Monday. 16/11/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Trading places

This past week has been a momentous one in the world of global trade. In Asia the 10 countries that comprise the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) signed a massive regional trade deal over the weekend with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. It instantly becomes the world’s largest trading bloc – bigger than that of the European Union or North America.

Elsewhere, an agreement that escaped most global headlines was made last week between six nations in the western Balkans. The deal established a common regional market that includes the free movement of goods and people. It’s a stunning development when you consider that the new free-trade area would comprise much of formerly war-torn Yugoslavia, excluding EU members Croatia and Slovenia.

It’s hard to argue that these two regional deals are a bad thing. Pulling historic enemies closer together – whether it’s China and Japan or Serbia and Kosovo – can only be a positive. But they’re also noteworthy for who is not involved. Asia’s free-trade deal sidelines the US, which pulled out of the rival Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) early on in the Trump administration, a deal that would have helped the US to counteract China’s economic influence in the region. And the western Balkans declaration, of course, doesn’t include the European Union. Though the EU openly encouraged the deal, its creation is also in reaction to Balkan nations growing tired of waiting for EU membership.

That the US and EU are on the outside looking in is significant. Both can still reverse their course – the US could rejoin TPP and the EU could be more open to the Balkans – but this seems unlikely. The two powers have long shaped rules of global free trade; they now risk letting that privileged role slip from their grasp.

Business / Indonesia

Power summit

A high-level delegation from Indonesia will meet executives from Tesla this week. It concerns a bid to solidify a deal for the car-maker to build a lithium-battery factory in the Southeast Asian nation and tap into its vast nickel reserves. The Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, told the news agency Reuters that his country’s goal is to become the world’s biggest producer of electric-vehicle batteries. But Tesla’s Elon Musk has said that the deal is contingent on environmental protections. “With a potential investment by Tesla and a renewed focus on climate change, Indonesia has an opportunity to transform its commodity and consumption-based economy,” Vasuki Shastry, associate fellow and Asia watcher for Chatham House, tells The Monocle Minute. “However, a single investment is unlikely to do the job. The country’s track record in articulating and achieving climate targets has been abysmal. Indonesia will have to do significantly better in managing its rich biodiversity and in transitioning to a green economy.”

Society / Austria

Desperate measures

Between now and the start of December, Austrian lawmakers plan to hash out legislation that aim to significantly strengthen the country’s tools for confronting terrorism. The package proposed by chancellor Sebastian Kurz would enhance surveillance powers and criminalise “political Islam”, allowing authorities to target not just potential attackers but those deemed to be radicalising individuals and encouraging future attacks.

It’s a reaction to this month’s attack in Vienna, perpetrated by a 20-year-old Austrian-Macedonian national who was imprisoned for attempting to join Isis in Syria but was released early – and then escaped the authorities’ attention despite clear warning signs. But Daniela Pisoiu of the Austrian Institute for International Affairs says that the draft law misses the mark. “There is no structure, no communication channels or protocols to connect all the agencies and all the institutions doing work in this area,” she told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. “This is something that has been completely ignored in the new package of legislation.”

Arts / China

Pure exhibitionism

Shanghai Art Week has kicked off with a strong line-up of physical events featuring the very best of Chinese contemporary art, beginning last week with the eighth edition of the ART021 Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair and the West Bund Art Centre’s presentation of the country’s top galleries. This week, galleries across the city will also be part of the show with exhibitions by Yang Fudong at Shanghart, one of the first contemporary art galleries established in China, as well as a group show curated by Alvin Li at Antenna Space, and Yang Zhenzhong’s first solo exhibition, Exposure at Rén Space. “The novelty of an offline art fair after a year of cancellations is refreshing and the scene is buoyant,” says Philip Tinari, director of the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, which plans to open a new branch in Shanghai in early 2021. “Shanghai Art Week has become the major primary-market event of the year in mainland China.”

Urbanism / Ontario

Back to the future

Ontario Place was conceived as a futuristic entertainment and public-park complex that celebrated the achievements in science, technology and culture of Canada’s most populous province. Designed by architect Eberhard Zeidler and landscape designer Michael Hough, it was built in 1971 on a series of artificial islands on Lake Ontario and included the world’s first permanent Imax cinema, which remains one of the most recognisable silhouettes on Toronto’s waterfront skyline. But last year Ontario’s provincial government issued a call for redevelopment proposals – raising concerns that the complex could be destined for the bulldozers. Now a campaign has been launched to reimagine the site while preserving its architectural pedigree. “Ontario Place is a globally important work of 20th-century architecture and landscape design,” says Kae Elgie, chair of Architectural Conservancy Ontario, one of the groups involved in the Future of Ontario Place Project. “It’s critically important to protect this iconic site for the benefit of the diverse population groups in Ontario and beyond.”

M24 / The Foreign Desk

Ethiopia: a Nobel Peace laureate goes to war

It’s barely a year since Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Prize for Peace. Now, his country is – at the very least – on the verge of civil war. Why has he chosen military force to resolve his dispute with Tigray? Andrew Mueller speaks to Mary Harper, Adem Kassie Abebe and William Davison.

Film / Finland

Icebreakers: life on board

Many seamen see icebreaking as a career pinnacle. We peek into the snug cabins, well-kitted kitchen and memorabilia-filled gym to see what serving on icebreaker ‘Kontio’ is really like.

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