Leaders in Taipei have been buoyed by the presence of US warships in the Taiwan Strait. It’s the US navy’s first known presence in the area since November and it comes at a time of rising tension between Taiwan and China. Indeed, Beijing maintains that the self-ruled island is part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to bring it under its control. Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at Soas, University of London, told The Monocle Minute: “Taipei will be pleased by the US navy’s presence. The last thing it wants is for the US to be drawn into a conflict with China but it demonstrates that the Trump administration won’t be pushed around by Beijing.” It would appear – for the time being at least – that the world’s most powerful military force has Taiwan’s back.
While new Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro has been quietly censured by his supporters for a feeble performance at Davos this week, back at home right-wing cronies were feeling emboldened. So much so that one of the country’s first openly gay congressman, Jean Wyllys, has fled the country following death threats and will not return to serve his term. “It was not Bolsonaro’s election itself: It was the level of violence that has increased since he was elected,” Wyllys told the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper on Thursday. “This is extremely worrying,” says Antônio Sampaio, a research associate at think-tank IISS. “The congress is already under-represented – for instance, only 10 per cent are women. This is yet another sign of the extreme political polarisation that’s tearing apart Brazilian democracy.”
Finland, not content with being the happiest country in the world (see our article in The Forecast for proof of that), has just snagged the top spot in this year’s Good Country Index. It assesses nations based on their “positive contribution to humanity” by analysing a range of data calculated by international organisations. The index was started in 2015 as a way of encouraging emphasis on certain metrics – such as press freedom and ecological footprint – as opposed to things like GDP and military spend, which were used to define countries for decades. It’s the first year that Finland has won (though it has always scored well) and that’s thanks to a boost in cyber security and outflow of foreign direct investment.
Cubana, Cuba’s state-run airline, is getting a new lease of life thanks to a steadfast ally: Russia. US sanctions restrict the purchase of planes with American components so Cubana has historically relied upon Russian and Ukrainian craft for its fleet. Last summer maintenance issues and a lack of spare parts led the airline to suspend almost all domestic flights – on which it holds a monopoly – due to a lack of skyworthy planes. Cubans were forced to rely to buses to get around the island so they’ll be happy to learn that Russia will now help Cubana get its grounded fleet airborne by the end of the year. As Cuba continues to develop its tourism economy, a functioning airline is essential.
The church’s influence on politics has been in decline in countries around the world for years. But as populism continues to rise, so does the chance for religious organisations to push their own agenda. Andrew Mueller is joined by Antonio Sampaio, Marat Shterin and Siobhan Garrigan to discuss the changing role of Christianity in society and politics.
Our latest issue of ‘The Forecast’ celebrates the elements of urban life that surpass the ordinary: from leaping headlong into a lake, getting a little competitive or bunking off work early, here are a few simple gratifying steps to keep you smiling. Enjoy.