Wednesday. 22/9/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Lyndee Prickitt

Called out

Since the US left Afghanistan and the Taliban took over, India has peered through the windows of its big house with dread, as though watching the return of a rowdy neighbour. The question of how to respond has left India divided: at first it adopted a “wait and watch” policy, to the ire of India’s hawkish contingency, which felt that the Taliban’s undemocratic takeover should be called out and its promises of reform ignored. The wait-and-watchers, by contrast, were desperate to believe in the Taliban’s reboot and warned that India must be neighbourly – lest China, the other big house on the block, become Afghanistan’s new best friend instead.

Last week, Narendra Modi shifted his tone and took a stand, saying that Afghanistan’s regime change happened “without negotiation” and urging the international community not to rush into recognising it. He even called for a code of conduct to check cross-border terrorism, warning that radicalisation in Afghanistan could encourage “other terrorist groups” to grab power through violent means. Now all eyes in India are on Modi’s first meeting with Joe Biden at the White House on Friday. The two will then meet again as part of Quad talks between the US, India, Japan and Australia.

The issue of containing China is likely to dominate discussions as Beijing continues to build commercial and military interests around Asia. Modi will also be curious to know whether Biden plans to review US policy on Pakistan. But how the Quad countries decide to approach the Taliban will be crucial. India is feeling increasingly uneasy at the prospect of a tight alliance between Taliban-led Afghanistan, Pakistan and China. Modi’s recalibration is a bold stance that should be taken seriously by Biden and the international community: the consequences of normalising the Taliban are dangerous.

Lyndee Prickitt is Monocle’s New Delhi correspondent.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / USA

President’s precedent

Joe Biden’s speech before the UN General Assembly (pictured) in New York yesterday was intended to signal a change of approach. Yes, the US exit from Afghanistan was messy but, after 20 years of war, the decision to withdraw was about closing a chapter. By contrast, Biden stressed that he was intent on opening a new chapter on US re-engagement. From climate change to the pandemic, the world stands at an inflection point in history that could only be solved if countries worked together, he said. And, as though to emphasise the country’s new outlook, it was announced this week that from November it will lift travel restrictions on foreigners entering the US, which have been in place since early last year. But Biden’s promise of working with allies rang hollow, coming amid a major diplomatic spat with France after the US and UK took over a lucrative submarine contract with Australia. For many allies of the US, Biden still needs to show that his actions will match his grand promises.

For more analysis of the speeches on the first day of the UN General Assembly in New York, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Shutterstock

Business / Germany & China

Rebalance of trade

Germany’s diplomatic clout has long come, in part, from its economic power, evidenced by the fact that German politicians often bring CEOs to their meetings with foreign dignitaries. This is especially true in China, which in 2020 – for the fifth consecutive year – was Germany’s largest trading partner. But with the Asian powerhouse becoming increasingly anti-democratic, politicians are pushing businesses to reduce their exposure ahead of Germany’s federal elections on Sunday.

Even the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) are applying pressure: senior FDP lawmaker Alexander Graf Lambsdorff tells Monocle that it’s “legitimate” to “define a certain timeframe within which we should reduce our China risk”. He points to companies such as Volkswagen, which sells 40 per cent of its vehicles in China, as an example. “Diversification – looking at Asia beyond China – is what’s required from the business community.” Pulling business is one way in which Germany can demonstrate to other nations that their behaviour matters.

For the final part of our series on Germany’s role in the world ahead of the country’s federal elections on Sunday, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Alamy

Urbanism / Japan

Age worn

Bankruptcy is looming for Kyoto, Japan’s ancient former capital. Daisaku Kadokawa, the high-profile, kimono-wearing mayor of the city, grimly announced last month that without major restructuring, including hundreds of job losses, Kyoto would be bankrupt within 10 years. The disappearance of international tourism through the pandemic has been a painful blow but other issues are at play too: a substantial population of low-tax-paying students and pensioners, non-profitable subway lines and a historic situation in which temples don’t pay property tax.

In the years leading up to 2019, the city was overwhelmed with visitors and many felt that it was losing its unique atmosphere; now, in the absence of tourists, it faces financial ruin. But Kyoto also has a formidable reputation for R&D – companies such as Nintendo are based there – and many feel that it’s time to move away from tourism and foster the city’s entrepreneurial spirit. With more than 1,200 years of history, Kyoto can surely survive this latest challenge but only if it can modernise its economy while keeping its traditions intact.

Image: Alamy

Society / Sweden

Parent company

Sweden’s government has introduced a new measure in its annual budget to support a better work-life balance for families. The so-called “family week” allows parents to take up to six days of paid leave a year at 80 per cent of their salary to spend time with their children. The benefit was one of the main promises made by Social Democrats ahead of the 2018 election but has been criticised by the opposition, which argues that it’s both expensive and unnecessary. Businesses have also voiced concerns, citing an ongoing lack of staff. The government has responded by emphasising that the family week is a question of equality, as a significant number of parents cannot work from home or enjoy the perks of flexible working hours. The family week is expected to come into force from April next year. Left-leaning political parties seeking new ways to lure voters will be watching Sweden’s experiment carefully.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

Helen Frankenthaler, Zürich Film Festival and ‘Picture Post’

We visit Dulwich Picture Gallery to learn about Radical Beauty, a new exhibition of woodcut prints by abstract artist Helen Frankenthaler. We also chat to Christian Jungen, artistic director of the Zürich Film Festival, and Rob West, the director of a new documentary about Picture Post magazine.

Monocle Films / Global

Media on the move

We visit two bold companies finding canny ways to pivot their product for changing audiences. Transhelvetica, a Swiss magazine, and Spiritland, a London-based hospitality and audio venture, are each shaping the media landscape for the better.

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