The Monocle Minute

Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Monday 14 May 2018

Geopolitics

Image: Getty Images

Plane annoying

Beijing’s latest attempt to bring Taiwan back to heel includes surrounding the island with fighter jets.

Times have been tough for Taiwan. The island, which only two weeks ago lost one of its few allies when the Dominican Republic announced it was establishing diplomatic ties with China, has now been besieged by buzzing on orders from Beijing. Fighter jets from China’s air force began encirclement drills around the island on Friday. It’s the latest example of a military manoeuvre against Taiwan: Beijing has ramped up such demonstrations of power over the past year. David Schlesinger, former editor in chief at Reuters and a commentator on China, tells Monocle 24, “the issue of Taiwan sovereignty is an absolutely vital one for Beijing, both domestically and internationally.” He adds that although the island is increasingly isolated, the growing push for autonomy among Taiwanese people “is very dangerous for Beijing’s domestic politics.” Which all means that the jets around Taipei are unlikely to buzz off any time soon.

Economy

Image: Getty Images

Strike gold

A fortuitous holiday, a lifted travel ban and relentless South Korean soft power have all combined to boost the country’s retail sales.

South Korean retailers are enjoying a surge in sales following Beijing’s lifting of a travel ban which until recently restricted numbers of Chinese tourists into the country. Poor diplomatic relations surrounding South Korea’s backing of the US’s Thaad anti-missile system meant that Chinese were prohibited from entering into the country in tour groups. Figures released since the ban was lifted show that two major department stores in South Korea, Hyundai and Lotte, saw an 80 and 50 per cent jump in sales, respectively – most of which came from Chinese travellers during the week-long Labour Day holiday, known as the Golden Week. There’s no doubt that China plays a significant role in South Korean tourism but the rapid rebound also shows that South Korea is managing to charm its counterpart. And with its omnipresent soft-power particulars – K-pop, K-drama and K-cuisine – it’s likely South Korea will win back Chinese tourists’ affections (and their wallets).

Transport

Image: iStock

Crush hour

A Tokyo governor is trying to get businesses to change their ways in a bid to reduce train overcrowding.

During Tokyo’s morning rush hour trains get so packed that passengers can barely move. Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike has a simple solution: persuading residents to avoid peak commuting times. Under the Jisa Biz programme, the city has mobilised more than 320 companies to allow employees to work from home or get to the office and leave earlier than usual. All 12 train operators in Tokyo have signed on and are promoting the idea with giveaways and coupons. Launched on a smaller scale last year, the campaign, which runs from 9 July to 10 August, aims to reduce overcrowding on trains during the 2020 Olympics. But Koike is also hoping that companies will be convinced to adopt more flexible work policies, which could make it easier for more women to return to work after having children. Changing Japan’s conservative business culture won’t be easy but Koike has done it before: as the country’s environment minister she came up with the Cool Biz campaign, which urges citizens to dress more casually and use less energy during the scorching summer months and is now standard practice.

Environment

Image: Getty Images

Sea change

Fishermen in one Italian region are taking part in a pilot scheme to clean up the ocean – let’s hope it takes off.

The grim realisation that eight million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the sea every year has spearheaded a series of clean-up initiatives across the world. Now Italian fishermen are rallying to the cause in a pilot initiative called Arcipelago Pulito – or Clean Archipelago. In the sea surrounding Tuscany, the water is so full of plastic that fishermen often extract as much plastic as fish. Then to recycle it, they have to pay. The result is a lot more plastic thrown into the sea to avoid costs. Under the new initiative fishermen will be able to recycle the garbage for free, thus rendering each fishing boat into a micro-clean-up operation. The six-month trial has enlisted six boats but there are hopes the scheme will spread across the country. We think it should float many other governments’ boats too.

From Monocle 24

‘Brasilia: Life After Design’

Monocle on Design: Extra

Building a city from scratch may seem like a dream commission but, as Oscar Niemeyer discovered with Brasilia, it isn’t always so simple. We ask documentary-maker Bart Simpson how much the city’s design has dictated the lives of its citizens.

From Monocle Films

Nagorno-Karabakh: Limbo Land

The republic of Nagorno-Karabakh in the Caucasus lies in purgatory. Despite its violent history, peace and PR are seen as the fastest route to normality; we visited just before the most recent flare-up to see if it can succeed.

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