Tuesday. 25/5/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Impotent rage

It’s a familiar pattern by now: a brazen act by an autocratic regime is met with cries by the international community that it “can’t be allowed to happen”. Sanctions are then imposed which, seemingly irrespective of their severity, serve to isolate the autocrat but don’t actually lead to any changes of heart.

Belarus’s decision to force a Ryanair flight mid-air between two EU nations to land in Minsk, in order to arrest an opposition journalist and activist, is among the most brazen of such actions to date. And yet the inevitable outrage and warnings of consequences from EU leaders – who discussed the incident at a summit in Brussels yesterday – are unlikely to convince Belarus’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko, to change course. As ever, it helps that Lukashenko has an even more powerful and untouchable autocrat in his court: Vladimir Putin (pictured, on right, with Lukashenko).

Back in the days of the cold war, administrations on both sides of the political aisle in the West appeared more willing to fight fire with fire, if not militarily then through the murky world of intelligence agencies. Since then, such tactics have become more partisan. Just days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, then US vice-president Dick Cheney memorably spoke of the need to operate on the “dark side”. His comments foretold the Bush administration’s aggressive (and arguably illegal) approach to fighting terrorism.

Those in the political centre and on the left have evolved, believing themselves to be above such tactics. And yet this latest sorry tale involving Belarus once again highlights the new reality of diplomacy today: autocrats can act with impunity because they know that the West can’t play by those same dirty rules (the European Commission is not about to send agents armed with Novichok to poison Lukashenko). Yes, it’s far easier said than done but those who are above playing dirty had better come up with an effective method of keeping autocrats in check before it’s too late.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / South Korea

Up in arms

Last week’s summit between Joe Biden and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in saw the scrapping of bilateral military guidelines on ballistic missiles. Agreed in 1979 to avoid antagonising China or Russia, the restrictions capped the range and payload (carrying capacity) of ballistic missiles that South Korea could develop. This lifting of the limits is a win for the country’s sovereignty, says Alessio Patalano, a specialist in East Asian security issues at King’s College London. One example of the effect of the new deal: South Korea last year touted development of a new Hyunmoo-4 ballistic missile as one of the largest of its kind. With restrictions removed, its range can be extended to 2,000km and it can reportedly carry a four-tonne payload of explosives. China will no doubt voice its displeasure but Patalano says that Beijing was probably informed ahead of time that the move was “necessary for a credible deterrence option”. North Korea’s reaction is far less predictable.

Image: Getty Images

Media / Portugal

On-the-ground cover

A new chapter for news reporting in Portugal is about to begin as Grupo Media Capital, one of the largest media conglomerates in the country, has announced an agreement to launch CNN Portugal. The new channel will be operated by it under a licensing deal with CNN, which will provide training to the new national team and media consulting services ahead of the launch, as well as access to its own reporting portfolio.

In a statement, Grupo Media Capital’s chairman Mário Ferreira said, “This agreement opens a new chapter in the history of television in Portugal as it is a partnership with one of the most innovative, influential and prestigious television networks in the world.” The deal still has to be reviewed by regulators but it serves as a signal that Portugal not only continues to value journalism but is looking to give domestic coverage of foreign affairs a boost.

Image: Getty Images

Health / Japan

Injecting some urgency

Two mass-vaccination centres opened in Osaka and Tokyo (pictured) yesterday as the Japanese government tries to step up its sluggish inoculation programme. Staffed by the country’s Self-Defense Forces, the two centres combined can administer 15,000 shots a day. With the race now on to vaccinate Japan’s 36-million strong population of over-65s by the end of July, 28 regional authorities are now looking to open their own mass-vaccination centres. In Tokyo, for instance, governor Yuriko Koike has earmarked the site once occupied by Tsukiji Fish Market. As of Saturday, only 4.4 per cent of people in Japan had received at least one dose, compared with 55.6 per cent in the UK. Until recently the Pfizer vaccine was the only one to have been approved (and only after clinical trials in Japan); the Astrazeneca and Moderna versions have now been cleared for use. As Japan battles a fourth wave of coronavirus and the Olympics loom, the rollout will have to move up a gear.

Image: Ana Mello

Design / Brazil

Built legacy

Paulo Mendes da Rocha (pictured), who died on Sunday at the age of 92, was considered a giant of Brazilian architecture long before he gained international recognition. His career began in 1955 but it wasn’t until the 21st century that a global appreciation of his talents was cemented: in 2006 he became just the second Brazilian to win the Pritzker prize, after Oscar Niemeyer. Mendes da Rocha’s best work can be seen in Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, and includes projects such as the Pinacoteca museum and the stunning MuBe (the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture and Ecology), as well as residential buildings like Edifício Guaimbê that dot the urban landscape. The Sesc 24 de Maio, (see issue 113), is a good example of his approach and a reminder that design work starts with a focus on community. “The role of the architect is to open up the city to leisure and allow for friendly co-existence,” Mendes da Rocha told us.

For more on Paulo Mendes da Rocha’s legacy, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Shutterstock

M24 / The Foreign Desk

Gaza’s future

Celebrations broke out on the streets of Gaza following the announcement that Israel and Hamas had agreed to a ceasefire. Yet many analysts doubt that the truce will last and question whether meaningful dialogue is possible. More than 240 people have been killed in this latest round of fighting and Israel’s 11-day bombardment of Gaza has had a devastating effect on the everyday lives of its civilians. But even when there is no conflict, what is life in Gaza actually like? Who are Hamas and how have they evolved? And is a long-term peaceful resolution still possible?

Monocle Films / Sao Paulo

Building better cities

To commemorate the death of one of the biggest names in Brazilian and global architecture, we revisit a discussion on clever urbanism with Paulo Mendes da Rocha.

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