Tuesday 19 January 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 19/1/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Fiona Wilson

False friends

There’s a stubbornly persistent view in some circles that Republican US presidents are easier for Japan to get along with: namely because they’re thought more likely to be tough on China. As the past four years have shown, the reality is somewhat different. Shinzō Abe and Donald Trump’s much vaunted bromance was more style than substance: Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on his first day in office, even though Japan had spent years negotiating the deal. Trump then tried to strong-arm Japan into paying a hugely increased amount to host US troops on its soil.

Under Trump, the US pursued an isolationist, America-first attitude to trade. Instead of investing in alliances, Trump appeared to view relationships from a transactional point of view and was less than complimentary when it suited his agenda. Asia will have to wait to see exactly where Biden’s foreign policy will take him but we do know that old hand Kurt Campbell, the top US diplomat in Asia under Barack Obama, will be Biden’s senior official for Asia policy. There is no sign yet that Biden will be softer on China, although it’s likely that he’ll favour a broader coalition of regional allies over Trump’s unilateral trade war and tariff approach.

After four years of diplomatic instability and unpredictability, Japan will be relieved to return to the mundane world of multilateralism and a US that shows leadership on global challenges from the pandemic to climate change. In his 15-minute post-election phone call with Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga, Biden confirmed – as Obama and Trump did before him – that the US would defend Japan if the disputed Senkaku Islands (also claimed by China) came under attack, an important commitment from Japan’s point of view. For all Trump’s tough talk and flashy summits, the US has emerged from recent years as a weaker player in Asia; its friends will hope for a change under Biden.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Germany

Schnapp to it

Angela Merkel is Germany’s most popular politician but while the conservative alliance she serves agrees on her, it remains deeply split between moderates and ideologues. So Saturday’s election of Armin Laschet (pictured), the centrist state premier of North-Rhine Westphalia, as leader of the Christian Democratic party (CDU) is a gamble. Can he hold this uneasy alliance together when Merkel steps down in September? “I was charmed by him; he’s very easy to talk to, very friendly and open,” says Quentin Peel, former Berlin bureau chief for the Financial Times, who once spent an evening knocking back beer and schnapps with Laschet at the annual Munich Security Conference. “What I didn’t spot straight away is whether this man is a ruthless future leader,” Peel told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. Next, the alliance must decide who should stand as candidate for chancellor in September’s federal elections: Laschet or Markus Söder, the more conservative head of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. Laschet’s mettle will be tested soon enough.

Image: Getty Images

Health / UK

Tracking shots

In 2020, governments’ reputations rose and fell according to how capably they handled the pandemic. This year, reputations will likely be made – or marred – by how quickly and ably they administer the coronavirus vaccines. There’s more than one reason, after all, that Joe Biden is determined to achieve the headline-grabbing goal of vaccinating 100 million people in his first 100 days in office.

With yesterday’s announcement that London will soon be trialling 24-hour vaccination centres, the UK’s beleaguered reputation is poised for a boost. It seems to be on track to surpass its target of offering every adult at least the first dose of the vaccine by autumn; meanwhile, other European nations are still scrambling to roll out their own vaccination programmes. The UK is struggling with high case numbers and alarming hospitalisation rates, so the vaccine rollout is more than a small dose of good news.

Image: Alamy

Urbanism / Brisbane

High ground

A protracted battle is looming between Brisbanites and real-estate developer Dexus after the Queensland capital’s city council approved the construction of two skyscrapers on its riverfront. The towers, part of a AU$2.1bn (€1.3bn) development, will top out at 49 and 43 floors, respectively. Significantly, they could overshadow the Harry Seidler-designed Riparian Plaza tower, a modernist landmark. That has prompted a chorus of objections from architects and residents, who have threatened action. And while their legal argument is centred on an allegedly incorrect development application, there’s merit in an aesthetic challenge too. The proposed towers are boxy glass structures that fail to complement the existing skyline. Which begs the question: would there have been fewer objections if Brisbanites felt that the buildings would enhance the city’s appearance? It seems likely – and is a notion that developers everywhere would be wise to consider.

Image: Daan Roosegarde

Arts / Netherlands

Leek in lights

From a smog-fighting bike that generates clean air while pedaling to an “urban sun” that uses a specific wavelength of light to rid public areas of coronavirus, Daan Roosegaarde never disappoints when it comes to creative solutions to the world’s most pressing issues. The Dutch artist’s latest project, which launched yesterday, focuses on agriculture with a large-scale installation that uses LED lights to illuminate a vast field of leeks. The artwork features beams of red and blue light “dancing” across the leaves but it’s more than just a pretty spectacle: “We use UV light which boosts the resistance of the crops and therefore allows up to a 50 per cent reduction in the use of pesticides,” Roosegaarde says. “The aim is to show how light can help crops to grow more sustainably and encourage people to connect more with the places that feed us.”

Hear more from Roosegaarde and his latest projects on today’s [‘Monocle on Design’] (https://monocle.com/radio/shows/monocle-on-design/).

M24 / The Menu

Ana Roš, truffle hunting and fish

We meet Ana Roš, one of the world’s most successful female chefs, go truffle hunting in Australia and learn how to prepare whole fish, including eyes, guts and bones.

Monocle Films / Finland

Icebreakers: rescue know-how

Finland has obvious natural advantages that have helped it become an icebreaking powerhouse but the country’s dominance in the field is startling. We travel to the Bay of Bothnia to bear witness to the beginning of the icebreaking season.


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