Tuesday. 5/4/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / James Chambers

Just like the old boss…

Hong Kong basked in glorious sunshine yesterday as news broke that Carrie Lam would not be standing for a second term as chief executive. Most of the city’s residents will be keen to see the back of her – even more so than her deeply unpopular predecessor CY Leung, who retired under a similar cloud in 2017. During a tumultuous five-year tenure, Lam has quashed a popular protest of her own making, trampled on freedoms and become chief warden of one of Asia’s definitive quarantine cities.

Hong Kong desperately needs a fresh start and Lam’s early departure is Beijing’s way of acknowledging that its preferred candidate was simply not up to the job. Monday’s feel-good factor is unlikely to last, however, as thoughts turn to May’s election and the prospect of a new leader being selected under the reformed “patriots-only” framework. The next chief executive is most likely to be the government’s current number two, John Lee (pictured, on left, with Lam). A former police officer, Lee is Lam’s most trusted consigliere; a fresh face, yes, but no fresh start.

The pair have been thick as thieves since the protests in 2019 and Lee’s fingerprints are all over the ill-fated bill, which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China and ignited the civil unrest. Law enforcement is what Lee knows and his security experience is likely to serve him well as Hong Kong’s fifth chief executive. It’s a stark contrast to when Lam took the top job with designs on building a better city, sponsoring cultural development projects and vowing to take on property tycoons. The sun might be shining on Hong Kong this week but the forecast for the next five years continues to be gloomy.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Sri Lanka

Brothers in arms

Sri Lanka’s president Gotabaya Rajapaksa asked opposition parties to form a unity government yesterday after almost his entire cabinet resigned, following widespread demonstrations. The only exception was his brother, prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Thousands defied a nationwide curfew and took to the streets on Sunday to protest against the government’s mismanagement of the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.

“The situation is very precarious in Sri Lanka right now,” Sajjan Gohel, a visiting teacher at the London School of Economics and Political Science, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “There are 16-hour power outages, the country is running out of food and fuel, and inflation is at a staggering height.” Gohel adds that Sri Lanka’s economic woes are partly the result of its dependence on China. Despite their best efforts, the Rajapaksa brothers appear unlikely to weather the storm unscathed. “One cannot rule out that one of them might have to sacrifice himself to alleviate the anger,” says Gohel.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Germany & Ukraine

Caught in the middle

Germany might have been lenient towards Russia before its invasion of Ukraine but it has significantly switched tactics since, cancelling the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, increasing defence spending and agreeing to send weapons to Kyiv. Still, Volodymyr Zelensky is finding it hard to forgive and forget. In a recent video address he invited former chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured, on left, with Zelensky) and ex-French president Nicolas Sarkozy to personally witness atrocities committed by Russian troops outside Kyiv. Merkel, through a spokesperson, indicated that she stood by a decision not to admit Ukraine into Nato in 2008 but said that she supports efforts to stop Russia’s “barbarous acts” in the country today. Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki piled on the pressure yesterday, demanding a halt to trade with Russia and accusing Merkel’s successor, Olaf Scholz, of prioritising businesses over Ukrainians. Germany’s economy remains far more intricately connected with Russia’s than those of many other nations. Correcting for past mistakes takes time and patience.

Image: Getty Images

Retail / Japan

Sale of the century

While Japanese shoppers are happy to shell out for quality purchases, they’re also big fans of the ¥100 (€0.74) shop – and never more so than since coronavirus struck. Retail has had a bumpy ride over the past two years but a new report shows that the number of ¥100 shops leapt from 7,678 at the end of 2019 to 8,400 at the end of February and revenues are on course to hit ¥1trn (€74bn) this year. The sector’s four major companies are all expecting to expand and there could be more than 10,000 shops by 2025. Industry leader Daiso, which is headquartered in Hiroshima, runs more than 3,600 in Japan alone, selling a vast array of homeware and everyday goods. By stocking new products and through clever collaborations, it has kept shoppers coming back for more. World events could yet put the brakes on, however. As the yen drops and fuel prices rise, analysts wonder how these low prices will be sustained.

Image: David Libeau

Elections / France

Glitch in the program

Potential voters arrive in a hard-to-place town square to be greeted by a giant billboard touting a Macron campaign rally. Next to it is a blocky image of the Élysée Palace that critics point out doesn’t do the neoclassical real-world version justice. Welcome to Emmanuel Macron’s online campaign (pictured), staged in the immensely popular video game Minecraft. With less than a week to go until the first round of France’s presidential election, it’s an unconventional move from Team Macron. For one thing, players in this virtual world can’t communicate with each other (but can throw punches); dialogue is limited to computer bots that spout campaign talking points. For another, Minecraft’s players aren’t typically of voting age. The gimmick fits with Macron’s rather opaque pledge to create a “European metaverse” to compete with Silicon Valley. But a game made in 2011 is hardly the best arena to show off his cutting-edge computing credentials. Macron should stick to real-life campaigning: winning an election is anything but child’s play.

Image: Adam Amengual

Monocle 24 / The Entrepreneurs

Eureka 288: How can we help?

Monocle’s April issue features a fabulous retail survey, which celebrates some of the hottest shopping strips around the world and explores how they are bouncing back. This special edition of Eureka features a perfect case-study of real-world retail excellence: Erewhon, the innovative grocery shop that is now a fixture in the Los Angeles landscape.

Monocle Films / Global

‘The Monocle Book of the Nordics’

Following in the footsteps of our best-selling titles The Monocle Book of Italy and The Monocle Book of Japan, this is a thrilling exploration of Europe’s northernmost reaches. Order your copy from The Monocle Shop.

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