The Monocle Minute

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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Tuesday 16 August 2016

Image: James Leynse/Getty Images

In the wars

In Asia, the 15 August anniversary of the end of the Second World War is not just a day for reflection and memorials: it’s also for posturing and political pandering surrounding Japan, China and South Korea’s shared history and territory. This year it began with dozens of Japanese lawmakers visiting the Yasukuni shrine – which honours 14 Japanese war criminals among other war victims – and was not looked upon favourably by South Korea, which celebrated its independence from 35 years of Japanese colonial rule on the same day. Meanwhile, Chinese officials urged Tokyo to consider its actions, past and present. An added wrinkle occurred when South Korean lawmakers decided to visit the disputed easternmost islets of Dokdo, which Japan has claimed too and called Takeshima. Predictably, Tokyo officials found the visit “regrettable”. Despite the usual tit for tat, there was one sign that this year will be different: in a speech South Korean president Park Geun-hye called for “future-oriented” ties with Japan.

Image: Michael Sohn/PA Images

Murky waters

Angela Merkel returned from her summer holiday yesterday but any relaxation she might have snatched while away must have evaporated instantly. Although she’s been in power for more than a decade, Germany’s chancellor can hardly have faced a trickier year than the one that’s ahead of her. At home she has her disobedient ally Horst Seehofer (who has openly criticised her refugee policies), the rise of the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland party and the aftermath of multiple attacks in Bavaria to wrestle with. The situation beyond Germany’s borders looks even more troublesome: president Erdogan has continued his crackdown in Turkey, tensions between Russia and Ukraine are bubbling over again and the conflict in Syria rages on. With elections due next autumn, Merkel’s every move on each of these issues will be scrutinised and studied. We hope she rested up.

Image: David Galstyan

Meet Dilijan

Few will have heard of Dilijan, the so-called “Switzerland of Armenia”, but this ambitious enclave is intent on putting itself on the map. Since the Central Bank moved some of its operations from Yerevan (see issue 84 of Monocle) to the spa town in 2013, colleges have opened and tourism investment is drifting in. The Dilijan Arts Observatory is a new project funded by two private donors, bringing together experts on Soviet architecture, astronomers, artists and curators – a third of whom are Armenian. Until 10 September artists will create work to document and respond to some of the ingrained folklore and traditional practices of this village retreat, culminating in two days of exhibitions. The long-term goal is to launch a permanent arts academy here, inviting investment and footfall to this mountainous retreat.

Image: Dave Collier

Making tracks

Its reliable and ever-improving Frecciarossa trains have earned Trenitalia’s high-speed fleet a solid reputation but the Italian train operator’s regional and commuter trains have thus far been overlooked. Now a €900m contract with French manufacturer Alstom could help improve the picture. A set of 150 new fourth-generation Coradias will be delivered from 2019 onwards, with the first 47 destined for Emilia-Romagna. They will join the brand’s 100 Coradia Meridian trains, which are already operating in regions from Piedmont to Abruzzo and are soon to be seen in Trentino and Sicily. A step up from their predecessors, the new 321-seater vehicles will feature comfortable seating and wider windows; they will also be configured specifically to suit each region’s needs, with personalised interior design, livery and a range of accessories. They will be environmentally friendly too: all materials used will be 95 per cent recyclable.

From Monocle 24

Image: Alamy

Is no news good news?

It’s August and we’re officially in silly season, the name given to the quiet summer period during which the people who usually make the news are off on holiday. We find out how you keep the news cycle rolling when there’s no one to provide you with a juicy headline.

From Monocle Films

Life at sea

Monocle Films climbs aboard Alaska’s 50-year-old state-run ferry system and learns how it’s more than just a mode of transport for its users: it acts as a vital link to the rest of the world and an icon of the state’s beautiful solitude.

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