Asia - Issue 93 - Magazine | Monocle

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Style leader no. 68

Animated character


Everything about incoming Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen’s style feels eminently sensible: the no-fuss hairstyle, the rimless glasses, the conservative blazer. It’s an appropriate look for the former law professor who takes pride in her low-key, pragmatic leadership style.

During the presidential campaign, however, a different image of Tsai made the rounds online. To appeal to Taiwan’s fashion-obsessed youth, her campaign created an anime alter ego of the 59-year-old candidate wearing playful dresses, headphones and cat ears, and winged shoes that allowed her to fly (alongside, it should be noted, anime felines modelled on her actual cats).

“The aim was to better engage the public in policy discussions in a more relaxed way,” says Wu Pei-yi, deputy director of the Democratic Progressive party’s (dpp) Media Innovation Centre. “People easily get irritated with politics if it’s too serious.”

The dpp’s pixelated approach, coupled with a populist message of economic revitalisation, helped it sweep the unpopular Kuomintang party from power in January’s elections. With Tsai taking office in May as Taiwan’s first female leader, her supporters hope she can fulfil her promises while cooling China’s economic and political influence over the island.

It’s an anxious time for the country and Tsai’s sartorial choices reflect that. “She comes across as very serious, intelligent and calm-natured,” says Cheryl Leung, a Hong Kong-based stylist. Tsai’s style may seem safe compared to her avatar but in the real world Taiwan needs a sober, professorial leader – not one surrounded by cartoon cats.

Daylight savings

Pakistan — ENERGY

When Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif switched on the world’s first entirely solar-powered parliament in February, it offered a glimpse of where the country is headed. The largest solar farm ever built – capable of powering 320,000 households – has started soaking up the Cholistan desert sun next year. The Chinese-built project includes new roads, an airport and telephone networks as Beijing eyes Pakistan as a corridor to the Indian Ocean, bypassing rival India. Yet while Chinese infrastructure could help Pakistan’s economy, covering wilderness in water-thirsty metal panels is not entirely eco-friendly.

Party people

North Korea — POLITICS

Kim Jong-un will round up his cronies in May for an overdue session of the Workers’ Party Congress. Now in his early 30s, North Korean leader wasn’t even a twinkle in his father’s eye at the time of the last ruling party get-together in 1980 but this year Kim junior clearly feels he has reason to celebrate, following January’s successful nuclear test and recent rocket launches. That said, new sanctions banning the import of luxury goods may end up taking some of the fizz out of the celebrations.

Election watch

Philippines: Keeping it in the family

Date: 9 May
Type: Presidential
Candidates: The establishment’s choice to replace term-limited Benigno Aquino III is Mar Roxas, another scion of a political dynasty. Other contenders include vice-president Jejomar Binay and senator Grace Poe.
Issues: At home, poverty and corruption; abroad, territorial squabbles with China.
Monocle comment: This is still a game of pass the parcel between the same families.

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