Friday. 15/1/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

Law and order

Hong Kong’s dramatic police raids made global headlines last week but what happened next deserves a follow-up: most of the 50-odd pro-democracy politicians and organisers arrested for subversion were quietly released without charge. That’s because, while making arrests in Hong Kong might have become easier since the introduction of a new national security law last year, constructing a case before the courts remains just as difficult. Prosecutors must still meet strict standards of proof and argue cases in front of a strong bench; as legal experts have pointed out, it will be tough to successfully convict politicians for daring to win an election and using constitutional methods to hold the government to account.

Hong Kong’s top judge Geoffrey Ma retired last week and his successor, Andrew Cheung (pictured), has attracted plaudits. “There must not be any attempt to exert improper pressure on the judges in the discharge of their judicial functions,” said Cheung on Monday after his swearing-in ceremony with chief executive Carrie Lam. Hong Kong’s judiciary is currently dealing with a swathe of cases relating to the 2019 protests and the rule of law appears, for now, to be firmly in place. Plenty of defendants have been found innocent and courtrooms are hostile arenas for trumped-up charges and shaky police testimony. Just this week a student caught with a petrol bomb in his hand was cleared of arson because there was insufficient evidence of any intent to light it.

But how long can this last? Pro-Beijing politicians, frustrated by acquittals and light sentences, have been making calls for “judicial reform” and there is a limit to how much the judges can push back. Both Ma and Cheung have signalled willingness to reform, provided it doesn’t impinge on Hong Kong’s hallowed judicial independence. “It is certainly not a good starting point, or acceptable, to say, ‘I want reforms to ensure I always get the result which I want,’” Ma told the press in the run-up to his departure. With political opposition all but silenced in Hong Kong, the legal sector is having to muster its own defence.

Diplomacy / Indonesia & China

Common ground

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s six-day trip around Southeast Asia this week included a two-day visit to Jakarta in which he promised stronger trade and investment ties with Indonesia, the region’s biggest economy. The two discussed shared interests, including tourism and agriculture. Wang’s motivations no doubt also included pushing Beijing’s agenda, particularly its Belt and Road Initiative, in which Indonesia is a key link. But rather than simply taking the economic benefits, Jakarta raised prickly issues of its own, making clear that its interests will be heard too. Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi (pictured left, with Wang) highlighted the abuse of its fishermen in disputed waters and other territorial issues surrounding the South China Sea; Wang promised to continue to “abide by the principle of friendly consultation”. China is keen to assert its standing in the region ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration but the choppy geopolitical waters also offer Indonesia and other southeast Asian nations an opportunity to make their voices heard – if they can stay on course.

Retail / Switzerland

Stock and trade

The Swiss government has ruled that all non-essential shops will need to shut their doors next week but with an ongoing debate over what is considered essential, some retailers are getting creative to keep the shutters up. Jeroen van Rooijen, owner of multibrand fashion shop Cabinet in Zürich, says that while he’ll take advantage of so-called “click and collect” opportunities to sell some goods, he’s also planning a bigger switch to make up for lost income.

“I was originally trained to be a tailor,” Van Rooijen told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “So we’re going to transform our store into a tailor and we are inviting our customers to bring things to be altered or repaired.” Van Rooijen says that though he struggles to understand why smaller shops can’t stay open, there’s little point in standing pat. “I can complain or I can try to make the best of it.”

Health / Japan

Flash in the pan

The annual Consumer Electronics Show was held, albeit virtually, this week. That combined with our current preoccupation with health makes it the ideal time for Toto, the world’s leading plumbing manufacturer, to unveil a new concept: the Wellness Toilet. The century-old company, which is headquartered in Kitakyushu, Japan, has long been a pioneer of the clean, contactless toilet technology best represented by its Washlet model. The latest model aims to give us far more information than we ever thought possible – or polite – about what comes out of our bodies. The Wellness Toilet is designed to analyse users’ bodies and deposits to monitor health and send dietary recommendations to connected smartphones. Always flush with ideas, Toto believes that toilets can be a key source of information about health – something that could be well received at a time when hygiene is more crucial than ever. Expect to see the next-generation loo on the residential market in the next few years.

Culture / Italy

Novel idea

It’s amazing what an email and a bit of perseverance can do. A small publishing house in Naples is set to become the first outfit in Italy to publish a work by Stephen King. Marotta & Cafiero – which also runs educational bookshop La Scugnizzeria (owner Rosario Esposito La Rossa, pictured) in Scampia, a Naples neighbourhood known for mafia feuds – wrote to the US horror writer’s agent to explain its commitment to social welfare, a theme of King’s work as an essayist. Despite having never met the author, the sender’s email was clearly effective: Guns, an anti-firearms essay inspired by 2012’s Sandy Hook school massacre, will be printed in Italian in May. It isn’t the first time that this plucky publishing house has pulled off a coup: it also produced editions of works by Günter Grass, a recipient of the Nobel prize for literature, and Che Guevara.

M24 / The Foreign Desk

Qatar: the end of the Gulf’s grudge match

After years of being ostracised by its fellow Arab countries, Qatar has rapidly been welcomed back into the fold. Andrew Mueller explains the reasons behind this sudden change of heart.

Monocle Films / Italy

Masters of glass

The small Venetian island of Murano has a grand glass-blowing reputation. In the glow of the furnaces, Monocle Films witnesses a new generation of designers at work.

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