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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Thursday 1 February 2018

Diplomacy

Image: Shutterstock

Right move?

The UK may be making a tidy sum from the sale of its Thai embassy but the deal is a step backwards.

Three months ago a Bangkok property developer told Monocle that one of the biggest property deals in Thai history had just been inked and that UK diplomats would soon be sent packing from their sprawling embassy to make way for a high-end mixed-use development. At the time, we asked the Foreign Office for confirmation of the deal but the press office said that they hadn’t decided to sell, despite confirmations from the Central Group that the deal was in the bag. Yesterday the Foreign Office finally announced that the Union Jack would indeed be lowered from one of the UK’s finest overseas missions and that they’d be moving to an office tower in Bangkok’s Sathorn district. At a time when the UK government is trying to maintain its position as a credible global player, selling off a high-profile embassy in a key Asean economy is both short-sighted and bad for business. While many will try to appear clever for pocketing £420m (€480m) for the compound, the UK will join the class of lower-ranked nations that can only afford rented accommodation in office blocks, while the likes of Japan, the US and France boast prime real estate in the city’s most high-profile areas. Commonwealth cousin Canada recently went through a similar exercise, which involved selling off some of its best properties under the watch of the Harper government and, as one ambassador told us, “it’s now seen as the biggest mistake of the past decade. Once you sell off these properties you never get them back and your status is suddenly stunted.” Prime minister Theresa May might well be visiting estate agents on her trip to China to see what she can fetch for the UK’s digs in Beijing.

Transport

Image: Alamy

The sound of music

Japanese commuters are being treated to soothing tunes on the metro ­­– but not to everyone’s enjoyment.

As of this week, passengers travelling on the Hibiya Line in Tokyo are being treated to soothing background music (BGM), such as Debussy’s “Clair de Lune" and “healing” tunes by composer Mitsuhiro. The trial – a first for a Japanese railway company – is taking place on the subway line’s new 13000 Series trains, whose innovative features include in-car wi-fi and superior speakers. Last summer one of the conductors accidentally played classical music and the positive social-media reaction suggested that commuters might enjoy a light tune to while away their journey. Reactions have been mixed so far: some people love it, others consider it an intrusion into their quiet time. It seems that one person’s BGM is another’s noise pollution.

Economics

Image: Getty Images

Pretty penny

To position itself as the hub of European finance, the German stock exchange has decided it’s got to look the part.

Deutsche Börse, the German stock exchange headquartered in Frankfurt, may have failed in its bid to buy its London counterpart last year but that only seems to have redoubled its efforts to bump up its clout. The exchange is set for an extensive lick of new paint: an €18.5m refurbishment will see an expanded visitor centre and new conference spaces added to the 19th-century building on Börsenplatz in central Frankfurt. With the spectre of Brexit looming it’s no surprise that Germany should want to assert itself as the European financial centre, looking to boost both domestic and international banks’ presence. In this case, looks really may matter.

F&B

Image: Alamy

Grapes of wrath

A Kiwi wine with an Australian aftertaste? Unsurprisingly it’s a revelation that hasn’t gone down too well…

The tug of war over who can lay claim to various food and drink products has been going on between Australia and New Zealand for some time now. First it was Manuka honey: when the UK trademark registry awarded New Zealand producers a certification guaranteeing their products’ authenticity last year Australian beekeepers were outraged, saying that the distinctive honey originates from Tasmania. This week the controversy surrounds Kiwi winemaker Montana, known for creating the first New Zealand-made sauvignon blanc in the 1970s using grapes from the wine region of Marlborough. Alas, it turns out that it has actually been filling its bottles with nectar from Australian grapes since last February. The switch was made to keep production costs low in the face of the rising prices of New Zealand grapes. All well and good but it hasn’t allayed the furore over a beloved product being tainted by what’s considered a far inferior product.

From Monocle 24

James Taylor-Foster

Section D

A word with one of the curators at the Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design on his new role and the institution’s ambitious remit.

From Monocle Films

Perth: opportunity and regeneration

As Perth attempts to shed its reputation for being nothing more than a mining city we explore the architecture, art and hospitality initiatives that are shaping this outpost.

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