Tuesday. 21/12/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Tyler Brûlé

False economy

You’ll likely know by now that Monocle is not a fan of cancel culture. We don’t believe that academics, actors, authors or journalists should be run out of town because a few hecklers disagree on social media and institutions are too terrified (of what exactly?) to back them up. We’re also not keen on important events being deleted from the calendar just because another coronavirus variant is blowing around malls and Christmas markets.

Yesterday afternoon, the World Economic Forum (WEF) announced that it was postponing, yet again, its global gathering in Davos. Aside from all the disappointed plane-spotters who’ll miss another mid-January snapping 747s and ACJs belonging to heads of state and corporate leaders touching down in Zürich, there are many more who are dismayed that 2022 will be starting in neutral rather than drive – never mind high gear. WEF honcho Klaus Schwab has missed an opportunity to convene his crowd of public- and private-sector leaders to both practically and symbolically signal that it’s time that the world gets back to its old ways – busy offices, efficient trade routes, full classrooms and no more neurotic over-testing.

The WEF could have used its headline event to run a live report card on countries and companies who figured out how best to manage this pandemic period. We would have been keen to hear from Sweden who, despite some wobbles, has kept its citizens from having to endure heavy-handed measures and swerved the mental toll that comes with difficult-to-grasp stop/start/stop policies that have divided and dented nations and companies alike. And isn’t the world ready to hear from a couple of top-notch developers, architects and urbanists on how we’re going to fire up scores of emaciated city centres? Perhaps Schwab and colleagues will embrace the power of spontaneity, tell everyone it’s all back on and set the right tone for what must be a better new year.

Elections / Chile

Left standing

The election of 35-year-old former student leader Gabriel Boric (pictured) to become the youngest president in Chile’s history makes one thing clear: voters here have little desire to look to the past. Boric defeated his far-right rival José Antonio Kast on Sunday after a polarised campaign; the candidates were at odds over the legacy of the country’s former dictator Augusto Pinochet. The election could also mark the start of a broader continental shift. “Many people said they voted to stop the far-right populism that has swept across much of Latin America,” Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, academic and author of What if Latin America Ruled the World?, tells The Monocle Minute. “Boric made clear in his victory speech that he wants to protect social, economic, cultural and political rights. Voters are hopeful that Boric could help to bring about improvements in education, health and pensions.” Aside from the divisive culture wars, Boric will have to deliver on these fundamentals first.

For more on what Boric’s election means for Latin America, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Taiwan

Picking sides

Military tensions might be high across the Taiwan Strait but the diplomatic battle is taking place an ocean away, in Central America. Earlier this month, Nicaragua re-established ties with China and cut off relations with Taiwan. “Nicaragua comes at a cheap price for China,” Christopher Sabatini, senior fellow for Latin America at Chatham House, tells The Monocle Minute, noting that US sanctions on Nicaragua made it fertile ground for Beijing. Expect more such power-plays in the coming year.

“The next diplomatic battleground is likely going to be Honduras, where newly elected president Xiomara Castro [pictured] has said that she wants to recognise China over Taiwan,” says Sabatini. “From the Chinese perspective, it does indicate the way in which Beijing is seeking to very subtly extend its influence.” Much of the global focus might have been on China’s hard power this year but its aggressive diplomacy in America’s own back garden should not be ignored.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / Global

Kept afloat

China’s military has reportedly been decorating its firing range in the Taklamakan Desert with targets shaped like US navy ships (pictured), prompting speculation that it’s working on an anti-ship ballistic missile. This has sparked concerns about the long-term viability of the aircraft carrier in particular. Aside from being colossally expensive, carriers host crews of thousands and aircraft fleets in the dozens. If one can be menaced by a single missile, is there still a role for them? Many nations are pressing ahead regardless: France this year revealed plans for a new carrier that will not be delivered until 2038; South Korea hopes to have its first by 2033; and other countries following suit include Japan, India, Italy and even China itself. Naturally, the most ostentatious vote of confidence comes from the US, with next year’s inaugural operational deployment of the USS Gerald R Ford, the first of 10 Ford-class carriers. The only things with a more lumbering turning circle than aircraft carriers themselves are defence procurement programmes.

Culture / Global

Presents of mind

The search for the perfect Christmas gift for family, friends and the occasional co-worker you need to thank (or perhaps bid to for future favours) is a time-honoured tradition that extends to diplomacy. The Vatican, for example, bolsters its relations with other nations by highlighting the forests and traditions of countries the world over. This year’s fir (pictured) hails from the small village of Andalo in the Dolomites and is adorned with 600 wooden balls that were handmade by Andalo’s craftsmen. By its side stands a life-sized nativity scene made by Peruvian artisans, celebrating the country’s 200th anniversary. Over in the UK, the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree has been donated by Norway every year since 1947 as thanks for British assistance during the Second World War. This season’s offering didn’t appear to travel well, however, and some vocal Londoners had a somewhat ungrateful response. The Oslo City Council took the critiques gracefully and even debated sending a replacement – but perhaps they’re beginning to feel as though the debt has been paid.

For a broader look at the world of diplomatic gifting, find Monocle’s Winter Newspaper Special on newsstands or order your copy today.

Image: Shutterstock

M24 / The Foreign Desk

Can animals be diplomats?

Exotic animals have long been used as unlikely but effective furry ambassadors to further a country’s international influence. How does animal diplomacy actually work? How does one Fedex a wild animal? And what can animals teach humans about global cooperation?

Monocle Films / Lithuania

Kaunas: Lithuania’s modernist city

As Lithuania’s second city, it’s not often Kaunas gets much international attention. This, however, could be about to change. Kaunas has been named one of Europe's Capitals of Culture for 2022; a title it’s taking seriously. Monocle visited the city to take a tour of its modernist marvels. Read more on the story in our December/January issue.

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