Thursday. 17/6/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: MIKHAIL METZEL/SPUTNIK/KREMLIN POOL/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Opinion / Florian Egli

Brief encounter

Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin met yesterday at a Geneva summit that could not have been more different to the meeting there between Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in 1985. The Cold war-era iteration allowed three days for talk and negotiation; yesterday it all happened in a single afternoon. President Putin arrived straight from the airport; there was no official reception, no shared meal and no overnight stay.

The tight schedule reflected the summit’s timid expectations. In separate press conferences following less than four hours of talks, the leaders inevitably spoke of a frank and constructive atmosphere, and agreed to step up lower-level consultations. But on tough topics ranging from cyber warfare to international conflicts, the US and Russia remain implacably divided. The best to hope for in the aftermath is a more stable and predictable relationship; this is mainly in the interest of the US, which sees Russia as an unpleasant distraction from its larger economic, social and military power struggle with China.

And what was gained by Switzerland and Geneva? Neutral Switzerland might have been the perfect host: it laid on an impeccable display of organisation at 32C under blue skies, with Russian and American flags waving side by side on the Pont du Mont Blanc. But beyond the symbolism – and the boon to the local economy from such summitry – the value of hosting such bilateral talks remains in question.

Rather than serving as a mediator, Swiss diplomats had no say on the agenda or structure of the talks; Guy Parmelin, president of the Swiss Confederation, demonstrated as much when he offered his “best wishes and goodbye” in front of the modest two-storey Villa La Grange at the lakeside – just before Biden and Putin left to start their actual talks in private. And the public? Those in Geneva’s bars will no doubt have spent some time yesterday evening celebrating their vaunted place in world politics, just before turning their attention to the football as Switzerland took on Italy at Euro 2020.

Florian Egli is a senior associate at the Swiss foreign policy think-tank Foraus and a regular contributor to Monocle 24. Hear more on the Geneva summit on a special episode of The Monocle Daily.

Image: Alamy

Society / Japan

Track and field

From venue preparations to vaccinating volunteers, Tokyo is making its final preparations to host a safe Olympics in about a month’s time. The latest addition is the playbook for athletes and officials. The third edition, which has just been released, requires entrants to switch on their phone’s GPS upon entering Japan. They will also be assigned a category, based on the proximity of their accommodation to the Olympic Village, which will determine how often they will be tested. If they don’t comply with the guidelines? Athletes can expect to be disqualified, fined or even to lose their accreditation. It’s all part of a considered effort by organisers to reassure the Japanese public – the majority of whom have long been sceptical of the decision to go ahead with the Games this year – that such a major sports event can be effectively managed. While safety is paramount, the world needs something to look forward to.

Image: Alamy

Elections / Peru

Fighting on

After clinging to a narrow lead, socialist candidate Pedro Castillo (pictured) has claimed victory in Peru’s highly contested election. But right-wing rival Keiko Fujimori, daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori, has alleged electoral fraud and refused to concede. The younger Fujimori, who was conducting her third bid for the presidency, has little ground to contest the results: international onlookers have stated that the election was fair and transparent.

But after a spate of corruption charges against the government and last year’s impeachment of another former president, Martín Vizcarra, Fujimori’s challenge of the results signals that Peru is heading towards further political polarisation. “Peru has had a very traumatic political life in the past five years,” Vinicius de Carvalho, a senior lecturer at King’s College London’s war studies department and director of the Brazil Institute, tells The Monocle Minute. “The election result is unlikely to put an end to Peru’s political turmoil.”

Image: Getty Images

Retail / Europe

Fake news

A new study by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) reports a surge in counterfeit fashion, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals sold online. Nearly one in 10 Europeans said that they were misled into buying counterfeits (though there’s quite a range between countries, from 2 per cent in Sweden to 19 per cent in Bulgaria). While counterfeit pharmaceuticals are a safety concern, fake luxury goods undermine Europe’s economic edge: less than 9 per cent of SMEs in the EU have registered intellectual property rights but those that do report 68 per cent higher revenue. The EUIPO has launched a €20m fund to raise awareness and help retailers to combat scams and trademark their goods. But the survey is also a timely reminder to buy branded products from trusted retailers, preferably at a bricks-and-mortar shop. That way you can be assured that your carefully tissue-wrapped acquisition is the real thing.

Image: Getty Images

Urbanism / Wellington

Stepping out

Pedestrians could soon be enjoying some more elbow room in Wellington’s city centre: four major thoroughfares will be prioritised for walkers, cyclists and buses as part of a previously approved NZ$6.4bn (€3.8bn) public transport overhaul for New Zealand’s capital. And while public support has been solid, the business community is putting its foot down. The Wellington Chamber of Commerce reports that 90 per cent of affected retailers oppose changes on the grounds of lower customer numbers and strained delivery access. But retailers and restaurants might be ignoring the data: studies show that while pedestrianisation can bring shoppers’ average spending down, the frequency and length of the average visit is likely to rise. New Zealand is hugely car dependent and upgrading its under-prioritised public transport system is key. If businesses can recognise the financial benefit of a busy bus stop or handy bike rack on their doorstep, they might help to encourage Kiwis to get out of their cars.

Image: Lui Gazzard

M24 / Monocle on Design

Design for the community

Community involvement in the design process is good for the public and creatives alike. We meet Yinka Ilori, the designer whose artworks have brightened many civic spaces, and visit Tableau Zürich, the Swiss outdoor gallery bringing art to the public. Plus: a preschool in rural Vietnam that puts its local community at the heart of the project.

Monocle Films / Global

Arresting architecture

We explore best practice in the design of prisons and see how modern thinking is forging innovative architecture with a human touch.

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