Tuesday. 27/12/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / James Chambers

All change

What a difference a year makes. This time 12 months ago, the clouds of coronavirus looked like they would never clear. Now international travel has returned to Hong Kong and China’s zero-Covid policy is on its way out. The eventual recovery of Asia’s largest economy bodes well for regional prosperity. China’s president, Xi Jinping, after backing himself into two corners over his coronavirus measures and support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, surprised everyone by walking away from both – proof that we really don’t know how he thinks. Even the prospect of a war over Taiwan has ebbed, as Washington and Beijing refocus on being competitive rather than confrontational.

Elsewhere in Asia, regional heavyweights India and Indonesia were among the nations that stopped short of taking sides on Ukraine. The East cheered this assertion of post-colonial sovereignty, while the West chastised those states for condoning Russia’s aggression. It was a reminder that the international community doesn’t necessarily speak with an American accent.

But democracy didn’t do too badly, either. In Malaysia, a progressive in the form of Anwar Ibrahim (pictured) is finally in charge and neighbourhood villain Rodrigo Duterte is out of office in the Philippines. Australia under Anthony Albanese is taking some responsibility for climate change and is back on speaking terms with China – both are important for regional security. Meanwhile, in 2023, Thailand has a chance to appoint a civilian leader for the first time since its 2014 coup d'état.

Problems remain, of course, in places from Myanmar to North Korea. Pakistan seems volatile, while Sri Lanka’s uneasy truce could fracture amid calls for fresh elections. But overall, optimism is in the air in Asia as we head into 2023. Here in Hong Kong, we might even get to take our facemasks off next year.

James Chambers is Monocle’s Asia editor.

Image: Getty Images

Society / Ukraine

Twice as nice

Ukraine’s Orthodox Church has officially sanctioned this year’s Christmas celebrations on 25 December in addition to the traditional Orthodox date of 7 January. The move represents a further shift away from Russia but, more importantly, serves as a much-needed distraction in a time of war. “Everyone I’ve spoken to says that they’re going to celebrate twice,” Tymofiy Mylovanov, president of the Kyiv School of Economics, tells Monocle. An economic advisor to the government, Mylovanov has also been busy securing humanitarian donations and providing a window into life in the capital through daily updates on social media. His students, meanwhile, organised a toy drive over Christmas and, with the help of tens of thousands of dollars in donations, hope to keep going until mid-January. Mylovanov believes that such initiatives are cathartic for the students as well as the recipients. “We show that we are human,” he says. “We make the children happy and forget about the war – if even for just a few hours.”

Hear the full interview with Mylovanov on today’s edition of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Chile

Out in the open

Chile’s president, Gabriel Boric, has been a notably vocal advocate of Palestine. He made the Palestinian cause a theme of his first address to the UN General Assembly in September, shortly after pointedly postponing receiving the credentials of Israel’s new ambassador to Chile, in protest at the killing of a Palestinian teenager by Israeli security forces. Boric (pictured) now plans to do something rather more significant.

Speaking to members of Chile’s hefty Palestinian diaspora just before Christmas, he announced that Chile will join the handful of countries that maintain a full embassy in Ramallah, instead of a mere representative office. (It says much for the significance of Palestine in left-wing Latin American circles that this already includes Venezuela, Uruguay and Nicaragua). It is, as Boric has correctly noted, a risk. But it’s one that’s worth taking if further diplomatic recognition encourages all concerned – Palestinian authorities included – to do the difficult work between here and a viable two-state solution.

Image: Getty Images

Aviation / Australia

Stuck in the middle

Earlier this year the airline Virgin Australia conducted a poll to identify passengers’ favourite seats. The middle seat was chosen by 0.6 per cent of respondents, suggesting that 0.6 per cent of Virgin Australia’s passengers are either masochists or simply cannot complete online polls. Nobody likes the middle seat. Virgin Australia is therefore seeking to make the spot more attractive by offering middle-seat occupants’ tickets in a lottery (qualification is contingent on membership in Virgin Australia’s frequent-flyer programme, which might well be the real reason for this wheeze).

Prizes include Australian Rules football tickets, holidays and frequent-flyer points. However, there will only be one winner a week – and the odds would be lousy enough even if there was one winner a plane (on a full flight on one of Virgin Australia’s Boeing 737-800s, 56 people squirm, sigh and seethe in middle seats). The airline’s lottery can’t possibly be enticing enough to persuade anyone away from the aisle or window seat.

Image: Shutterstock

Society / Switzerland

Closed book

In Switzerland, finding the phone number of that person you met at a party or a friend of a friend used to be relatively simple. It was obligatory for every landline number in the country to be listed in the Swiss phone book, known as the white pages, until the system was liberalised in 1997. Now, after 142 years of annual issues, this year’s edition will be the white pages’ last. The first Swiss phone book in 1880 only had 99 entries but the directory eventually reached a peak of about 4.3 million entries during the 1990s.

The rise of mobile phones and a growing desire for privacy has steadily eroded demand for printed phone books to the point that the white pages will soon be consigned to digital form only. A small consolation remains, though: the yellow pages, the business directory, will remain in print for anyone who still enjoys flicking through pages or needs to reach a high shelf.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle 24 / The Foreign Desk

Softly does it

As Monocle’s annual Soft Power Survey hits the newsstands, we consider the established and bizarre ways that countries project themselves abroad, from panda diplomacy and royalty to the craft of culinary persuasion. Andrew Mueller speaks to Paul Jepson, Lauren Bernstein, Nic Robertson and Paul Brannagan.

Monocle Films / Denmark

Community spirit in Denmark

Housing co-operatives are numerous in Denmark, providing residents with affordable places to live, keeping community spirit strong and cultivating samfundssind: the Danish concept of putting society’s needs ahead of individual interests. Monocle visited the Jystrup Savværk co-housing community, an hour outside of Copenhagen, to explore the meaning of the word.

Discover more stories and ideas from the region with ‘The Monocle Book of the Nordics’, which is available now from The Monocle Shop.

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