Wednesday. 31/3/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Megan Gibson

Difficult diagnosis

Have the results of a much-anticipated investigation ever been so unsurprising? When the World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday released its report – written by 17 scientists selected by the WHO and 17 Chinese scientists – on the origins of coronavirus, it was about as anticlimactic as another lockdown. Considering that the Chinese authorities’ severe restrictions on the WHO investigators’ fact-finding mission to Wuhan have been widely reported for months, the likelihood that the subsequent findings would offer any real insight into the outbreak was miniscule. Instead, the report confirms that little is still known about the initial spread of the virus and dismisses the possibility of it originating in a lab as “unlikely”.

Although the report isn’t surprising, it is a cause for concern. Governments around the world are now calling for more multilateral co-operation to prevent future pandemics (24 leaders jointly issued a call for a global treaty in newspaper editorials published yesterday). But the current set-up of existing multilateral organisations – specifically the WHO – demonstrates the hurdles to such an endeavour. For governments to work together in earnest, each must come to the table in good faith. If one nation undermines the whole effort via a lack of transparency, or it obscures the truth for political gain while facing little consequence, everyone suffers.

Many believe that the WHO report demonstrates that Beijing isn’t acting in good faith. Other nations need to push back on China – for transparency, information and co-operation – if there’s going to be any real hope that countries can effectively work together on preventing another pandemic further down the line.

Politics / Philippines

Time for a change

The political opposition in the Philippines is beginning to organise ahead of all-important elections next year. A coalition called 1Sambayan formed earlier this month, uniting an eclectic group of political heavyweights, retired judges and ex-military personnel behind a common goal: ending the “tyranny” of Rodrigo Duterte. Although the controversial incumbent is constitutionally barred from serving another six-year term, his daughter Sara (pictured, on right, with her father) – and who, as mayor of Davao, is her father’s political heir – is expected to run for president in May 2022. Her infamous surname remains remarkably popular with voters, despite its associations with her father’s deadly war on drugs, kowtowing to China and bungled response to the coronavirus pandemic. To maximise the opposition’s chances of success, 1Sambayan intends to endorse one candidate for president. However, an early list of possible names, featuring senator Grace Poe, Manila mayor Isko Moreno and current vice-president Leni Robredo, has attracted criticism for being elitist and undemocratic. Staying united could be the opposition’s biggest challenge.

Diplomacy / Iran

Meeting in the middle

It’s not hard to see why Iran would want to play up a new 25-year trade and defence deal agreed with China over the weekend that’s worth some $400bn (€340bn). Talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have stalled – the US wants Iran to return to compliance and Iran has demanded that the US first lift sanctions imposed after it abandoned the deal – so Iran could use all the leverage it can get. Nor does it hurt politically to needle the US: Ali Shamkhani, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, says that Joe Biden is right to be concerned as Iran’s eastern partnerships were “accelerating the US decline”.

But, in reality, Iran should be careful what it wishes for: even some Iranian hardliners are reportedly wary of coming under China’s thumb. There’s still an opportunity for the US and Europe to offer Iran an alternative path – but it’s an opening that might not last for long.

Hear more on the Iran-China deal from the Atlantic Council’s Holly Dagres on today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Tourism / Iceland

Cleared for takeoff

Iceland recently became the first European country to welcome fully vaccinated visitors without requiring them to be tested for coronavirus or quarantined. There are already promising signs that this will lead to some busy months ahead for the nation’s tourism industry. US carrier Delta has announced that it will soon operate three direct routes from the US to Keflavík Airport near Reykjavík (pictured): daily flights from New York and Minneapolis will resume in May and the company expects to launch a new service from Boston to the Icelandic capital at about the same time. Delta believes that Americans hungry for international travel are seeking a wider selection of destinations and hopes that more countries will consider reopening to vaccinated travellers. As airlines slowly emerge from the worst period in the history of commercial aviation, there’s an opportunity for some countries and destinations to be first movers – and remake our global travel networks in the process.

F&B / Belgium

Urban growth

Your culinary associations with Brussels probably centre around moules, frites, beer and chocolate. But the city is hoping you’ll soon add another lesser-known ingredient to your list: the Belgian endive. This week it was announced that the leafy chicory relative known by the Bruxellois as chicon or witloof would be added to the Brussels Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Thought to have first been cultivated in the city circa 1840, the crop gradually fell out of fashion with professional farmers in the region but has recently seen a renaissance among urban farmers. Bearing in mind that you’re just as likely to find a chicory salad on a menu in London or Paris as you are in Brussels, it’s hard to say whether the new classification will inspire Belgium’s capital to retake the mantle. But restoring awareness of the crop’s original provenance is a good place to start.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

Michael Peppiatt: what is a head?

What is a head? That’s the question we’re asking this week’s guest: art historian, writer and curator Michael Peppiatt, who has put together an exhibition at Ben Brown Fine Arts that explores exactly that, through the art of Tony Bevan and Frank Auerbach. Peppiatt chats to Robert Bound about what the head symbolises, the difference between a head and a face, and why it is the greatest challenge to artists.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: April issue, 2021

Wondering how to direct your efforts? Monocle’s April issue focuses on refreshing everything from your business to your wardrobe. We sit down with a bumper crop of interviewees, revisit Beirut to see how the city has rebuilt after the blast and go behind the scenes in a Hong Kong newsroom. Plus: plenty of recipes, culture and style recommendations and reportage. Available now at The Monocle Shop.

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