Thursday. 25/4/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

All talk?

The Chinese navy celebrated its 70th anniversary this week. After inspecting a flotilla of warships, president Xi Jinping cautioned that nations should not “easily resort to force”. Reassuring words for a restless region but some observers are wondering whether the dovish sentiment masks a more hostile undertone.

The statement was almost certainly intended for Xi’s international audience ahead of the biennial Belt and Road summit that rolls into Beijing today. The 40 or so world leaders who are attending will be more likely to partner with a benign superpower. But behind the bunting and balloons, there are rumblings. These include issuing new training regulations to recruits and plans to relocate military command units to second-tier cities so that senior officers can spend more time in the dirt. Some even saw Xi’s major speech at the beginning of the year, when he said Taiwan “must and will be” reunited with China, as starting a countdown to a planned invasion of the self-governed island.

An out-of-practice, trigger-happy Chinese army will make everyone a little twitchy so it’s useful to put today’s escalating rhetoric into perspective: Beijing has been talking about reuniting Taiwan for 70 years. Long may this war (of words) continue.

Politics / Italy

Present tense

Today is one of the most important dates in the Italian calendar: the public holiday on 25 April celebrates the country’s liberation from Nazi-imposed fascism after the Second World War. It is an occasion that should unite the country against a past that ought to be unequivocally easy to condemn. Yet controversies on its meaning for national identity have emerged time and again, and this year they have reached the highest levels of government. Deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini has politicised the occasion, calling it “a derby between fascists and communists” – and declared he will not attend the commemorative march in Rome. Instead he will be in the Sicilian town of Corleone at the opening of a police station where, he says, the fight against real contemporary problems such as the Mafia takes place. He’d do well to remember that, sadly, fascism is anything but a past concern.

Fashion / Global

Well dressed

While younger fashion start-ups have thrived thanks to their promise of transparency – perhaps listing the factory where an item of clothing is made and the work conditions there – some larger players have been slower to play up their ethical credentials. Which makes the newly published Fashion Transparency Index, now in its third year, all the more pertinent. Compiled by Fashion Revolution, an organisation that campaigns for a more equitable industry, it has surveyed the 200 largest international brands based on income. Measuring them against metrics such as traceability and social and environmental policies, Adidas, Reebok and Patagonia came out on top this year, while Dior marked the biggest improvement for overall disclosure. Faring less well? Nul points went to Tom Ford and China’s Youngor, among others.

Geopolitics / Russia

It’s not you, it’s me

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arrived in Vladivostok yesterday for the start of a two-day meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Kim is more isolated than he was at the start of the year after talks with Donald Trump broke down in February. As well as economic assistance, he is looking to Russia for diplomatic support as North Korea seeks to persuade the UN to lift its economic sanctions. Kim’s Russian counterpart, however, is looking for a photo opportunity. “Putin gets what he wants in the first 30 seconds,” John Everard, former UK ambassador to North Korea, told The Monocle Daily. “He gets the world to see that he still matters. After that, the doors will close and the summit will be just a long list of things that North Korea wants from Russia – and almost certainly isn’t going to get.”

Design / Global

Best in class

While many design and architecture awards focus on ideas that are the most beautiful or grandiose, the Design That Educates panel bases its criteria on something more understated: education. Inspired by research carried out by Peter Kuczia called Educating Buildings, the awards value designs on their potential to educate users on a range of issues including climate change, pollution and renewable resources. This year’s winner in the architectural-design category was Berlin’s Futurium: a highly energy-efficient building that harnesses solar power and uses rainwater to cool it. Barrier-free, the open public space also aims to promote dialogue between researchers and residents. Damian Przybyla, co-founder of the awards, says they “showcase how design can guide users towards positive behaviour changes”. Design that nudges people in better directions should be celebrated.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Katerina Schneider, Ritual

Katerina Schneider is founder and CEO of Ritual, a vitamin company she founded after leaving behind a career in investment. When Katerina became pregnant, she set out to find a vitamin that was free of additives and that suited her vegan diet. Finding nothing on the market, she launched Ritual with Dr Luke Bucci, an expert in multivitamins. To date, Ritual has sold more than one million bottles and earlier this year closed a $25m (€22.3m) Series B investment.

Film / Global

Healthy cities: vim and vigour

Across the world governments and developers are waking up to the fact that healthier cities are happier ones. We touch down in three very different destinations to admire some of the best urban design initiatives.

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