer I spoke to recognised the strategy as straight out of Belfast, where he served during the Northern Irish Troubles. British troops planted a flag in symbolic districts as a stamp of authority, both literal and metaphorical. The Chinese have done the same in the spiritual home of Hong Kong’s protests: Tai Hang is moments away from Victoria Park, starting point of the city’s major pro-democracy marches.

The power play escalated last week: a red banner went up outside the security office marking the 71st anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Police also set up a roadblock alongside Victoria Park, where motorists were pulled over while some passers-by were accosted by eager officers in riot gear. I moved out of Tai Hang this weekend – for unrelated reasons. A period of peace and quiet in Quarry Bay now beckons; I hope my old neighbourhood can look forward to the same.

Defence / Cambodia

Pleading innocence

Cambodia’s military confirmed at the weekend that a US-funded facility at its Ream naval base have been demolished. Situated on the Gulf of Thailand, the base has become a site of tension in recent months after reports emerged that a deal had been struck to allow China to access and use the site. The demolition job has been viewed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank, as possible confirmation of this deal. But it’s a theory that Cambodia’s government has been quick to dispel. “Nothing is out of the ordinary,” the nation’s defence minister, General Tea Banh, said during an interview with Radio Free Asia on Saturday, stressing that the country plans to maintain neutrality. Unless the Southeast Asian nation would like to get between China and the US – both of whom are trying to strengthen their foothold in the region – it’s a neutrality that’s worth maintaining.

Media / Global

Unfair advantage

Google will pay more than $1bn (€850m) over three years to 200 global news publishers to license their content for its Google News Showcase, which launched in Germany and Brazil last week. The technology firm’s CEO Sundar Pichai (pictured) said that it marks the company’s biggest financial commitment to the news industry to date but could also be an attempt to get good press and placate legislators.

The technology conglomerate has come under fire in recent years for how it compensates publishers whose work it displays on its news and search platforms; legislators in Australia are even drafting a law that would force technology giants to open their wallets. “By launching their own product, they can dictate terms and conditions and undermine legislation designed to create conditions for a fair negotiation, while claiming that they are helping to fund news production,” said Angela Mills Wade, executive director of the European Publishers Council. The sum in question won’t have a huge impact on Google’s bottom line but it does offer it a nice headline.

Politics / Brazil

Judgement call

The “Trump of the Tropics” is following in the US president’s footsteps once again. While Donald Trump nominated conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jair Bolsonaro has made a similar appointment in Brazil, selecting judge Kassio Nunes to fill the country’s own Supreme Court vacancy left by José Celso de Mello Filho, who is retiring. Although Bolsonaro’s pick isn’t as far to the right as expected by the president’s evangelical supporters, Nunes is a conservative and will shift the political allegiance of the court, which comprises 11 judges. It’s a strategic move for Bolsonaro, who has long thought the Supreme Court far too progressive. Over the past decade, it has voted in favour of both gay marriage and racial quotas in universities. The shift to the right could continue next year, as Bolsonaro will have the chance to make another appointment when judge Marco Aurélio Mello retires.

Fashion / Paris

Designing for life

The Japanese fashion world is mourning the loss of Kenzo Takada (pictured), who died in Paris on Sunday. Born in 1939, Kenzo was one of the first men to study at Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo. He left Japan in 1964 and once he arrived in Paris, he never left. His first shop, Jungle Jap, opened in 1970 and was an instant hit; the clothes, unfettered by the rules of haute couture, were a riotous melange of colours, textures and motifs drawn from home and his travels. Creativity poured forth (the company was renamed Kenzo in 1984) but he spent money like water on legendary parties, a Japanese-inspired house in the Marais and runway shows that drew adoring crowds. Kenzo sold his company to LVMH in 1993, retiring from the brand in 1999 – but he never stopped for long. Only this year, his latest venture, fledgling interiors brand K3, was finding its feet when the pandemic struck. “I’ve had a long career but now, looking back, I think my life is due to chance,” he told Monocle in 2019, with characteristic self-deprecation. “I arrived in Paris at just the right time. If I had come two years earlier, or two years later, it might not have happened in the same way.” It’s safe to say that Kenzo took his chances admirably.

M24 / The Monocle Weekly

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