Tuesday 31 January 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 31/1/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Carolina Abbott Galvão

All smiles

Brazilian president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva’s first month in office has set a more inclusive tone than that of his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro. Last week, Lula embarked on his first overseas trips to Uruguay and Argentina, where he met presidents Luis Lacalle Pou (pictured, on right, with Lula) and Alberto Fernández, respectively. He also attended a meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States in Buenos Aires, where the atmosphere was convivial and good-natured in a way that it hasn’t been for some time.

During his previous two terms (from 2003 to 2011), Lula’s foreign policy relied heavily on personal charisma, so much so that Barack Obama once dubbed him “the most popular politician on Earth”. Being able to make friends isn’t just handy; it’s good for business. Lula’s approach has helped Brazil to create new markets for some of its commodities, such as soya beans and iron ore. Bolsonaro based his presidential campaigns on the promise that his policies would benefit Brazilian business. However, his weakening of environmental laws made him a global pariah and he had poor relations with regional trading partners that he often scolded personally – he once called Fernández a “leftist bandit”. His approach made trading blocs such as the European Union wary of doing business with Brazil.

Lula is taking a different tack. During his visit to Buenos Aires, Brazil’s finance minister, Fernando Haddad, announced that the government-owned Banco do Brasil will issue new credit lines to facilitate exports to Argentina. Meanwhile, Lula says that modernising the Mercosur customs union, working on the bloc’s draft trade deal with the EU and making a free-trade agreement with China are also high on his agenda. After just 30 days, Brazil is beginning to reap the rewards of the president’s friendlier, more consensus-driven take on leadership. The real test will be how long the honeymoon lasts.

Carolina Abbott Galvão is a Monocle writer.

Image: Getty Images

Travel / Japan

Breaking barriers

When Japan and South Korea tightened their border controls for travellers arriving from a newly reopened China earlier this month, Beijing called the move “discriminatory” and responded by suspending visas for visitors from both countries. As of this weekend, however, Japanese travellers are once again being issued Chinese visas. The policy reversal is sensible: Japanese investment is important for China’s recovery and, once the Lunar New Year celebrations are out the way, business can begin in earnest. It’s also linked to Japan’s decision last Friday to downgrade its classification of coronavirus on 8 May, a move that will put the virus on a par with seasonal flu and end current restrictions on visitors from China anyway. South Korea, meanwhile, has announced that it will be extending its restriction on short-term visas to travellers from mainland China for a month. While such measures are a distant memory in most parts of the world, tensions and tedium remain in East Asia.

Image: Getty Images

Trade / Belgium

Diamonds aren’t forever

Belgium’s prime minister, Alexander De Croo, has announced that his government will clamp down on the trading of diamonds with Russian origins. Officials in Antwerp, a major diamond hub that has long resisted sanctions on Russian gems, will be working with partners to introduce a new traceability system for precious stones.

This move follows months of pressure from other EU members and Ukraine to include diamond trading in the bloc’s next round of sanctions against Moscow. Until now, the diamond industry had managed to evade trade restrictions of this kind; as a result, gems remained an important source of income for Moscow’s war machine. Russia produces about 30 per cent of the world’s rough diamonds, almost 90 per cent of which are mined by a single company, Alrosa, which is partially owned by the Russian government. As Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said in a speech to Belgium’s parliament in March, “Peace is more valuable than diamonds.”

Image: Yash Raj Films


Big picture

Indian spy thriller Pathaan has just enjoyed the most successful opening weekend ever for a Hindi film. Since its premiere last Wednesday, the film has brought in $61.3m (€56.2m) in global box-office receipts – mostly from India and countries with large Indian diasporas, such as the UK and US. The film’s success comes hot on the heels of the epic RRR, which was one of three Indian films nominated for this year’s Oscars and provides further evidence of the wealth of talent (and money) flooding Bollywood.

A blockbuster about an ex-army man-turned-undercover agent, Pathaan features two of India’s biggest stars, Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone (pictured, on right, with Khan). The film’s soundtrack is a barnstormer with hits such as “Besharam Rang” demonstrating Indian cinema’s ability to act as a catalyst for change in what remains a socially conservative country.

Listen to songs from ‘Pathaan’ on last week’s episode of ‘The Global Countdown’.

Image: Ludwig Favre

Architecture / Denmark

Hymn to usefulness

Copenhagen is Unesco’s World Capital of Architecture 2023. Most of the events to mark this will focus on the city’s already celebrated centre but if you want to get to the essence of Danish design, Monocle recommends a trip to a church in the city’s northwestern suburbs. Grundtvig’s Church (pictured), one of the 20 “Places That Work” in our February issue, is named after Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig, a 19th-century bishop and poet who wrote Denmark’s hymn book and founded its public schools.

After Grundtvig’s death a competition was held to design a church in his honour. The winner was little-known architect Peder Jensen-Klint. Construction began in 1921; the soaring structure took 19 years to complete and involved three generations of architects. Instead of stucco, frescoes or marble flourishes, the church was built using about five million cheap, exposed yellow bricks. The result is that rare combination in 20th-century northern Europe of a religious and municipal building that both looks great and works well. It proves the enduring importance of shared spaces, even in an era of declining church attendance.

Grundtvig’s Church features in Monocle’s February issue, which focuses on “Places That Work” – from a Moroccan car factory to a floating Rotterdam office.

Image: Jussi Puikkonen

Monocle 24 / The Menu

Wine from the Benelux region

This week’s programme ventures inside the Amsterdam wine shop that has curated a perfect regional wine selection. Plus: Bre Graham reveals what it took to write her debut cookbook, Table for Two.

Monocle Films / Portugal

Portugal: The Monocle Handbook

Part of a new travel series, Portugal: The Monocle Handbook is a practical guide that will introduce you to the best the country has to offer as we present our favourite spots across the country. Order your copy today.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00