He has visited more foreign countries than any previous Japanese leader. His economic policies could yet pull the nation out of a quarter-century slump. And thanks to him, Japan’s troops may soon be popping up in the world’s trouble spots after a 70-year absence. I n his diplomacy, economic policy and political vision, Shinzo Abe is the most radical, interesting and also alarming prime minister Japan has had since the Second World War. But his grooming and dress are meticulously and strenuously middle-of-the-road. Spruce without being stylish and smart without being tasteful, he is a visionary right-wing nationalist in the uniform of an affluent salaryman.
He lacks the woodenness of some of Japan’s more forgettable prime ministers yet he never displays the crisp flamboyance of his beautifully tailored predecessors Junichiro Koizumi and Taro Aso. His suits are dark and well fitted, his shoes are polished and undemonstrative and his tie (often striped) is firmly knotted. Like many Japanese politicians he appears self-conscious in an open-necked shirt, a disadvantage during Japan’s humid summers when dressing down is official government policy.
Like many senior Asian men his hair is suspiciously lacking in grey but even allowing for artificial colouring it is impressively vigorous and upstanding. Abe is 60 and the burdens of office hang heavy in his fleshy features but his hair looks a good 15 years younger. Its springiness seems to embody a Japanese virtue that the prime minister himself tries so hard to project: gaman. Irrepressible, uncompromising determination.
Lim Seng, founder of hi-tech firm IN.Genius and previously senior adviser at the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, wants to launch the first Singaporean into space to commemorate the country’s golden jubilee this year. Critics are unconvinced but Seng believes it is possible.
Why is it important to have a Singaporean in space?
While it is the final frontier related to cosmic science, space technology and astronautic engineering, it is more important symbolically. I want to open up the mindsets of Singaporeans: to dare to dream and go beyond our mental boundaries.
Describe the spacecraft.
The vehicle is a pressurised capsule capable of withstanding structural stress up in space. It is equipped with an F1 racer seat to take the G-force, the latest proven commercial avionics and a life-support system.
What’s the main obstacle in your quest?
We are not granted permission to launch in Singapore because of dense air traffic but that will not be a show-stopper. We have alternative sites in Australia, on the North Pole and around the South China Sea. The biggest obstacle is people with a negative mindset!
Who will be the first Singaporean in space?
We are still shortlisting the best candidate from 150 applicants. The physical attributes are easy to find: most applicants are ex-military pilots, after all. But most crucially, we’re looking for the right attitude and heart to represent Singapore.
Date: 29 March
Candidates: President Islam Karimov, incumbent since 1991, wants to stay on and there the discussion ends.
Issues: Karimov was rattled last year by scandals involving his daughter but her arrest seems to have been a power play by the old man, embarrassed by her failure to disguise the clan’s wealth. Uzbekistan is routinely condemned as repressive but this doesn’t seem to bother Karimov.
Monocle comment: Karimov is a depressing reminder of what you can get away with if you’re useful. Neither Moscow nor Washington much like him but they don’t want him to go.