Tuesday. 1/2/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Lucinda Elliott

Frozen debts

Argentina’s president Alberto Fernández (pictured) is one of only a handful of world leaders who will attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing on Friday. This is not because snowboarding and bobsledding are among the most popular sports in the football-mad South American nation. Rather, it has a lot to do with the fact that Argentina is currently skating on thin ice, economically speaking.

On Friday, Fernández’s government averted a looming crisis over the billions of dollars that it owes to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). After over a year of inconclusive talks trying to restructure the $44.5bn (€39.7) debt, Argentina announced an agreement in principle that must now be signed off by the fund’s board of directors and then ratified by congress in Buenos Aires. It is the latest of 21 different IMF deals that Argentina has signed since it joined in 1956. Hurdles remain and a full agreement with the Washington-based lender – of which the US is the biggest shareholder – is still a way off.

All of which is why the timing of Fernández’s visit to China, with a stop-off in Moscow en route, is causing apoplexy. Standing with Xi and Putin is a surefire way to rattle creditors while negotiations over this rough deal are ongoing. But observers say that the administration might be there to seek reserve financing should the penned agreement stall. Argentina has until the end of March to pay a sizable $2.8bn (€2.5bn) and, unless a deal with the IMF is finalised, it will cause serious repercussions for the ruling left-wing Peronist party, with the economic crisis likely to deepen ahead of the presidential election next year. Perhaps Fernández should stay and watch the figure skating: he’ll need some tactical tangoing to get out of the present situation.

Lucinda Elliott is Monocle’s Latin America affairs correspondent.

Image: Getty Images

Sport / Taiwan

Not playing

Argentina’s president might be planning to attend (see above) but Team Taiwan won’t be taking part in the opening or closing ceremonies at this month’s Winter Olympics. The team’s administrators announced last week that there would be no government officials at the event, then put out a statement on Friday saying that Taiwan’s four athletes, including speed skater Huang Yu-ting (pictured) and skier Lee Wen-yi, wouldn’t be there either. Although the statement was careful to avoid politics – citing a combination of jetlag and coronavirus measures – reports suggest that Taiwan feared that its team could be pulled into a display of pro-unification propaganda. China’s sleight of hand in renaming the team from Chinese Taipei (the agreed name under which it has competed since 1989) to China, Taipei had already prompted a quick rebuke from Taiwan’s government. After that, the director-general of the island’s Sports Administration, Lin Teng-chiao, said that Taiwan’s athletes would steer well clear of politics. “The actions of certain governments should not influence our athletes’ ability to concentrate on their events,” he said.

Image: Getty Images

Geopolitics / Hungary

Friend or foe?

EU efforts to project a unified front against Russia face a stumbling block today when Hungary’s gaffe-prone prime minister Viktor Orbán (pictured) meets Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Orbán has insisted that energy security will top the agenda. “I would like to achieve at our talks that in the current difficult situation, burdened with higher energy prices… the amount of gas available to us over the long-run should be increased,” he said.

However, the visit has sparked controversy, coming as it does during a time of extreme tension between Russia and Nato, an organisation of which Hungary is a member. Among Hungary’s allies, the visit has divided opinion. The UK’s defence secretary, Ben Wallace, has said that he supports Orbán going, believing it beneficial to Nato’s aims of de-escalation in Ukraine. Meanwhile, others in Brussels are more distrustful, seeing Orbán as Putin’s closest ally, who might try to extract concessions from Nato and the EU. The choice is Orbán’s to pursue, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in a positive outcome.

Image: Alamy

Travel / Thailand

Welcome reaction

Thailand reopens its borders to vaccinated travellers today, having got to grips with the milder Omicron variant of coronavirus. The Philippines is set to follow suit next week and both Indonesia and Malaysia are also making it easier for foreigners to visit. This is not the first time that southeast Asia’s tourism-dependent economies have attempted to resume quarantine-free travel during the pandemic. But a relatively low number of hospitalisations and serious illness compared to earlier waves is fuelling a sense of optimism across the region. A gradual shift towards living with the virus in tropical parts of Asia will also add pressure on Japan and South Korea to do likewise, especially once the icy weather begins to melt away in cooler northern parts of the continent. But anyone eyeing up some winter sun in Koh Samui should come prepared: bars and nightclubs remain closed and only certain restaurants can serve alcohol until 23.00. In this part of the world, caution remains the order of the day.

Image: Getty Images

Industry / Turkey

Electric dreams

Turkey’s first homegrown automobile brand, Togg, has begun expansion into Europe through the opening of a representative office in Germany. Though it has yet to launch its first mass-produced car, the move reflects the massive interest in the country’s rapidly growing electric-vehicle market. Last year the new German government declared its aim to have at least 15 million electric cars on the road by 2030 – a policy widely seen as the brainchild of the Greens – and Togg hopes to be a significant name among them. When its first vehicle, an all-electric SUV, is launched at the end of this year, it will be the first of its kind produced in Europe by a manufacturer that has made only electric cars. If it can succeed with this in the highly competitive German car market, other electric start-up brands will surely follow.

Image: Nio Cocktails

M24 / Eureka

Nio cocktails

Started in 2017, Nio, which stands for Needs Ice Only, is an Italian drinks brand that sells ready-to-drink cocktails in single-serving packets. Presented in slender, well-designed containers and featuring recipes developed by a famed Roman bartender, the brand has caught the attention of major drinks companies.

Film / Global

Designing the news

How do you unpack stories in the most engaging way while building a credible and comprehensive brand? Monocle Films showcases best design for paper and screen too.

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