Tuesday. 27/4/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Nina Milhaud

Tactical withdrawal

Not so long ago the chants of protesters, the stinging scent of tear gas and the debris of broken umbrellas were part of daily life in Hong Kong. Today they have become the paraphernalia of what feels like a distant era. Taking to the streets in the fight for Hong Kong’s independence has, it seems, become a thing of the past.

Since Beijing imposed a new national security law on the city last June, pro-democracy activists and political figures have been targeted by an aggressive series of arrests, which have suppressed the opposition camp. Earlier this month, nine pro-democracy activists – including Jimmy Lai (pictured), the founder of Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s only remaining opposition newspaper – were sentenced by a Hong Kong court for attending unauthorised protests in August 2019. It’s a clear signal to Hong Kongers that demonstrations are off the table, or at least the streets.

Yet activists haven’t given up the fight; they’ve simply shifted their strategy. Their work now takes place online and from abroad. Finn Lau is among those who haven’t lost their determination. After being arrested in 2020 for taking part in a protest, Lau, like a number of the territory’s activists, now lives in exile in the UK. “Although it has become too dangerous for Hong Kongers to protest like they used to, the tactics of activism have adapted,” he tells me. Activists are now focusing on working with parliamentarians, think-tanks and NGOs around the world to increase the pressure on Beijing. Lau’s hope is that governments in the EU, the UK and the US will enforce sanctions on China so that, eventually, citizens on the ground will be able exercise their right to self-determination.

The loss of democratic freedoms in Hong Kong can’t be overstated. But activists won’t be cowed. Yet more than ever before, they need all the help they can get from the international community.

Defence / Global

Bang for your buck

A report released yesterday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute shows that global military expenditure increased last year by 2.6 per cent to $1.98trn (€1.64trn). It’s a figure that doesn’t seem to align with the dramatic decline in global GDP triggered by the pandemic, which, according to the IMF, could be a reduction of about $9trn (€7.45trn) – an amount larger than the economies of Japan and Germany combined. According to the Royal United Services Institute’s defence management fellow Trevor Taylor, however, these figures aren’t surprising. “We’ve seen a significant upturn in the assertive behaviour of Russia and China,” he tells The Monocle Minute. “Countries also aren’t keen to increase unemployment by cutting down on defence. But the biggest factor is, of course, the rise in tensions. Coronavirus hasn’t affected or diminished major issues in Syria and Iran, for example.”

Politics / Japan

Blame games

Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga (pictured) enjoyed approval ratings of almost 70 per cent when he took over in September but since then his popularity has slumped. Voters showed their disapproval on Sunday by handing him a triple by-election defeat. Suga’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party lost out in Hiroshima, Nagano and Hokkaido on the same day that Tokyo and three other prefectures – Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo – moved back into a third state of emergency due to coronavirus. The slow vaccine rollout, accompanied by what has been seen as a tardy and indecisive reaction to rising infection numbers, hasn’t helped Suga’s cause. Increasingly vocal opposition to the hosting of the Olympic Games is hurting him too. In response to a journalist’s question about the possible cancellation of the Games at a press conference on Friday, Suga appeared to say that it was out of his hands. “The IOC has already decided to hold the games in Tokyo,” he said. None of which bodes well for the government in the autumn elections, which must be held by 21 October.

Theatre / Switzerland

Curtain call

Following an easing of lockdown restrictions in Switzerland, theatres have once again thrown open their doors after being shut for nearly five months. Demand is high; several shows have sold out in a matter of hours, including Theater Rigiblick’s The Comedian Harmonists (pictured). Audience numbers are still restricted to a maximum of 50 spectators per show, which means that many productions aren’t making a profit – but most theatre directors are simply happy to be back. “Opening up is a symbolic act,” says Claude Rasser, director of Theatre Fauteuil in Basel. “We want to showcase our talent after not being able to for such a long time.” The zeal with which people have returned to the theatre should rally the spirits of the wider cultural community as constraints continue to be lifted and hopefully in time turn a profit, which the sector badly needs. The show must go on.

Cinema / USA

Gong doings

It hasn’t been a good year for award ceremonies. Both the Grammys and the Golden Globes recorded their lowest TV ratings ever. This isn’t entirely surprising in a year where formerly starry events offered up Zoom glitches rather than glamorous escapism. But not everything can be blamed on the pandemic as some ceremonies had been on a downward slide for years. The Oscars tried something different on Sunday, recording the ceremony at Union Station in Los Angeles with many of the nominees appearing in person. Despite the effort, it is widely expected that the ratings will be low this year. The final numbers are yet to be released but it’s thought that the list of nominees – although diverse and acclaimed by the critics – were unlikely to attract a wider audience more interested in blockbusters. The Oscars tend to do well ratings-wise when box-office hits such as Avatar or Gravity snag the statues. But award ceremonies still hold power and influence, and this year’s Academy Awards proved commercially viable with TV advertising spots selling out.

M24 / The Urbanist

Tall Stories 254: Trbovlje chimney, Slovenia

Monocle’s Guy De Launey braves the heights of Europe’s tallest chimney to show us one way to grapple with such an enormous structure after it loses its original purpose.

Monocle Films / Italy

The Monocle Book of Italy

Allow us to introduce you to our new publication, The Monocle Book of Italy. Our latest title celebrates the much-loved Mediterranean nation through fantastic photography, witty illustrations and plenty of insightful writing. Join us for a colourful tour. Order your copy at the Monocle Shop.

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