Friday. 6/5/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Lyndee Prickitt

Balancing act

He might have been breaking bread with some of Europe’s most high-profile and progressive leaders but Narendra Modi’s charm offensive in Europe this week didn’t impress his political opponents at home. As India’s prime minister bounced from one stage to another in Berlin and Copenhagen, waxing lyrical about his native country during his signature gigs with fawning members of the Indian diaspora, opposition parties in India condemned Modi. They believe that he is papering over the cracks wrought by punishing inflation and ongoing strife between religious communities in India.

Modi says that his trip boosted trade and investment ties and forged new green partnerships. But his whirlwind visit to Europe was really for the West, which has expressed disappointment that the world’s largest democracy – albeit no stranger to autocratic neighbours – has not explicitly condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. India’s abstentions during crucial UN votes to punish Russia have raised eyebrows. And in March, in a rare expression of differences of opinion between India and the US, Joe Biden singled out India as being “somewhat shaky” on Russia. Modi was conscious this week that his German and Nordic hosts might harbour the same view. “No country can emerge victorious in the Ukraine conflict,” he said. “We are for peace, appeal to end the war.”

Shaky ground indeed: India has to tread a fine line between the West and Russia, one of its oldest allies and a major supplier of weapons for which training and replacement parts are regularly needed. Modi will be hoping that where his loose words on Russia fall short, his expansive bear hugs and natural ebullience will keep the West off his case. Judging from the beaming smiles captured in manicured photo ops with German, French and Nordic leaders, including Emmanuel Macron (pictured, on left, with Modi), during this trip, he might even be right.

Lyndee Prickitt is Monocle’s New Delhi correspondent.

Diplomacy / Germany & Ukraine

Clearing the air

In one of the more curious diplomatic standoffs of the Ukraine crisis, Volodymyr Zelensky reportedly blocked Germany’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, from visiting Kyiv last month over his past support for closer ties with Russia. Though Steinmeier’s role is largely ceremonial, the snub prompted chancellor Olaf Scholz to say that he wouldn’t visit Kyiv himself until Steinmeier had been duly welcomed. In some ways the spat might have been fortuitous: because of negative perceptions of Germany in Ukraine, a visit by Steinmeier could have proved awkward. In practical terms, however, mending the Berlin-Kyiv relationship is crucial to Western unity. That’s why Steinmeier and Zelensky cleared the air in a phone call yesterday. Germany’s president promised “solidarity, respect and support” for Ukraine, while Zelensky officially invited the president to Kyiv. Germany’s indecision about its position won’t have gone unnoticed in Russia or the West but, with Ukraine fighting for its independence, this is one source of tension that isn’t worth letting linger.

Image: Makoto Lin/Taiwan Presidential Office

Media / China & Japan

Trip hazard

Coverage of Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida’s tour of Asia and Europe, which yielded a new defence deal with Thailand earlier this week, has been minimal in the Chinese media – but a smaller diplomatic trip has sparked heated coverage. On Tuesday a youth delegation of Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) arrived in Taiwan for a five-day visit, including a meeting with Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen. While local coverage of the trip has been sober, China’s state-owned tabloid Global Times characterised the visit as Tokyo “stepping up its plot to collude with the separatist authority on the island of Taiwan in an attempt to form an anti-mainland clique under the so-called Indo-Pacific strategy”.

Tokyo-Beijing relations have never been cosy but Japan’s criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Kishida’s warnings about Chinese belligerence appear to be having an effect. The LDP youth delegation regularly visited Taiwan before the pandemic; the hostile coverage in Global Times this time around suggests that China’s propaganda campaign is heating up.

Image: Maison Chateau Rouge

Culture / France

Rockin’ the suburbs

Through a combination of deprivation and snobbery, Paris’s outer suburbs, or banlieues, aren’t often a source of inspiration for the city’s famous fashion houses. But change is afoot. Recently, Chanel opened its Le19M hub in the 19th arrondissement with the intention of nurturing Parisian designers; nextdoor in the 18th, young entrepreneur Youssouf Fofana (pictured) has co-founded a streetwear label, Maison Château Rouge. The son of Senegalese immigrants, Fofana launched the brand with his brother Mamadou, naming it in reference to the Château Rouge neighbourhood and the tradition of calling French fashion houses “maison”. The label’s bold, African-inspired streetwear has won it many followers and led to a collaboration with Nike. “The idea was always to showcase a different urban identity from what people usually see in mainstream media and fashion, as well as to highlight the cultural richness of a community that has often been looked down upon,” Fofana tells Monocle.

Read the full profile of Maison Château Rouge in the May issue of Monocle, out now.

Image: VitroLabs

Business / USA

Leather forecast

California-based biotech company Vitrolabs has raised $46m (€43m) to further its mission of growing the world’s first cell-cultivated animal leather. The “series A” financing round was led by venture-capital firm Agronomics alongside luxury conglomerate Kering and the actor Leonardo DiCaprio. The funds will go towards building and scaling the innovative material, which Vitrolabs says can be made from a handful of animal cells and still achieve the same look and feel as traditional leather.

With luxury brands facing leather-supply shortages and increased criticism of alternatives currently circulating in the market, such as the polyurethane (PU)-based vegan leather, Vitrolabs could have a major effect on the nearly €400bn leather goods industry. That’s why Kering is partnering with the company to support quality testing, tanning and finishing. “We have an opportunity to change how we produce materials and build supply chains, working hand in hand with existing artisans who are the cornerstone of this industry,” says Vitrolabs CEO Ingvar Helgason.

Monocle 24 / The Foreign Desk

The ghost of Kyiv

Andrew Mueller delves into the world of wartime legends and explains who “the ghost of Kyiv” really is.

Monocle Films / Greece

Athens: urban inspiration

Athenians have a knack for injecting pockets of greenery and a sense of innovation into their ancient city. Their urban interventions are aimed at cooling down this dense metropolis and safeguarding its sacred sights as much as the neighbourhood life. We climb its seven hills to get a fresh perspective on the city’s charms.

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