Thursday. 3/10/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

Pride before a fall?

China is on holiday this week and more than one billion people are basking in the glow of Tuesday’s National Day military parade in Beijing – or just genuine sunshine. On WeChat, plenty of patriotic posts about a prosperous new China are being sent from exotic beaches in faraway foreign lands. Socialism with Chinese characteristics (otherwise known as capitalism) has been a triumph for a lot of people. But everything is far from golden for the leadership in Beijing as they get back to business.

This month the Communist party will hold its most important meeting of the year and the forecast will look gloomy. A slowing economy, compounded by the US trade war, means that economic growth can no longer be taken for granted. Employers are becoming anxious about hiring and some companies are shedding jobs. Beijing needs to produce 11 million new positions this year simply to satisfy university graduates and rural Dick Whittingtons flocking to the city.

Premier Li Keqiang is encouraging everyone to become an entrepreneur but financing is getting harder to come by: start-ups find it tougher to raise capital, while small businesses struggle to get bank loans. To free up positions, expats are being nudged toward the exit and young foreign talent struggles to get work visas. Some graduates are still, however, returning home from overseas with fancy foreign degrees only to find themselves cutting hair. Mass unemployment is one of the Communist party’s biggest existential threats and no amount of “Made in China” military hardware can change that.

Urbanism / The US

Crossing the line

A growing band of urbanists in the US are voicing concern over the federal government’s finickety attempts at law enforcement when it comes to street art. The latest city to fall foul of authorities is Ames – population 67,000 – in the Midwestern state of Iowa. In an attempt to project an image of itself as an open and inclusive place, it painted street crossings at one of its downtown intersections in the colours of the rainbow. But it then received a letter from the Federal Highway Administration claiming that the crossings didn’t adhere to its code. Why? They aren’t white. It’s not the first time that cities have riled authorities: in 2016, St Louis, Missouri, was asked to remove a crossing that replaced stripes with painted leaves. But Ames intends to remain defiant: it has politely refused to abide by the federal edict.

Defence / Sweden

Spectre of strife

On an island 40km from Stockholm there’s a subterranean military base that has been manned by a skeleton crew since the end of the Cold War. It has a vast network of corridors, a hospital and even the capacity to shelter warships in its underground docks. But with the resurgence of aggressive neighbour Russia, this James Bond-esque lair – known as Muskö – is set to resume military operations, reopening as the nation’s naval HQ.

“It’s more of a signal than anything,” says Elizabeth Braw, director of Rusi’s Modern Deterrents programme. “They are telling Russia that they are concerned – and serious about defending themselves.” And with Sweden making strategic plans to shift its army and airforce commands outside of Stockholm, it would seem the country is well and truly shaken (though not stirred) by Vladimir Putin’s ambitions.

Transport / Berlin

Cleared for take-off?

Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER) has become an embarrassment for Germans; it was supposed to open in 2011 but has faced a series of delays and budget overruns. However, after a successful operational test of Terminal 1, it looks as if the airport will indeed open in October 2020. The biggest hurdle – fire-protection concerns – seems to have been overcome. “The results show that most of the technical problems are solved,” says BER spokesperson Sabine Deckwerth. “The main challenge ahead is the transformation of the terminal building into an airport ready to operate. That includes the acquisition of approximately 20,000 volunteers for testing processes such as boarding and check in.” A report of the fire assessment is due at the end of this month but the result is expected to stand. It will be a great relief for Berlin to finally have the airport it deserves but it will be sad to see the charming – if old-fashioned – Tegel Airport replaced.

Fashion / Japan

Into the wild

You’re headed off for a weekend camping trip but you’re short on outdoor gear; you’ll probably be making a beeline for a retailer that specialises in tents, backpacks and waterproof jackets. But the new Beams Outdoor Book might make you reconsider. In this 40-page publication – more glossy catalogue than book – Beams takes its designers, buyers and shop staff to their favourite meadows, mountaintops and diving spots for a lesson in communing with nature in style. They make pizza on portable stoves, pitch tents on snowy peaks and dive with sea turtles, as well as sharing tips on gear and recipes. Under its Happy Outside Beams project, the Japanese fashion retailer has been blurring the line between urban and outdoor fashion by sponsoring summer fairs and music festivals, and collaborating with camping brands. The company won’t say whether it’s intending to open a standalone outdoors shop but the book release hints at a move that would be a natural fit with the firm’s branding.

M24 / The Menu

Food Neighbourhoods 154: Hong Kong, Tin Hau

Monocle’s Hong Kong bureau chief James Chambers visits an area of the city undergoing rapid change.

Monocle Films / Georgia

Tsinandali tunes

The first edition of a Georgian festival that’s bringing together musicians from the Caucasus to discuss their shared future.

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