Thursday. 11/3/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Junichi Toyofuku

Delayed reactor

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Japanese media has been giving it extensive coverage. The airwaves have been filled with interviews of brave survivors telling their stories and reminding us that it could happen again. Just last month, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake with its epicentre off the coast of Fukushima (that was felt as far away as Tokyo) turned out to be an aftershock from 2011.

The 2011 natural disaster claimed the lives of at least 15,900 people with another 2,500 missing, while contamination from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant affected an area almost half the size of Tokyo, which remains off limits to this day. A decade on, I sometimes wonder if Japan has really moved forward. Sure, there has been plenty of academic research on the subject, an epic sea wall is being built and the government has been trying to revive the Tohoku region, promoting tourism, agriculture and fishing. But have we faced the fundamental issue of how we generate energy?

In the immediate aftermath, the Japanese public believed that the earthquake had changed society and that Japan would move into a new future using renewable energy. It hasn’t. While only four nuclear reactors are active today (another 29 currently remain idle), the government continues to keep nuclear energy as an option, despite vocal public opposition. Some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are calling for reactors to be restarted and even propose building new ones. This is partly to help prime minister Yoshihide Suga meet his pledge, announced last autumn, for Japan to become carbon-neutral by 2050. But confronting global climate change can and should happen without putting nations at risk. It’s time to end this debate and say sayonara to nuclear energy in Japan – after all, it’s been 10 years.

Defence / South Korea

Boots on the ground

South Korea and the US have agreed a new funding deal for the 28,500 American troops that are stationed in the Asian country. The US military presence has long acted as a deterrent against violence between North and South Korea but Donald Trump’s threats to reduce America’s overseas commitments, coupled with a stalemate in funding negotiations, had soured ties. The former president reportedly rejected an offer of a 13 per cent increase in contributions and asked for five times that amount – an audacious demand that didn’t sit well with senior Korean figures. “The Biden administration, like previous administrations, takes a different view,” says Elisabeth Braw, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “[He believes] that having troops in allied countries not only helps those countries but also, by extension, the US.” Trump might have written The Art of the Deal but this week’s breakthrough suggests Biden is the one who’s more likely to close it.

Aviation / UK

Flying blind

Boris Johnson announced yesterday that the UK will cut its Air Passenger Duty (APD) tax on domestic air fares to help its battered aviation industry bounce back. APD was introduced in 1994 and disincentivised flying within the UK. It currently stands at a minimum of £13 (€15) per passenger per trip. The levy is partly blamed for the collapse of regional carrier Flybe last year and a reduction was demanded by the likes of Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary.

It might be a modest leg-up for some UK airlines but with passengers being made to quarantine in hotels and a lack of concrete plans for vaccine passports, the government needs to think more carefully about getting long-haul travel off the ground. Unlike in larger countries where domestic travel has proved vital this year, the UK’s smaller scale diminishes the market for cross-country jaunts. Rather than bending to the whims of Ryanair, it would be better to undo last week’s hikes on already prohibitively high rail fares to get people moving while borders are closed and a plan is formulated.

Space / Russia & China

Promising the moon

Beijing and Moscow have announced an ambitious plan to jointly construct a lunar space station. The move will result in the China National Space Administration and its Russian equivalent, Roscosmos, establishing “a complex of experimental and research facilities” either on the moon’s surface or in its lunar orbit. It will also serve to deepen co-operation between Russia’s Luna 27 and China’s Chang’e-7 missions. What should we make of it? “This is very much a partnership of convenience between China’s technological expertise and Russian space acumen,” Rana Mitter, director of Oxford University’s China Centre, tells The Monocle Minute. And while the space race might not carry the prestige it did during the cold war, there’s an inevitable diplomatic element to the co-operation as well. “The relationship between Moscow and Beijing is certainly much warmer than it was in the 1970s,” says Mitter. “But this is probably being driven more by fears of diplomatic isolation in both nations rather than any great ideological affinity.”

For more on space collaboration between Russia and China, tune into today’s edition of The Globalist on Monocle 24.

Fashion / Italy

Novel approach

Much has changed over the past year in the way that the fashion industry presents itself and its products – and Italian fashion house Valentino’s latest campaign seems intent on challenging things further. Instead of photographing its clothes on models for its SS21 advertising posters, the label has commissioned seven writers to create texts that, rather than describing the clothes themselves, make only passing mention of the brand in their evocative pieces of fiction. These writers include major literary figures such as Donna Tartt, Elif Shafak and Ocean Vuong. It’s a strategy that plays on an idea of mystique and appeals to customers’ intellect. In a media landscape where everything feels immediately accessible, this layer of detachment from traditional advertising is counterintuitive but an intriguing branding win. We look forward to reading their stories.

M24 / The Menu

Food Neighbourhoods 225: Recipe edition, Andrew D’Ambrosi

A recipe by a US top chef who has brought his culinary skills to the Cotswolds in Britain.

Monocle Films / Zürich

My life as a tram

Loved by its loyal passengers, Zürich’s trams are not only punctual but also contribute to the city’s identity. Hop on board as we introduce you to the fleet that makes this Swiss city tick.

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