Tuesday 22 August 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 22/8/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Nathan Paul Southern & Lindsey Kennedy

Putting down roots

In almost every street market in Cambodia, you will find a stall selling cheap watches emblazoned with the face of Hun Sen, the world’s longest-serving prime minister, who has been in power for 38 years. These fake-gold contraptions won’t last as long as he has, of course. Besides, the times are changing. A new face is popping up on market-stall watches – that of Hun Manet (pictured, on left), the outgoing prime minister’s son, to whom he hands the reins of power today.

It’s not just watchmakers who will have to catch up. Images of Hun Sen and his formidable wife, Bun Rany, are everywhere. Most family homes and businesses display photos of either this couple or the king with equal reverence. During his decades in power, Hun has cultivated the sense that his family and the ruling party are one and the same, while crushing all political rivals. According to his official biography, when Manet was born, a blinding light shot out of an ancient banyan tree. While many other Asian countries have been ruled by political families, Hun’s wider myth-making strategy to establish his son as a divine and rightful ruler parallels practices seen in North Korea.

Hot on the heels of an election at which the only credible opposition was banned, this handover feels like a death knell for Cambodian democracy. There are plenty of reasons why the Western-style political system, which came late to Southeast Asia, is on the decline in the region. The spread of China’s Belt and Road Initiative means that autocratic governments can access infrastructure funding without meeting the pesky provisions of donors in the West who worry about democracy and human rights. The bloody coup in Myanmar in 2021, for example, attracted few consequences.

Meanwhile, Hun, who treats democracy, communism and other political ideologies as foreign peccadilloes to be indulged where necessary, has been playing the long game. That myth about the banyan tree has been peddled since 1997. While leaders in the West earnestly praised the global march towards democracy, Hun Sen worked the system to enrich and empower his family – and has outlasted them all.

Nathan Paul Southern and Lindsey Kennedy are freelance journalists based in Cambodia. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Alamy

Defence / Australia

Cruise control

Yesterday, Australia announced that it will buy more than 200 long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles from the US as part of a package worth AU$1.3bn (€76m). The weapons deal will be a major boost to Australia’s defence force, making the country one of only three nations to possess 1,500km-range missiles, along with the US and the UK.

Canberra has also agreed to purchase at least 60 long-range anti-radiation guided missiles from Washington. “We are investing in the capabilities that our defence force needs to hold our adversaries further from our shores and keep Australians safe in the complex and uncertain world in which we live today,” Richard Marles, the country’s defence minister, said in his announcement. As China flexes its military might in the region, Australia is likely to continue developing its military to counter the threat.

Image: Getty Images

Urbanism / Japan

Safe as houses

A century after the Kanto earthquake of 1 September 1923 flattened swaths of Tokyo and killed 92,000 people, the Japanese capital is working to reduce the effects of future disasters. Earthquakes can’t be predicted with much accuracy but Tokyo is always at risk of another big shock.

Since 2013, the city government has been subsidising the rebuilding of housing in neighbourhoods where small wooden structures are clustered. Such buildings are the first to collapse and hardest to reach in a major earthquake. Land in the capital occupied by this kind of housing fell from about 24,000 hectares in 1996 to 8,600 hectares in 2020. Progress is now being ramped up again, with the goal of eliminating such areas completely by the 2040s. While some lovers of old Tokyo lament the loss of the city’s tangled, narrow streets, more practical heads point out that safety must come first.

Image: Alamy

Media / France

Sunday best

In an exciting development for the French Sunday newspaper market, La Tribune will launch a new print and digital publication, La Tribune Dimanche, on 8 October with an initial circulation of 120,000. Though the country’s wider newspaper market is growing, the idea of Sunday papers is less established in France than in other European nations.

La Tribune Dimanche will be in direct competition with the Sunday edition of Le Parisien/Aujourd’hui en France and Le Journal du Dimanche, which has been beset by a series of controversies since the recent appointment of Geoffroy Lejeune, a journalist closely associated with the far-right, as editor in chief. La Tribune Dimanche will feature a broader range of stories than its daily version and will also mark a return to the paper format, which was abandoned in 2012. It will be a welcome addition to France’s buoyant newspaper market.

For more stories from the world of publishing, tune in to ‘The Stack’ on Monocle Radio every Saturday at 10.00 London time.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / USA

Green shoots of progress

Stephen D Bloom, CEO of the Portland Japanese Garden in Oregon, is hoping to aid international diplomacy by harnessing the power of “cultural landscapes” to bring about a more peaceful world. “Japanese gardens create a state of mind and a state of soul,” he tells Monocle during a recent visit. “If we held negotiations at places like this, there would be world peace.”

Bloom, who has headed the project since 2005, has expanded the remit of the gardening centre, which attracts more than 500,000 visitors a year, to hosting peace symposiums. As well as pavilions for tea ceremonies and art galleries designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, the garden is home to the Japan Institute, which launched last year with the aim of fostering international dialogue. Bloom has personally led a tour of the grounds for ambassadors to the UN from seven Asian countries. After trips to Tokyo and London, he will head to Johannesburg, São Paulo and Sydney next month, planting the seeds of his idea around the world.

For more agenda-setting stories on affairs, diplomacy and soft power, pick up a copy of Monocle’s September issue today.

Monocle Radio / The Global Countdown


Monocle’s Fernando Augusto Pacheco takes a look at the music charts in Greece.

Monocle Films / Architecture

The world’s best public housing?

The world is urbanising fast. But how do you accommodate people in cities in a way that offers dignity, affordability and a sense of community? Vienna may have a solution. Explore the enduring legacy of the city’s Gemeindebau apartment blocks in the latest episode of our Design Tours series.


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