The Monocle Minute

Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Monday 18 December 2017

Politics

Iron grip

As Russia’s president spells out his plans for the country’s future, it’s clear that his grip on power is absolute.

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin may not participate in TV debates at the moment but that’s not to say he’s shy of getting his message out. Just over a week after announcing his candidacy for the 2018 election, Putin spent 220 minutes laying out his vision for Russia’s future in his annual press conference: improving the military, greater autonomy for regional governments and increasing labour productivity severalfold. Among the crowd was anti-establishment candidate and journalist Ksenia Sobchak, who derided his suppression of all opposition. Putin’s response suggested that the country would crumble without his iron control: “You want to create opportunities to overthrow the government?” he asked. “We’ve already lived through that, and you want to bring those years back? I’m certain that the overwhelming majority of Russians wouldn’t want it and wouldn’t allow it.” 

Urbanism

Image: Shutterstock

New heights

Apartment buildings are getting higher as the world’s cities enjoy a growth spurt.

The world is getting taller. This year was yet another record-setter for buildings shooting into the clouds, with 144 skyscrapers completed in 2017 that stand at more than 200 metres in height. The news comes courtesy of the appropriately named Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, which found the new buildings rising up in 69 cities spread across 23 countries (they’re getting more diverse too: last year’s tall buildings only concentrated in eight countries). The US, as you might expect, got in on the action, adding 10 buildings. But it should come as no surprise that much of the construction was centred in China, which completed 76 towers – 54 per cent of the global total. The biggest takeaway? It’s all about homes these days, with residential representing a third of newbuilds.

Technology

Getting connected

Japan’s e-commerce company Rakuten has set its sights on becoming a major mobile carrier.

The last time a hi-tech firm shook up Japan’s mobile-phone market was more than a decade ago when internet company Softbank became a wireless carrier. Now Japanese e-commerce marketplace Rakuten hopes to become the country’s fourth major carrier, with billionaire founder Hiroshi Mikitani saying that he will apply for wireless spectrum in January and make affordability his selling point. Rakuten already has wireless services, renting spectrum from others. That experiment seems to have fuelled the company’s ambitions of building on its online retail, travel and financial services. But it won’t be easy going in a saturated market. It won’t come cheap either: Rakuten expects its ¥600bn (€4.5bn) investments in base stations to give it a mere 9 per cent share – if it can lure away subscribers from rivals, that is. 

Soft power

Friendly relations

In a bid to soften its image, China has launched a cultural campaign to boost relations across Asia and beyond.

China’s busy year of building blockbuster infrastructure all over Asia is taking a cultural turn as Beijing looks to enhance its intellectual influence over the region. The Silk Road International League of Theatres is an international network of arts institutions, established to increase cultural exchanges along the historic trading route. The grouping of about 90 institutions – an extension of its trade-related Belt and Road initiative – received a boost this month when it signed up the West Kowloon Cultural District; Hong Kong’s huge arts development is building an outpost of Beijing’s Palace Museum. Adding cultural colour to its grey roads, high-speed rail and deep-water ports is central to China’s growing soft power – it climbed to number 19 in Monocle’s latest annual rankings (see Issue 109).

From Monocle 24

Sounds of Peckham

Sunday Brunch

We hear the sounds of London’s Peckham with Peckham Soul and Ian Doescher talks Star Wars and Shakespeare. Meanwhile, we visit the Zabludowicz Collection and enjoy some Christmas food with Theo Randall. Plus: Rachel Cunliffe goes through the weekend papers.

From Monocle Films

Brand Berlin

The German capital has become home to numerous new businesses and start-ups, attracting people from around the globe. And despite its complex past, it is an outpost of liberalism, possibility and ambition. How can other cities learn from Berlin’s successes – and the challenges it’s faced?

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