Wednesday. 2/12/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

It’s all relative

When Hong Kong’s fourth wave of coronavirus restrictions kicks in today, bars will shut, schools will close and karaoke mics will drop. Sure, we will all have a little grumble (especially if they shut the football pitches again) but it always pays to have some perspective: things could be a lot worse. My sob story is that I will be stuck in Hong Kong for Christmas. But pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong and his protest pals Ivan Lam and Agnes Chow (pictured, on left, with Lam, centre, and Wong) look to be facing a proper festive lockdown: they are back in court today to receive their sentence, and will likely spend Christmas in prison.

While Wong is a seasoned jailbird, Chow has never done serious time before. Tomorrow is her 24th birthday. She could be spending it behind bars for taking part in an unlawful protest outside a police station last year. As the trio prepare for the trial, I can imagine the courtroom veteran Wong giving his close friends a comforting word of advice: it could be worse. After all, serving time in a Hong Kong prison is still far better than languishing in a gulag over the border.

Wong has been using his high profile to raise awareness of the 12 protesters who were detained by the Chinese authorities in August while trying to flee to Taiwan. This unfortunate dozen have since disappeared into the mainland’s murky criminal justice system. Figuring out how they keep a sense of perspective is where this game gets really hard. At least there are barely any coronavirus cases in China.

Politics / USA

Pick and mix

Joe Biden faces two balancing acts as he unveils his cabinet nominations. The first is a promise to appoint a team as diverse as the American people; the second is to ensure a variety of ideas. Given the historic failings of the US government to more accurately reflect its populace, it’s ironic that the president-elect has found it easier to meet the former challenge than the latter. This week Biden nominated Janet Yellen, former chair of the Federal Reserve, to become the first female secretary of the Treasury and Cecilia Rouse (pictured) as the first African-American chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. Amy Pope, associate fellow at Chatham House, told The Briefing that the cabinet is filled with “well-qualified people who are diverse”. But she also said that Biden has mostly picked “middle-of-the-road” candidates over progressive firebrands, partially to mollify Republican senators. The key question now facing Biden’s base is: does a mixed cabinet trump a progressive one? Time will tell if the balance is right.

Trade / France & Ireland

Port of call

With less than a month before the end of the Brexit transition period and still no sign of a UK-EU trade agreement, a shipping route has been created from Ireland to France that bypasses the UK altogether. The daily service from Rosslare Europort (pictured) to Dunkirk will take about 23 hours – 10 hours slower than the current landbridge option of driving through the UK but without the possibility of longer customs delays in the new year.

Run by Danish firm DFDS, the route will be paperless and served by three ferries, each with capacity for 125 lorries. Peder Gellert Pedersen, executive vice president of DFDS’s ferry division, said that the route will avoid “customs formalities and waiting times that the end of the Brexit transition period will bring about for road haulage passing through the UK”. It’s a relief for Ireland but the Holyhead Port Authority in Wales, which traditionally provides access, is one of many UK businesses that could feel the pinch.

Society / Japan

Gender politics

Japan intends to pick up the pace on getting women into parliament. Currently 167th out of 190 countries in the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) female representation ranking, Japan has only 46 women in its lower chamber – just 9.9 per cent of the total. Seiko Noda, one of the country’s highest-profile female politicians and the minister in charge of women’s empowerment, is working on solutions. The government has now set an ambitious target of having 35 per cent female parliamentary candidates by 2025, though details of how to achieve this have yet to be revealed. Let’s hope that this plan fares better than the goal for female management set at 30 per cent back in 2003. When that target wasn’t met this year, the government simply moved the deadline to 2030, highlighting the futility of targets without meaningful action. Still, not all other countries can feel smug: the US comes in at a lowly 87th place on the IPU’s list, with Russia at number 134.

Fashion / UK

Shutting up shop

The assets of Arcadia, which include Topshop, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins, will be broken up and sold at auction after the high street fashion group went into administration this week. As a result, 13,000 jobs and almost 500 shops are at risk. Headlines in the UK emphasised the understandable impact of coronavirus lockdowns and the less understandable business decisions of the group’s owner, Philip Green, who awarded himself vast dividends even as his corporate empire careened towards ruin. But there’s another more obvious factor that has led to Arcadia’s demise: bad taste. Look at Debenhams, the premium high-street department store for whom the group is the primary concession stand holder: fashion-savvy British shoppers know that it has failed its customers for years with badly designed retail spaces hosting a drab selection of clothing – enough to send even the most devoted shoppers online. Spare a thought for the department store’s employees, who are facing an uncertain future over the holiday period, but saving bricks-and-mortar retail requires more out-of-the-box thinking.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

‘Mank’

Robert Bound is joined by film critics Tim Robey and Karen Krizanovich to review David Fincher’s latest film, Mank, the story of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz as he battles for credit on the Oscar-winning Citizen Kane. Set during the golden age of Hollywood, it stars Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried.

Monocle Films / Copenhagen

Christmas shopping in Copenhagen

We go on a jaunt around the Danish capital to find the best – and sharpest – retail outposts for all your stocking-filler needs.

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