Tuesday. 5/10/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Fiona Wilson

Winds of change

Fumio Kishida (centre front, pictured with his cabinet) took office as Japan’s 100th prime minister yesterday and promptly assembled what will be a very short-lived cabinet. News reports suggest that a general election will be held on 31 October, slightly earlier than pundits were predicting. This suggests confidence among the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), as well as an eagerness to capitalise on the moment. Though Japan remains cautious and isn’t yet ready to open up fully, there’s an air of optimism. Infection numbers are down, the state of emergency has been lifted and cabinet approval ratings are up.

Known to be a steady consensus-builder, Kishida’s first team selection suggests that he can also be somewhat ruthless when necessary. While various party factions were rewarded for their support, Kishida demoted his chief rival, Taro Kono, and dispatched him to handle the party’s public relations. Taro Aso, 81, a former prime minister who has been finance minister and deputy prime minister since 2012, has been moved to be vice-head of the party. While not without prestige, the job suggests retirement is in the offing.

Kishida has also brought in some fresh faces. Women in the cabinet include Seiko Noda; another rival for the leadership, she has been given a broad portfolio that plays to her strengths, including tackling Japan’s declining birth rate. Meanwhile Noriko Horiuchi, a cabinet first-timer, has become minister for coronavirus vaccinations. With so few women to choose from in the LDP it will be interesting to see how the dust settles if, as predicted, the LDP retains power after the election. Whatever else happens, women in the cabinet are a must if Japan wants to increase the low numbers of female MPs and bring real change to the country.

Image: Getty Images

Trade / USA & China

Deal or no deal

Donald Trump might have been noted for refusing to play nice on trade with China but his successor, Joe Biden, has no intention of easing up. In a speech outlining a shift in administration policy yesterday, US trade representative Katherine Tai (pictured) said that China had no interest in “meaningful reform” and had failed to live up to the terms of a trade deal, reached under the Trump administration in 2020, to buy more American goods. She promised to “deploy all tools”, including possible additional tariffs, to protect the interests of US workers. Tai, whose parents were born in China, insisted that America’s objective was “not to inflame tensions” but rather to find a “durable” relationship. Yet the reality is that negotiations between Beijing and Washington have stalled under Biden. A renewed trade war might yet be avoidable but it’s clear that “America first” remains alive and well when it comes to the Biden’s administration’s approach to trade.

Image: Getty Images

Conflict / Ethiopia

Siege mentality

Abiy Ahmed (pictured) began a second five-year term as Ethiopia’s prime minister yesterday and is facing serious questions over his handling of a conflict in the northern Tigray region. The Ethiopian government sought to expel seven UN officials after the organisation’s humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, blamed it for causing a famine in Tigray, where the government continues to battle a rebel insurgency. Reports suggest that government forces have blocked those entering Tigray from bringing medicines and other crucial items.

“You don’t want to have credible witnesses in the area [and] you don’t want to have people challenging your narrative,” Natalie Samarasinghe, CEO of the UN Association UK, told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. Samarasinghe warns that neither side has an incentive for peace: “The Tigrayans feel that they have the upper hand militarily, whereas the government, on the backfoot, is trying to regroup by pulling this siege tactic.” A Nobel peace prize laureate, Ahmed’s legacy as he begins a new term is far from assured.

Image: Alamy

Economy / Switzerland

Lifting the lid

Fresh revelations surrounding off-shore tax havens, this time known as “the Pandora Papers”, have once again shone a spotlight on Switzerland. More than 90 consultants at various Swiss firms are listed as advising 7,000 offshore companies, some of which may be implicated in money laundering. Switzerland has tightened regulations since the last round of similar revelations in 2020, which were known as “the Panama Papers”, requiring financial firms to improve data collection and to verify the identity of beneficiaries. But the law stopped short of extending the rules to consultants and lawyers.

The Pandora Papers reveal that such advisers played an equally pivotal role, often aiding firms without knowing who their clients really were. (One prominent case involves the president of Azerbaijan.) It remains to be seen whether any of the revelations amount to illegal tax evasion rather than only legal tax avoidance. But we should expect both international and national pressure on Swiss authorities to increase once again.

Image: Folha de S. Paulo

Media / Brazil

Common language

Brazil’s leading broadsheet Folha de São Paulo has launched a new segment in its printed version and website called “Where you speak Portuguese”. The idea is to offer daily reports from various lusophone countries. It’s part of an ongoing partnership between the Brazilian daily and Público newspaper in Portugal; the online site Mensagem de Lisboa is also a partner. Among some of the highlights to date is a story about Angolan migration to Brazil in the past five years and a report on the strong female presence in politics in Mozambique. While Brazil has already been co-operating on news in Portugal, “It’s not just Portugal but also other Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa and Asia with which we want to strengthen our connections,” says Antonio Manuel Teixeira Mendes of Group Folha. The expansion of lusophone coverage is a smart move – and in commercial terms a celebration of a language that is spoken by an estimated 260 to 280 million people worldwide also represents a sizeable new readership.

M24 / The Menu

Daniel Humm

Swiss chef Daniel Humm is one of the biggest names in contemporary fine dining and is best known for three-Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park in New York and London’s Davies and Brook. With both sites now reopened, we catch up with Humm to discuss the challenges of the past 18 months and the future of the restaurant industry.

Monocle Films / Lebanon

Rebuilding Beirut

After the devastating port explosion of 4 August 2020, Beirut’s creative community is battling to rebuild amid power-cuts and petrol shortages. A year on from the blast, Monocle joins its designers and architects on the streets of the city to see how they hope to make the city anew.

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