Friday 8 September 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 8/9/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / James Chambers

Missing link

China’s leaders often wonder why they receive negative coverage in Western media. Their actions are one important reason. Another is that they don’t communicate very well. While the White House is a fairly open book, the goings-on in Beijing’s Zhongnanhai leadership compound are a mystery to outsiders. Little is known about what Xi Jinping actually thinks and why he behaves in the way that he does. As a result, foreign correspondents fill in the blanks as best they can, coming up with explanations that often assume the worst.

The Chinese president’s absence from the forthcoming G20 summit in India is a case in point. It has been reported as a snub to a regional rival by a reclusive leader who hates leaving home but these assumptions go against what we know about Xi based on his past behaviour. Before the coronavirus pandemic, he amassed plenty of stamps on his passport and made a point of attending G20 summits. It makes little sense to interpret this year’s no-show as a sign of soured relations with India; after all, Xi was recently in South Africa with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, to announce that six new members will join the Brics bloc – currently comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – in 2024.

The most likely explanation for Xi’s absence is something internal. A health issue, perhaps, or, as Katsuji Nakazawa reports for Nikkei Asia, a political disturbance during this year’s Beidaihe summer summit. Xi would certainly not miss the G20 unless it was something serious. Or would he? We don’t know and that’s the problem. We just assume that we know a man who has only extremely rarely been interviewed as president by foreign journalists. While we wait in vain for a ground-breaking exclusive that finally gives us more insight into his thinking, our responsibility is to acknowledge the limited nature of our assumptions. If we don’t, they will be repeated until they become received wisdom with potentially dangerous consequences. Xi’s new aversion to overseas travel might not cause another world war but the opinion of a few US military generals that Beijing plans to force unification with Taiwan by 2027 could suggest otherwise.

James Chambers is Monocle’s Asia editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Greece

Left out in the cold

Greek centre-left opposition party Syriza is poised to hold internal elections this Sunday to determine its new leader. Former prime minister Alexis Tsipras resigned from the post in June following the party’s disappointing results at the country’s parliamentary elections. Efi Achtsioglou, the only female candidate to succeed Tsipras, has so far been the frontrunner. But the emergence of Stefanos Kasselakis (pictured), an outsider who announced his candidacy at the end of August, could change this.

There is concern among Syriza members that Kasselakis, a former Goldman Sachs employee based in Miami, would change the party’s political direction as leader. No matter who wins, the new leader will face the same challenges. The staggering success of the New Democracy party in the election means that the government is ruling with little opposition. Syriza urgently needs to convince voters that it is still a relevant contender. To achieve this, the party, which is being challenged by the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), will first need to re-establish itself as the centre-left’s best bet.

Image: Getty Images

Sport / France

Try and try again

The Rugby World Cup, which begins in France today, will be seen as a test run for next year’s Olympic Games in Paris. The same was true of the last instalment of rugby union’s showpiece event, which was held in Japan the year before the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo were originally scheduled to take place. The organisers of both events will be hoping for fewer logistical obstacles than the Japanese had to contend with: two games in the 2019 Rugby World Cup were cancelled because of a typhoon and coronavirus regulations meant that the Tokyo Olympics took place a year later than planned and without spectators.

Much of this year’s competition will be held in the south of France, which will give the anticipated 600,000 visiting fans a chance to experience what the nation has to offer beyond Paris. It will also allow organisers to assess the efficacy of the transport networks, hospitality and stadiums in Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille and Nice that will be used for the Olympics. On the pitch, France is among the favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Cup. Tonight’s curtain-raiser against New Zealand could be the first step towards a significant soft-power triumph.

Image: Elliot and Erick Jiménez

Art / New York

Happy medium

Photofairs New York, a new art fair dedicated to photography and digital works, opens its doors today and runs until Sunday. It features a selection of 56 exhibitors from more than 20 cities around the world, including the work of both well-established names in photography such as Herb Ritts, Edward Burtynsky and Arnold Newman, and up-and-coming talent including Thandiwe Muriu, and Elliot and Erick Jiménez whose work, The Grand Odalisque (pictured), is on display.

“The event is the first of its kind in the US that is committed to exploring the trajectory of these media as they unfold in real time,” Helen Toomer, the fair’s director, tells The Monocle Minute. “There are modern examples, as well as ones that look ahead to the future.” The event seeks to replicate the success of Photofairs Shanghai, which has built a strong reputation in the Asia-Pacific region in its nine years of operation. This bold move into the North American cultural scene signals that high-end art fairs are in robust health around the world.

Image: Yang Hae-sung/Netflix

Culture / South Korea

On a scroll

K-pop has proved a potent vehicle for transmitting South Korean culture around the world. But hallyu, the so-called “Korean wave” bringing the country’s music, TV and more to international audiences, also has another vehicle in the form of online comics. The format’s global popularity is being spearheaded by a website called Webtoon, which hosts digital comics designed for vertical scroll-reading.

Run by Seongnam-si-based technology giant Naver, the site reportedly boasts 900,000 active creators on a portal that is available in 10 languages and 100 countries, with 85.6 million users. Many of the comics have been successfully adapted as K-dramas, including Itaewon Class and All of Us Are Dead (pictured), which are available on streaming services such as Netflix. With the global webtoon industry projected to be worth about €56bn by 2030, others want in on the action, including Apple and Amazon, both of which have recently launched webcomic services in Japan. Let’s see whether Webtoon, with its years of experience, can ’toon out the noise.

Image: Alamy

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