Thursday. 18/2/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / James Chambers

Changing channel

When two million people took to the streets in Hong Kong in 2019, I was watching CNN from a hotel room in Beijing. Every time the presenter mentioned Hong Kong the screen would go black, miraculously returning as soon as the segment was over. This happened again and again as CNN repeated its daily news cycle. The cutaways were so blatant that no guests would have bothered banging the TV in frustration or calling down to reception. Most foreign media is blocked in China and even channels that are available in international hotels are subject to censorship and delayed transmissions. Therefore, the news last week that the BBC World Service has been banned in China gives a misleading impression. Ordinary Chinese were never able to view the channel anyway. And, no, the BBC’s latest report on the shocking treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang has not been viewed widely.

Somewhat counterintuitively, the bigger question is: why not more? Beijing moved only after the UK communications regulator took China’s own state-owned broadcaster CGTN off air for violating its licence, and responded more with face-saving rhetoric than genuine fury. Similar restraint followed the UK government’s offer of citizenship to almost half of Hong Kong: China announced that it would no longer recognise British National Overseas passports as travel documents, simply reflecting the status quo for the majority of holders.

By contrast, London has been taking a tougher line with China lately, starting with the restrictions on telecoms operator Huawei. But the blowback so far has been minimal. Where are the nationalistic boycotts of British products? Where are the arrests of British business executives on trumped-up spying charges? Where, in short, is the Australia treatment? Canberra is still in the doghouse for daring to support an independent investigation into the origins of coronavirus. Quick to take offence, China can sometimes be slow to exact revenge. Beijing clearly wants cordial relations with the UK right now but Whitehall should be watching closely: a diplomatic blackout could come at any time.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Switzerland

Sign of frustration

Switzerland’s federal government announced yesterday that shops, museums and libraries will be allowed to reopen on 1 March but restaurants and bars will have to wait until April. The partial easing comes amid growing discontent in the country: a petition aimed at pressuring the government to end restrictions has attracted more than 250,000 signatures. Leroy Bächtold, one of the politicians behind the petition, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing that the slow pace of easing “leads to frustration with pubs and restaurants who don’t understand [the restrictions] – they feel that politicians are not listening to the people and are not explaining the measures enough”. It’s a view echoed in lockdown-weary nations across Europe: a court in the Netherlands this week ordered the Dutch government to lift an overnight curfew because it breached the right to free movement. The ruling was seen as a victory for anti-lockdown activists that could embolden groups across the continent seeking to overturn more draconian coronavirus regulations.

Image: Shutterstock

Culture / Japan

Dare to stream

In its latest bid to stay ahead of the streaming-service competition, Netflix is turning to the next generation of creative talent to diversify its increasingly strong offering of in-house productions. Teaming up with WIT Studio, a Japanese company that has produced a number of high-profile anime films, Netflix will offer 10 scholarships in Japan to a programme created by former Studio Ghibli animator Hitomi Tateno.

Students who complete the course will then become subcontracted animators for Netflix Originals, the brand’s growing production arm that currently offers more than 2,000 titles. It’s a positive gesture that will help young talent within the industry. But the motivation isn’t solely to provide the opportunity of a lifetime for budding filmmakers. The streaming market for animation and VFX content is growing by about 8 per cent a year, meaning that these charitable scholarships could be a rather shrewd business move too.

Image: Shutterstock

Transport / Scandinavia

Route manoeuvres

The Finnish government is reportedly abandoning its plans to build a new railway across Norway and all the way to the Arctic Ocean. This long-debated connection has never quite convinced decision makers due to its high costs and opposition from Lapland’s indigenous Sámi people, who feared for their livelihoods as reindeer herders. Instead, Finland’s railway operators are shifting their gaze from the north to the west as Helsinki now wants to connect the country’s railway network to Sweden’s. This option would still give Finland a link to the Arctic Ocean along existing railway lines (albeit leaving Finnish Lapland with poor rail connections), enabling passengers to travel across Sweden all the way to Central Europe if they desire. It’s a smart compromise: Finland’s isolated location in one corner of Europe demands good travel connections. Enabling trains to cross its western border could make a big difference, particularly to those residents who live far from the Helsinki-Vantaa international airport.

Image: Courtesy of Prada

Education / Global

Deep thinking

Luxury brand Prada this week announced the culmination of Sea Beyond, a project in co-operation with Unesco to raise awareness of ocean preservation. The final phase of the programme casts secondary-school pupils in the role of “sea ambassadors”, who create their own campaigns, focusing on topics such as how air pollution affects oceans. Their efforts will be judged in a virtual event to be broadcast on 26 March. Jury members include oceanographer Fabien Cousteau and Italian free-diving gold-medalist Alessia Zecchini. The students have had some help: since October teachers in Berlin, Cape Town, Lisbon, London, Mexico City, Milan, New York, Paris, Shanghai and Venice have joined webinars run by Unesco experts to develop educational modules dedicated to ocean sustainability. “It’s important to promote sustainable behaviours,” says Francesca Boscolo, a participating teacher in Venice. “Young people’s enthusiasm, like the sea, is boundless.” Although many fashion houses still need to salvage their own reputations when it comes to sustainability, it’s hard to find fault with an awareness campaign in schools.

M24 / The Menu

Food Neighbourhoods 222: Recipe edition, Bo Bech

An easy cauliflower recipe by one of Denmark’s best-known chefs.

Monocle Films / Spain

Creative Mallorca

Palma has kept its charm for young creatives despite its tourist-trodden streets. We meet the people keeping this city alive.

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