Monday. 18/4/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Charles Oki

Opinion / Christopher Lord

Drops in the ocean

I’ve just returned from a few days reporting in Hawaii, talking to various branches of the US military stationed on Oahu about the state of play across Asia-Pacific. It’s described in pretty stark terms: the top brass talk of the “tyranny of distance”, which is the challenge of working in such a vast expanse. Simply, how to get personnel and hardware across all that ocean in the event of a flash scenario such as a surprise attack, a collision in the South China Sea or the invasion of an ally.

America has typically forged partnerships with atoll nations and small island chains across the Pacific to achieve this, allowing US units to island-hop and thereby project US power when needed. But China is now increasingly doing the same: in recent weeks, a draft security pact with the Solomon Islands has surfaced that, if inked, would allow China to station units and park ships on the archipelago, which is geographically closer to Hawaii than Beijing.

The revelation has set teeth on edge in the military establishment in Oahu. Kurt Campbell, Joe Biden’s top Asia official, is expected to head to the Solomons for talks this month, looking to pour cold water on the China deal. But it’s come as a wake-up call that US soft power in this part of the world has faltered for too long. While the US military in the Pacific acknowledges that the world is rightly preoccupied with events in Ukraine, there’s a sense in Hawaii that menacing waves are lapping ever closer to their shores. The Solomons is due to soon get an American embassy after years without one but that’s just the tip of the iceberg; the Biden administration's next priority should be delivering a long-promised economic plan to counter Chinese influence across the region. If the White House is serious about competing with China in the Indo-Pacific, it needs to get moving.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / South Korea

Up in the air

The US envoy to North Korea will visit Seoul this week in response to a recent wave of intercontinental ballistic missile launches by the rogue state. The first weapons tests by Pyongyang since 2017 have sparked concern among the international community and raised questions over what exactly North Korea hopes to achieve with these overt demonstrations of strength. According to a US State Department statement, special representative Sung Kim will meet South Korean officials to collaborate on efforts to “advance complete denuclearisation and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula”. As well as this week of talks, the US has put forward a new set of sanctions to be implemented by the UN Security Council, though no decision has yet been made on whether they will be enacted. The renewed tensions come at an interesting time for the region, with South Korea’s president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol due to assume office in less than a month. His ambition to foster closer ties with Washington might prove important in the face of increasing antagonism from Pyongyang.

For more on North Korea, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Brazil

Strange bedfellows

If Brazil’s former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva is to have any hope of ousting incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in October’s presidential election, he should try to keep the country's business community on side. Which is why the erstwhile trade unionist’s Workers Party (PT) has approved former São Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin as Lula’s running mate. Alckmin (pictured, on left, with Lula), a centre-right political veteran who ran unsuccessfully against Lula in 2006, has even joined the Socialist Party in order to form an alliance with the PT.

The uneasy accord signals just how eager the centre is to unseat the right-wing Bolsonaro. It should allay some of the business sector’s fears about the return of a leftist government but sceptics will point out that it's easy to overestimate the longer-term effect of Alckmin's involvement – the vice-presidency in Brazil is largely symbolic, after all. Still, both candidates will no doubt hope that their uneasy alliance puts them over the top come October.

Image: Glenn Howells Architects

Urbanism / UK

Sink or swim

The vision for the future of Canary Wharf can be summed up as: from the bank to the riverbank. London’s second financial district has suffered something of an exodus over the past two years as workers stayed at home. But a new partnership between the district’s developer, Canary Wharf Group, and the Eden Project, a social-nature enterprise based in Cornwall, hopes to revive the area. It’s an unlikely alliance but one with potential: the goal is to create a model of biodiversity in an urban environment. Plans are for a leafy corridor at the centre of the district, additional green public areas, waterside access, open spaces for the arts and even to improve the quality of the Thames river to allow for water sports and wild swimming. The pandemic has redefined our cities’ financial centres and, while there might be uncertainty about a complete return to the office, who can say no to an open-water dip after a long day behind a desk?

Image: Getty Images

Tourism / British Columbia

One liner

As summer approaches, the cruise industry in Western Canada is feeling cautiously optimistic. Last week, after two missed seasons, a ship docked at the country’s largest port in Vancouver, carrying more than 1,000 passengers. Cruise ships are essential to the province of British Columbia’s economy: they contribute about CA$2.7bn (€2bn) a year to the local purse, with tourist foot traffic boosting businesses along the coast from Victoria to Prince Rupert.

British Columbia expects more than 300 cruise ships to dock at the harbour this year, which would bring millions of visitors to coastal towns. Although the province’s tourism board has encouraged travel within the region throughout the pandemic, it estimates that international travellers can spend up to five times more than Canadians. It’s not all smooth-sailing, though: ships will operate at partial capacity and many are wary of cruise travel after the Diamond Princess outbreak in 2020. Still, the first liner making anchor in Vancouver is a symbol of hope for the region.

Image: Alberto Parise

Monocle 24 / Monocle On Design

The Procuratie Vecchie building

We take a look at the 16th-century Procuratie Vecchie building in Venice’s St Mark’s Square, which recently opened to the public, following an extensive but sensitive restoration project by the studio of Sir David Chipperfield.

Monocle Films / Helsinki

Sisu: The art of Finnish fortitude

Finland is a swimmer’s paradise and residents take to the water year-round. In colder months the practice often involves carving a hole into ice – a demonstration of sisu, the unique Finnish concept of fortitude in the face of adversity. Monocle joins journalist Katja Pantzar on an icy dip, to explore the mindset that dates back more than 500 years. Discover more stories and ideas from the region with The Monocle Book of the Nordics, available now from The Monocle Shop.

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