Friday 22 January 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 22/1/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Jonas Opperskalski

Opinion / Emma Sky

Going with the territory

European countries will no doubt be pleased to see a return to a more predictable US foreign policy under Joe Biden – one that values liberal democracy, allies and a rules-based international order. In those respects, Biden’s foreign policy team very much resembles that of Barack Obama. In the Middle East, however, Biden might want to think twice before returning to past approaches.

Traditional US allies regarded Obama’s foreign policy as a disaster for the region, blaming it for emboldening Iran, abandoning leaders such as Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood and exacerbating the conditions that led to the rise of Isis. The Biden administration would be wise to pursue a more even-handed approach to the Middle East than Trump. At the same time it should reassure traditional allies that it has a realistic understanding of the drivers of instability in the region – and that it will help to address them.

Like Obama, Biden might not want to focus too much attention on the Middle East – it matters less to the US than ever. But, also like Obama, he may get sucked in regardless, particularly if the issue of Iran is not adequately addressed. Biden has expressed his willingness to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal if Iran ceases its violations of it – but it won’t be easy. To rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal is known, the Biden administration will also need to address the deep concerns of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE by tackling Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its support for militias. Furthermore, Iran’s leaders have already upped their demands, with hardliners seeking to replace president Hassan Rouhani in the presidential elections in June.

Elsewhere, Biden is not likely to roll back Trump’s policies of relocating Israel’s US embassy to Jerusalem (pictured) and recognising the Golan Heights as Israeli territory. Instead, he should resume US backing for Palestinian statehood, restore aid to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (cut off by Trump), and reopen the offices of the Palestinian delegation to Washington. Biden has also praised the US-brokered Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE, and later with Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. He should seek to expand the accords to include Saudi Arabia and, eventually, Palestine.

Sky is director of Yale University’s World Fellows Program and a senior fellow at the Jackson Institute, where she teaches Middle East politics. She previously served as political adviser to the commanding general of US forces in Iraq.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Taiwan & USA

Invitation only

A pledge in the final days of the Trump administration to allow contact between US and Taiwanese public officials appears to be one of the few things heeded by President Biden. For the first time since diplomatic ties were severed in 1979, Taiwan’s representative to the US attended the presidential inauguration ceremony at the White House, a sign that relations between the two nations are off to a strong start under the new administration. The official invitation came as a surprise for Taiwan, where many had feared that Biden would roll back the promising ties made under Trump’s presidency. Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s current representative to the US, said in a video message that she had been honoured to attend and that “democracy is our common language and freedom is our common objective”. China was noticeably silent in response, even as it announced a raft of sanctions against outgoing Trump administration officials on inauguration day. Still, it's clear that US-China relations won’t be getting any easier under Joe Biden.

Image: Vassilis Karidis

Economy / Greece

Positive thinking

EU leaders took stock of the bloc’s response to the pandemic and an uneasy vaccine rollout to date at a virtual meeting yesterday. Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis (pictured), has been at the centre of those sensitive discussions, calling this week for vaccine certificates to restore travel and ease the burden on businesses and hospitality. Mitsotakis’s leadership is also a sign of Greece’s renewed self-confidence on the European stage after a decade of economic hardship.

In Monocle’s February issue, Mitsotakis says that, after a year in crisis mode, things are looking up for his country. He even sees the pandemic as an opportunity to put EU recovery funds to good use and attract investment. “There was a huge surge in national confidence – a belief, a sense of pride that we managed to deal with it much more successfully than many other countries,” says Mitsotakis. “There’s a general feeling that Greece has turned the corner.”

For more from Greece’s prime minister, pick up a copy of Monocle’s February issue. You can also listen to the full interview tomorrow at 12.30 London time on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Business / Japan

Out of office

Dentsu, one of the world’s largest advertising agencies, is selling its Tokyo headquarters, which is usually home to some 11,000 workers. Most of Dentsu’s employees have been working from home since last February, almost emptying the 48-storey, 210 metre-high tower near Shiodome station. Although Dentsu says that it will still hire office space in the tower, the sale of the building is part of a trend: several large Japanese companies, including Avex and Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings, have sold office space and other properties in the past year. But let’s not give up on physical working space just yet. Dentsu is hoping to fetch a price of about ¥300bn (€2.3bn) for the 2002 building, which would make it one of Japan’s biggest domestic real-estate sales. Negotiations with a series of interested bidders are set to begin this month. A record price would be a sure sign that office space remains a valuable commodity.

Image: Marvel/Union Square Partnership

Urbanism / New York

Hip to be square

A bold new plan for New York’s Union Square unveiled this week aims to transform the area into a car-free public haven. Conceived by the Union Square Partnership, a community-based non-profit group, and architectural firm Marvel, the goal is simple: to create New York’s most accessible area. “This vision plan evolved as coronavirus upended our world and, with it, our relationship with public space,” says Jennifer Falk, executive director of Union Square Partnership. The proposal would increase public space around the square by a third, removing all traffic and creating a route for public transport instead, as well as expanding pedestrian areas, adding more greenery and connecting the park in the middle of the square to the surrounding buildings. “All of these changes are called for in this plan and will benefit our community immeasurably as we chart the district’s next chapter,” says Falk.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs


Martin Barry is the founder and CEO of Manifesto, a market hospitality brand based in Prague, which launched in 2018. Originally from New York, Barry is a landscape architect and also the founder of Resite, a non-profit organisation focussed on urban design and architecture. Manifesto’s tech-enabled markets allow established businesses to reach new customers, while equipping start-ups with the tools to thrive. We also hear from Asics about its new “Sound Mind, Sound Body” platform.

Monocle Films / Austria

Making it in the city: Vienna’s ateliers

Vienna provided the perfect backdrop for the second instalment of The Monocle Quality of Life Conference in 2016. Monocle Films paid a visit to six of our favourite ateliers and discovers that you can create jobs and wealth with downtown workshops – and the sound of the odd hammer.


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