Friday. 18/11/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / James Chambers

Behind the curtain

Not long ago a seasoned China watcher told me that he gauges Xi Jinping’s state of mind by keeping an eye on the country’s coronavirus strategy. Were Beijing to loosen its “dynamic zero-Covid” policy after last month’s National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, it would mean an end to the lockdowns, testing and border closures that are clearly dictated by Xi’s desire to consolidate power. But a continuation of the restrictions into their fourth year while the economy slumps and protests grow more frequent would indicate that China’s leader has lost his mind and that we really are dealing with a second Chairman Mao. So it came as a relief when China announced last week that it would reduce the hotel quarantine time for international arrivals from seven days to five, followed by a few days of home isolation. Friends in China had told me before the congress that this was on the cards, even though the state media had clearly stated otherwise.

Taking China’s government at its word is a perennial trap but it’s easy to see why we fall into it so often. At a recent high-level meeting chaired by Xi, Beijing recommitted “unwaveringly” to its zero-Covid approach, refusing to soften any measures. Meanwhile, citywide lockdowns were relaxed. Events on the ground are the only reliable indicator in mainland China and, increasingly so, here in Hong Kong. A new policy of learning to live with coronavirus had been in effect here months before the government eased restrictions and local officials still can’t publicly acknowledge that the dynamic zero-Covid strategy is dead.

That Xi maintains some grip on reality after two years of political isolation bodes well for 2023. This week’s surprisingly friendly meeting with Joe Biden prompted a collective sigh of relief across Asia. We can only hope that the Chinese president’s next step will be to apply pressure on his pal Vladimir Putin. In private, of course. Expect the public expressions of solidarity with Moscow to continue for some time.

James Chambers is Monocle’s Asia editor.

Image: Mihkel Maripuu/Postimees

Media / Estonia

Strong language

The Estonian government has unveiled a new plan to provide €1m to support the country’s private Russian-language publications. The initiative aims to champion balanced content for Russian speakers through grants that boost the editorial resources of existing Russophone media. One example is Estonia’s largest newspaper, Postimees, which publishes a freesheet for Russian speakers. Its website also hosts the country’s most popular Russian-language news portal. For Priit Hobemagi, editor in chief of Postimees, state funding has “proved to be very useful in providing Russian-speaking people with independent and factually accurate information” – in particular, about the war in Ukraine. “Government support previously excluded private media houses but, after extensive lobbying, applications will be opened to the whole industry this month,” Hobemagi tells Monocle. Given that about a quarter of Estonians identify as ethnically Russian, he believes that it’s imperative for the government to help counter harmful narratives produced by Moscow.

Image: Shutterstock

Elections / Malaysia

Hanging in the balance

Polls open tomorrow for Malaysia’s first general election since 2018, when voters ousted the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the party that had ruled since Malaysia’s independence in 1957, and prime minister Najib Razak, who was later convicted of corruption. Despite several of its leaders being on trial for similar crimes, the UMNO remains a powerful political force and has returned to power twice since 2018 as part of coalition governments. Right-wing Barisan Nasional, of which UMNO is a member, performed well in state elections earlier this year but the prevailing mood remains one of uncertainty.

Two years of political crises have resulted in a baffling choice of parties and a record number of candidates contesting seats, raising the possibility of Malaysia’s first-ever hung parliament. The winner will likely have to broker a coalition and, even more difficult, attempt to regain the trust of a disillusioned electorate.

Image: Getty Images

Space / UK

Expecting to fly

The UK’s first orbital space launch moved one step closer to becoming a reality this week when the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approved a licence for Spaceport Cornwall in Newquay. The first licence of its kind issued in the UK, it is a crucial part of getting UK spaceflight off the launchpad: a spacecraft cannot leave the country’s territory without it.

“A rocket will be launched from beneath a converted jumbo jet and it could take place as early as next week,” space scientist and author David Whitehouse tells The Monocle Minute. “This is significant for the UK’s soft power. The government wants to open up space to businesses. If the powers that be can harness that, the UK stands a very good chance of becoming a leader in European space aviation.”

Image: Alana Paterson

Design / Canada

Sum of its parts

“A typical sofa is huge and bulky, and one of its main failure points is the suspension,” Guy Ferguson (pictured, on left), brand director of Canadian design company Part & Whole, tells Monocle’s The Forecast magazine. “With use, that suspension begins to fail and then the entire product will probably be thrown away or become very costly to repair.” As a solution, Part & Whole has designed modular sofas that can be broken down into their component parts, from their laser-welded steel frames to their wool-and-down toppers.

“Every part can be replaced and serviced or disposed of in the correct way,” says Ferguson. “We made this system with the intention of creating objects that can be kept in use for longer, all to principles of circular design and manufacturing.” As brands shift towards more sustainable models, we expect other boutique furniture-makers to follow suit.

To read the full story, pick up a copy of Monocle’s 2023 edition of ‘The Forecast’, which is out now on newsstands.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle 24 / The Foreign Desk

Qatar: how did we get here?

Why would Fifa host the World Cup in a country that not only has a hostile climate for sport and abuses human rights but has also never taken part in the competition? Andrew Mueller tries to explain.

Monocle Films / Paris

Alexandre Guirkinger

Mont Blanc is one the world’s most famous mountains – and its deadliest. We asked French photographer Alexandre Guirkinger to create a portrait of this mountain and the people who dwell in its powerful shadow. In our latest film, Guirkinger speaks about the process behind the assignment and how he captured the peak’s enthralling, luring mix of beauty and danger. Discover more with The Monocle Book of Photography, which is available to buy today.

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