Tuesday. 16/7/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

Rich promise?

When we profiled Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen in our April issue, opposition disarray was the brightest spot in her dimming prospects for re-election in January 2020. The KMT, the territory’s main opposition group, was a mess. According to some party bigwigs I spoke to, the KMT’s big win in last November’s local elections owed more to Tsai’s ruling DPP party shooting itself in the foot than the opposition getting its act together. Back then we said: “The KMT must unite behind a compelling candidate but the party’s growing list of hopefuls looks more like an uninspiring who’s who of party has-beens.”

Well, yesterday they did just that. Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu – featured in our July/August issue – won the nomination to become the KMT’s presidential candidate by a country mile; the 61-year-old defeated Foxconn founder Terry Guo, who went into the vote as favourite. Many people, including us, thought it was far too soon for Han, coming only seven months into his mayorship. His shock win, without any party backing, proved his personal appeal and his ability to cross deeply entrenched party allegiances. But he has little executive experience and his economic policies – often laughably vague or simply pure comedy – hinge on closer commercial ties with China.

Taiwanese voters need to spend the next six months taking a close look at this enigmatic politician. Right now the only people making a better living from his Trump-esque promises to make the city rich again are the stall-holders selling Han-branded T-shirts, mugs and other trinkets at the night market. President Tsai, meanwhile, needs to prepare for an election dog fight.

Geopolitics / Europe

Business blueprint

Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, along with EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström, are bound for Montréal, with the EU-Canada summit set to begin tomorrow. The two-day diplomatic affair, which will also be attended by Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, will see Canada and the European bloc affirm their commitment to free-trade agreement Ceta, which has been provisionally in place since 2017 after a decade or so of negotiation. While the event shouldn’t provide much in the way of drama there is one nation in particular that would do well to watch proceedings closely. As many of the UK’s leading politicians continue to play the short game – such as agitating for a no-deal “do or die” scenario come 31 October – they should remember that even after a hard Brexit, the country will still have to negotiate some sort of relationship with the bloc. That will likely require not only years of discussions but plenty of diplomacy too.

Retail / Global

Fleeting pleasures

Amazon’s “Prime Day” shopping extravaganza, which started yesterday and runs for 48 hours, offers quickly delivered bargains aplenty to its Prime members, who pay $119 (€105) per year for the privilege. Created in 2015, the event has become so big that it now rivals Black Friday: global sales are projected to hit $5.8bn (€5.2bn) this year. Meanwhile, competitors such as eBay and Target are running rival discount campaigns. But is this orgy of transnational online shopping really the way forward? Last year, bestselling products included table salt in India, Coke Zero and Kleenex tissues in Singapore and electric toothbrushes in China – all of which could be bought from the high street. Plus there’s the dubious labour conditions (more than 2,000 workers are currently on strike over pay across Germany) and the environmental cost of all that one-day shipping. Convenient it may be – but forward-thinking? Maybe not.

Development / Oman

Heritage slight

Historically the UAE has had the lion’s share of tourism among the Arab Gulf states: it has the infrastructure and (relatively) relaxed laws vis-à-vis tourists. Now neighbouring countries are looking to get in on the racket. Among them is Oman, which is trying to fast-track itself into a tourism hotspot by demolishing the 200-year-old Port Sultan Qaboos and replacing it with a luxury mixed-use development. The government has given the $2bn (€1.8bn) project its blessing and contracted the operations to Dubai-based property developer Darmac, with construction set to begin in November. Tourism is all well and good, and the Gulf states are right to open up, but demolishing a historic port for the sake of skyscrapers is a short-sighted strategy. Oman’s heritage should be part of the attraction.

Design / Australia & China

Building bridges

Could Australia’s iconic Queenslander home have influenced the design of buildings in China? It’s a connection that researchers at the University of Queensland may unveil in their investigation of works by Aussie architects in China; it’s part of a research study commissioned by the Australian embassy in Beijing. It’s pertinent work given the increasing number of Antipodean architects practising there since the two nations signed a free-trade agreement in 2015; the deal also saw Chinese developers invest heavily in Australia’s property market. With each country now shaping the other’s building stock, it’s hoped the study will anticipate future opportunities and provide clear direction for Sino-Australian architecture and design. After all, a pagoda with a corrugated tin roof might not sit comfortably next to the Forbidden City.

M24 / The Monocle Culture Show

‘Sweet Sorrow’ by David Nicholls

This summer’s ultimate poolside read, Sweet Sorrow is the latest novel by award-winning author and screenwriter David Nicholls. Robert Bound, Georgina Godwin and John Mitchinson talk love stories and 1990s nostalgia.

Monocle Films / Brazil

São Paulo: building better cities

Brazil’s business capital has reinvented its city centre through clever urbanism. We meet the architects, gallery owners and transport visionaries powering this change.

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