Wednesday. 14/10/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

Coup to form

This has been an unpredictable year – unless you live in Thailand. When I visited Bangkok in February to interview the country’s opposition leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (TJ for short), talk of a coup d’etat was already in the air. One civilian I spoke to over coffee ran me through the playbook for 2020: TJ was just a tool; he and his Future Forward Party would be banned; this would bring the students out onto the streets; the army would then step in to restore order and oust prime minister Prayut Chan-ocha (pictured), a former general who took power amid street protests in a 2014 coup.

Spot on, so far. The much-talked about coup is the only thing that has yet to happen. But the chances of a change of government are set to increase today. Pro-democracy activists plan to take to the streets of Bangkok to honour a pivotal moment on 14 October 1973, when the violent crackdown of an earlier student-led movement ended with the flight into exile of a military leader. A counter⎯demonstration by pro-government supporters is planned to take place at the same time, raising the prospect of violent clashes and a potential excuse for the generals to intervene.

Another coup in Thailand, if and when it does happen, should be no cause for celebration. Voters have begun to realise that ousting a rotten government by gunpoint is only a short-term solution. A return to genuine democracy can only come by breaking the Southeast Asian country’s seemingly endless cycle of coups, once and for all. General Prayut knows better than anyone what’s coming next. He should use his head and call fresh elections before he is pushed into exile. Allowing a vote to take place freely and fairly would be the first unpredictable thing to happen in Thailand this year.

Migration / Germany

Missing persons

For the first time in 10 years, Germany’s population has contracted. Figures released this week by the Federal Statistical Office show that 83.1 million people were living in the country at the end of June, indicating a 40,000 person (0.05 per cent) decline over the first six months of the year. Much of this is due to the pandemic, albeit indirectly: restrictions on travel and movement have meant that immigrants have not been arriving in the country at the same rate as in previous years. “In somewhere like Germany, if you want to maintain numbers there will need to be more migration,” says David Coleman, emeritus professor of demography at the University of Oxford. “Its birth rate was chronically low for a long time.” The recent population dip serves as a reminder of how immigration can benefit western society – and why Germany, in particular, has been encouraging it in recent years.

Defence / China

Battle ready

Taiwan has feared an invasion by China’s Communist Party since 1949 but in recent days we’ve had a chilling insight into what a full-blown takeover might look like. Beijing’s state-run media released footage over the weekend that appears to show the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) simulating the occupation of an unidentified island. Should the exercise put leaders in Taipei on high alert?

“Taiwan and mainland China have been playing chicken with each other for a number of years,” says David Schlesinger, former Taiwan bureau chief and editor in chief of Reuters. “The island was under martial law until the end of the 1980s. But a ground offensive by the PLA would be hugely costly and risk dragging Taipei’s allies into a wider regional conflict.” It seems that both sides would do well to continue exercising restraint – and keep the simulations to just that.

Travel / Peru

Tourist trapped

It’s an often unfair stereotype that Nikon-wielding Japanese tourists make their way to every corner of the earth. But 26-year-old Nara native Jesse Katayama put fact to fiction last weekend when he became the first tourist to visit Peru’s Machu Picchu since the ancient Incan city closed in March. Marooned for months in Cusco (where he had originally intended to spend three days) with an unstamped ticket to the Unesco site, local authorities took pity on Katayama and – following a public appeal – reopened the site specially for him. Warm headlines around the world have made it something of a PR coup, highlighting the value such sites hold for many countries in terms of soft-power capital as well as important streams of revenue. Regular (yet still limited) access to Machu Picchu will resume from November. As countries work hard in the coming months to reopen their national treasures, a bit of generous gimmickry to keep them in the public eye hasn’t hurt.

Design / USA

Inner beauty

Fans of mid-century modern architecture should train their eyes on Palm Springs – the site of more dwellings from this era than anywhere else in the US – for autumn’s annual Modernism Week. The popular tours of significant residences won’t include guests this year but instead will be streamed online from today, along with talks, panel discussions and even a virtual happy hour on Friday with a DJ playing era-appropriate tunes and an architecture trivia quiz (if you’re into that sort of thing). And if you want to accessorise your own background during Modernism Week’s video happy hour, try Shrimps’s founder Hannah Weiland’s second collection for Habitat, which launched last week and is inspired by 1970s Palm Springs. Think rattan, shag-carpet-covered cushions and ceramic lamps all in a sunny palette of lemon yellow, avocado green and natural bamboo. It’s the latest sign of fashion designers pivoting with the times – and turning their focus to interiors.

M24 / Monocle On Culture

‘On the Rocks’

Anna Smith and Caspar Salmon join Robert Bound to discuss ‘On the Rocks’, Sofia Coppola’s latest film, which stars Bill Murray and Rashida Jones.

Monocle Films / Global

The future of Japanese craftsmanship

To celebrate our book about Japan, we are presenting a new film series that dives into the intriguing ecosystem that has preserved Japanese traditional skills over centuries. Meet the people who are future-proofing the age-old know-how.

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