Tuesday. 3/5/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / James Chambers

Press pass

Hong Kong’s reputation in many areas of global concern is declining rapidly but the fall in press freedom is one of the most vertiginous. Many journalists are in jail; several media companies have folded under the pressure; and independent press bodies are being forced to censor themselves or shut down. Today is World Press Freedom Day. In Hong Kong, this is usually when the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) announces the winners of the annual Human Rights Press Awards, which honour rights-related reporting from around Asia. But this year’s awards have been “suspended” because Hong Kong-based news outlet Stand News was set to be a big winner.

Stand News was raided by the police over Christmas (pictured) and later closed. The FCC board wanted to avoid a similar fate. But it is a lose-lose decision for an outspoken press club – and it is sowing division. Some members are up in arms but the fist-banging only detracts from the bigger issue: the nebulous laws in Hong Kong and the vagaries of law enforcement are no longer conducive to the existence of a free press. Everyone must obey local laws but no one currently knows where the lines are drawn.

The FCC is fighting for its survival; the other option is to shut down. The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), a union mainly comprising native reporters, has come under relentless pressure from the government and its members might soon have to vote on a motion to disband. Hong Kong’s media community needs institutions like the FCC and HKJA to continue operating – even if Hong Kong can no longer serve as a torchbearer for the rest of Asia. Press freedom in this city is being eroded. And with no end in sight, it’s time to pass the mantle to somewhere better suited to supporting it.

Image: Alamy

Diplomacy / Japan

Making a stand

Japan is enjoying its annual Golden Week holiday this week but prime minister Fumio Kishida isn’t putting his feet up: he’s on a whistle-stop eight-day international tour. Having already visited Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, he’s now heading to Italy and the UK for meetings with Mario Draghi and Boris Johnson. Kishida, who was previously Japan’s longest-serving postwar foreign minister, has been ramping up face-to-face meetings with leaders since the invasion of Ukraine. But China’s military expansion is on the agenda too, with Kishida (pictured) repeatedly affirming Japan’s commitment to a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and “rules-based international order”. In Southeast Asia, the reaction to the conflict in Ukraine has been muted; Vietnam and Laos have traditionally enjoyed close relations with Russia, and Singapore is the only Asean member to impose direct sanctions on Moscow. Kishida, the lone Asian leader in the G7, is keen to drum up support for a more hardline approach. Japan is no longer the shrinking violet of international diplomacy.

Hear more on Kishida’s international tour from our Tokyo bureau chief Fiona Wilson on Monocle 24’s ‘The Globalist’.

Image: Getty Images

Health / South Africa

Long shot

Africa’s first coronavirus vaccination plant risks being shut down due to a lack of demand. South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare, the continent’s largest pharmaceutical company, had agreed to produce and distribute an Aspen-branded vaccine, Aspenovax, under a licence deal with Johnson & Johnson. The agreement was hailed by the World Health Organization as a “transformative moment” to address stark inequalities in access to a vaccine.

With only a sixth of adults fully vaccinated, Africa has the slowest vaccination rate of any populated continent but efforts to enable local manufacturing are being undercut by distribution challenges and donations from abroad. “If we don’t get any kind of vaccine orders, there will be very little rationale for retaining the lines that we’re currently using for production,” Stavros Nicolaou, Aspen’s senior director, told Reuters. If the lack of demand isn’t addressed, the African Union’s goal to produce 60 per cent of all vaccines on the continent by 2040 could be doomed.

Image: Christie’s Images Ltd

Auctions / Global

Positive bid

Looking to do their part to support Ukraine, auction house Christie’s has launched three initiatives for humanitarian and cultural preservation aid. In London, a unique selling exhibition, running until Thursday, benefits the Ukraine Heritage Response Fund and World Monuments Fund. Featuring works from the early 20th century through to contemporary Ukrainian artists and photographers in the diaspora – including Boris Mikhailov’s “Untitled, from Salt Lake” (pictured) – Safeguarding The Irreplaceable highlights different aspects of Ukraine’s culture preserved over the past century. Two more exhibitions will take place in New York later this month.

“Over all three initiatives, our goal is to raise close to $1m [€950,000] in relief aid for Ukraine,” Sonya Bekkerman, deputy chair of business development at Christie’s and co-ordinator of the exhibition, told The Globalist. “Not only is Christie’s donating most of our commission for this purpose but everyone who has participated has chosen to donate a percentage to the Ukraine Heritage Response Fund. That really shows how the art community can unite when cultural preservation and heritage is at risk.”

Culture / USA

Melting the art

Like the mysterious lights in the desert it’s known for, Marfa in west Texas is a beacon for those seeking open spaces for fresh ideas. And since 2019, collector Michael Phelan (pictured) has been crafting a very different kind of art fair there. Marfa Invitational opens for its third edition on Thursday, presenting a tight, considered list of exhibitors and events: artist-run gallery The Pit, hailing from Los Angeles and Palm Springs, presents work by Ryan Schneider, whose sculptures possess an aura of mythos, while Lora Reynolds Gallery plays host to stirring slivers of light-as-object by Laddie John Dill.

“Organising a dozen-plus solo exhibitions of artists who live and work around the globe, coupled with performances and outdoor sculpture installations, is a herculean feat,” Phelan tells The Monocle Minute. “It requires enormous will and heart – a labour of love indeed.”

Image: Getty Images

Monocle 24 / The Big Interview

Astronaut series: Soyeon Yi

Soyeon Yi, South Korea’s first and only astronaut, speaks to Georgina Godwin about her trip to space, the view from the International Space Station and a complicated return to Earth in which she landed among nomads in Kazakhstan – and inspiring the next generation of Stem leaders.

Monocle Films / Switzerland

Zürich: co-operative living

We head to Mehr als Wohnen, a unique mixed-use development housing a happy and healthy community.

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