Friday. 12/3/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / James Chambers

Hard to swallow

Hong Kong’s Wan Chai neighbourhood was heaving at lunchtime yesterday as hungry Hong Kongers lined up outside bustling restaurants and busy street kiosks. One of the few tables without a queue belonged to two women bearing clipboards who had set up a stand on the pavement to collect signatures in support of Beijing’s reforms of the Hong Kong political system.

The women had brought white banners – decorated with friendly thumbs-up emojis and smiley faces – that read in Chinese: “Support the National People’s Congress’ decision,” “Improve the electoral system” and “Implement patriots to rule Hong Kong.” As lunch goes, this particular three-course selection was clearly too much for most diners to stomach. Very few were willing to give their names and contact details to this patriotic pair. Surprising, considering that a recent poll by a pro-government media outlet suggested that 80 per cent of the population support the need for electoral reform.

In essence, the central government’s latest proposals, which were approved by the National People’s Congress yesterday, will secure full control over Hong Kong’s political system. When Chinese officials say that the new measures are about “plugging loopholes”, what they really mean is freezing out any credible opposition and only allowing loyalists to run for office from now on. All of the democratic gains made in the nearly 24 years since the 1997 handover have now been wiped out. Although elections will still take place in Hong Kong, democracy is well and truly off the menu.

Image: Getty Images

Development / EU

Support network

The European Union as a bloc is already the world’s leading humanitarian donor but co-ordinating the logistics of all that spending on aid is another issue. This week the European Commission revealed plans to create a new “European Humanitarian Response Capacity”. The idea is for a joint unit that can be deployed to co-ordinate relief efforts in developing countries – including coronavirus vaccines – and “fill in gaps” in the humanitarian response of individual EU nations. The timing is notable, coming amid a rash of negative headlines about the alliance’s slow vaccine distribution and export controls – but it’s a worthy idea. Global aid spending has been dwindling and a recent UN report found that more than 235 million people will require some form of humanitarian assistance this year, up 40 per cent from 2020, due to global conflicts, climate change and the fallout of the pandemic. The EU’s announcement marks a small step toward filling the gap.

Image: Ad Council

Media / USA

Recommender in chief

The not-for-profit Ad Council in the US has a long history of effective public-service campaigns. It started with a drive to encourage Americans to buy war bonds during the Second World War, and continues with the ongoing “Smokey Bear” campaign on forest-fire prevention. The council has recently launched “It’s Up to You”, a campaign to convince Americans of all backgrounds to get vaccinated, in collaboration with more than 300 partners in business, entertainment and media.

This week it released two public-service announcements featuring former US presidents and first ladies: Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter; Bill and Hillary Clinton; George W and Laura Bush (pictured); and Barack and Michelle Obama. Polling shows that more than a third of Americans are sceptical about vaccines, which could put efforts to reach so-called “herd immunity” at risk. Notably absent from the ad campaign were the Trumps, although Donald Trump has backed calls for inoculations and was himself vaccinated in January. As Jimmy Carter says: “Now it’s up to you.”

Image: Alamy

Politics / Spain

Testing times

The leader of Madrid’s regional government, Isabel Díaz Ayuso (pictured), resigned this week, triggering early elections scheduled for 4 May in one of Spain’s most populous regions. The right-wing People’s Party politician dissolved the ruling coalition with the centre-right Ciudadanos party. This move came as a surprise to many but might have been a precautionary measure: Ciudadanos was rumoured to support a no-confidence motion in the regional government. The spat could threaten similar conservative coalitions across Spain and any snap elections will also serve as a referendum of sorts on Spain’s handling of the pandemic. Díaz Ayuso has been a strong opponent of socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez, contending most restrictions, lockdowns and travel bans proposed by the central government. Although this has been welcomed by some, her region has one of Spain’s highest infection rates. The snap election will show if her stance against the government has actually paid off with the electorate at home.

Image: Jim Stephenson

Urbanism / UK

Building society

Designers in the UK have long complained that the architecture industry struggles to attract young people from underrepresented backgrounds. Pro-bono organisation Re-Set-Go has been taking steps to address this through a recently launched work-placement programme to help 150 participants gain experience of real-world projects. Later this month a new 22-strong class of 16- to 25-year-olds from diverse backgrounds in four South London boroughs will join local practices. “It’s indisputable that greater diversity and representation within the architecture sector benefits everybody,” Re-Set-Go’s programme leader Nisha Kurian tells The Monocle Minute. Indeed, for cities to function well for the broad range of people who live in them, they need to be imagined by an equally diverse group of designers. Re-Set-Go’s work can help to break down the perceived exclusivity of architecture and draw a broader church of young people to the profession. Other industries struggling for better representation would do well to take a similar approach.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Lindsay Jang

Hailing from Alberta, Canada, restaurateur and entrepreneur Lindsay Jang moved to Hong Kong 12 years ago with business partner Matt Abergel. She is the co-founder of three of Hong Kong’s best Japanese-inspired restaurants (and Monocle favourites) Yardbird, Ronin and Roti Tori, as well as food shop Sunday’s Grocery and drink brand Sunday’s Spirits. Through it all she has somehow found the time to launch creative agency Hecho. Yardbird recently received its first Michelin star.

Film / London

Entrepreneurs: The Nunhead Gardener

Monocle Films heads to the leafy suburbs of southeast London, where entrepreneurs Peter Milne and Alex Beltran have given up their corporate jobs to set up a charming garden centre.

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