Thursday. 3/2/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Jan Søndergaard

Opinion / Tyler Brûlé

Best foot forward

Spend a bit of time flipping between rolling news channels (and visiting affiliated websites) and you’ll note that during commercial breaks, a global race is on to woo tourists, win investment and get businesses to relocate or expand to sunnier destinations. Bahrain and Morocco seem particularly big on getting companies to think Manama or Casablanca for their next logistics centre.

As the world shifts out of the pandemic, some countries have bolted out the door, fully dressed for work, neatly coiffed and all set to meet and greet. Others are still in their slippers and sweatpants, and only dressed smartly from the ribcage up because it’s so comfy at home and life, after all, can also be lived on screen. Or can it? The big spenders in pan-regional media want the world to get on a plane and think about how their nations fit into a new world of consumerism and multi-hub management. Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Botswana and many more are aggressively touting their natural and artificial assets to attract the remotely interested.

Then there are those who devour airtime by doing rather than paying for the pleasure – in this case, Denmark. With the wave of a pen or perhaps a tap on the return key, prime minister Mette Frederiksen not only shifted her nation out of coronavirus mode but also generated hundreds of millions of euros (is that billions of Danish krone?) in free media by being the first European nation to make a fully aligned, confident, “we’re getting back to where we were this time two years ago” move to normal.

Despite rocketing case numbers, Copenhagen (pictured) kicked off its fashion week with measures dropped and no need to co-ordinate masks with ensembles. Meanwhile, another nation with a red flag featuring a white cross (yes, that would be Switzerland) stumbled on Wednesday when it dropped its contact-quarantine rule, moved work from home from mandatory to a recommendation and then put a series of other measures out to the cantons and industry bodies for two weeks of consultation. Rather than creating a moment of excitement for the nation and taking a lead from the Danes, the men and women in Bern dithered and disappointed. And not to miss an opportunity, Brand Denmark will be all over our screens again shortly when season four of Borgen is back.

Image: Getty Images

Geopolitics / Finland

To the letter

A letter sent by Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov to the governments of Finland and its Nordic neighbours has triggered unpleasant memories in Helsinki. In it, Lavrov (pictured) asks Finland for commitments “not to strengthen its security at the expense of the security of others”; in other words, not to join Nato. While Helsinki’s official reaction to the letter has been controlled – emphasising its vague nature, its other recipients and stressing the need for an EU-wide response – the Finnish media has been less circumspect. Many commentators have drawn parallels with the cold war, when Moscow would regularly pressure Helsinki into decisions through the use of epistolary intimidation. Thankfully, due to EU membership and economic prosperity, Finland is in a far stronger position than back then. But the resumption of Soviet-era tactics does not bode well for rising tensions in the region.

Image: Getty Images

Geopolitics / Japan

Cautious criticism

Japan has long avoided openly criticising China over its human-rights record. Until now. Well, sort of. The country’s parliament has adopted a resolution expressing concern about rights violations in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, and asked the government of prime minister Fumio Kishida to take action. The move comes at the behest of Kishida’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party and was timed to coincide with the start of the Winter Olympics in Beijing tomorrow, the US-led diplomatic boycott of which Japan has joined.

Although the resolution does not explicitly name China, it didn’t stop Beijing’s foreign ministry from issuing a sharp rebuke, saying it “maliciously slanders” and seriously violates “basic norms governing international relations”. Japan and China are mutually important two-way trading partners, which explains the former’s history of caution. But Beijing’s overzealous reaction, along with Tokyo’s growing desire to preserve the liberal international order, means that more tensions will surely follow – perhaps next time, the accuser might even dare to name names.

Image: Hastings Technology Metals

Mining / Australia

Shock and ore

Australia’s government is pouring AU$140m (€90m) into a rare-earth-metals mine, to bolster its production of substances that are crucial in the fabrication of electric vehicles, smartphones and wind turbines. The Western Australian mine (pictured) will be built and run by Hastings Technology Metals. Worldwide efforts to slash emissions have fed a booming minerals market and this move “supports the rapid development worldwide of decarbonisation technologies in e-mobility and energy”, said Hastings chairman Charles Lew. Funding such projects is part of a broader push by Australia and the US to reduce global dependence on China’s supply of materials to be used in technology and defence. “That dominance has brought with it the risk of trade tensions,” Norbert Rücker, analyst at Swiss private bank Julius Baer, tells The Monocle Minute. Beijing may control more than half of the world’s supply but Canberra’s investment will be a boon for the government if rare-earth metals remain as lucrative as they are.

Image: Alamy

Urbanism / Switzerland

Sky-high aspirations

Documents leaked from Zürich’s Office of Urban Development reveal far-reaching plans to allow taller high-rise buildings in the Swiss city. The 180-page report published in newspapers this week would permit the construction of towers between 85 and 250 metres in height around railway tracks in the city’s Kreis 4, 5 and 9 neighbourhoods. Currently, the tallest structure in Zürich is the comparatively diminutive 126 metre Prime Tower (pictured) and although more affordable homes would be welcome, anything substantially bigger might risk ruining the rhythm of the resolutely low-rise city. Katrin Gügler, director of the Office of Urban Development, told the Neue Zürcher Zeitung that such edifices might help to brand the city better, aiding “urban accentuation, orientation and silhouette sharpening”. Planners, though, should remember that Zürich already has an enviable quality of life and decent population density in spite of, not because of, the inexorable rise of tall towers.

Image: Barber Osgerby X Galerie Kreo

M24 / Monocle On Design

Bjarke Ingels’ Nabr, ‘Woman Made’, Barber Osgerby

We meet Bjarke Ingels and the team behind sustainable housing concept Nabr; check out a new lighting collaboration between Barber Osgerby and Galerie Kreo; and hear about a new book on influential women in design.

Monocle Films / Turin

The new urban rowers

We wake up bright and early to meet creative director Luca Ballarini at the Circolo Canottieri Caprera, a rowing club on the banks of the river Po in Turin. We follow his slender boat and glide along the river beside charming palazzi, castles and bridges, while the rest of the city comes to life.

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