The Monocle Minute

Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Monday 5 March 2018

Defence

Image: Getty Images

Set in stone

Today sees China further cement the ruling Communist Party’s grip on power and officially lift presidential term limits.

The rubber stamps are out in force in Beijing as China’s National People’s Congress convenes today for the first annual meeting of its new five-year term. Among the most important orders of business for the 3,000 lawmakers will be to nod through Xi Jinping’s second term as president, incorporate his thoughts into the constitution and remove the limit on him continuing in the top job beyond 2023. As ordinary Chinese ruminate over Xi’s plans to be a leader for life, Washington will be watching out for the new Chinese defence budget. Last year China raised its annual military spending to $151bn (€127bn) – still only a fraction of US spending. But with Donald Trump planning to arm the US military with a $686bn (€557bn) budget, Beijing may well come out all guns blazing.  

Business

Image: Getty Images

Showing cracks

Known for high quality and an emphasis on safety, Japan’s record as a reliable business nation is coming under scrutiny.

Japan’s Shinkansen trains have enjoyed a stellar safety record over the past 54 years. But recent revelations of slipshod manufacturing and bid-rigging allegations linked to the country’s next-generation Shinkansen – ultrafast magnetic levitation trains between Tokyo and Osaka – have cast corporate Japan in an unflattering light. Last week prosecutors arrested two officials at engineering firms Taisei and Kajima for allegedly co-ordinating bids in breach of antitrust rules while vying for work on Central Japan Railway’s maglev project. This followed revelations that substandard quality controls at Kawasaki Heavy Industries had resulted in cracks in the frames of Shinkansen, operated by West Japan Railway. The news wasn’t just worrying from a safety standpoint: it’s also undermining the country’s reputation for quality and added to concerns that the list of Japanese manufacturers caught doing things they shouldn’t be – from falsifying data to inspection cheating – could continue to grow.

Shopping

Image: Alamy

Retail revival

With Paris’s retail offering in danger of being snuffed out, a new collective offers a lifeline.

In recent years 50 per cent of shops have closed in the once-thriving area around Rue de Vertbois in Paris’s Marais neighbourhood – surprising considering the city’s famed reputation for retail. To inject life back into the area, Vertbois, a collective of property agents, actors and the retailers’ association, has purchased 35 of the shuttered shops with an eye to leasing them to independent retailers who might help flip the neighbourhood’s fortunes. To promote the concept and inspire potential retailers, Vertbois and Parisian design magazine The Socialite Family have transformed one of the spaces into an apartment and invited some of the city’s best retailers, such as stationer Antoinette Poisson and fashion label Editions Milano, to open a joint pop-up shop. Their doors open on 7 March.

Business

Image: Getty Images

Car trouble?

Strong sales in 2017 have braced automakers to survive a potential car crash in the year ahead.

The US’s automotive industry has been cruising in the fast lane of late, as reports show a near-record year for 2017 with 17.2 million vehicles sold. Yet in spite of the strong numbers, automakers aren’t taking a victory lap. Sales slipped in 2016 and analysts are forecasting another bumpy year ahead. But the good sales demonstrate that the industry as a whole is in a healthier place now than it has been in recent years. With more vehicles rolling off the lots, employees of General Motors, Ford and the Fiat Chrysler Group are taking home healthy profit-sharing cheques. While a slower 2018 may be the prediction, with last year’s cushion the projected downturn should be a storm that manufactures are able to weather. 

From Monocle 24

La Cucina Italiana

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We meet the new editor in chief of the classic Italian food magazine to discuss the future of culinary press.

From Monocle Films

Brooklyn Navy Yard

From urban farming to robotics, we take a tour around the Brooklyn Navy Yard to see how this vast shipyard has rebuilt its industry and community once more.

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