Friday 24 March 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 24/3/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Christopher Lord

Killing time

Much of Tiktok is a predictable slew of short video lip-syncs, dubious “life hacks” and burly men telling me I ought to be more alpha. Somehow, this attracts 150 million users in the US, according to Shou Zi Chew (pictured), the firm’s CEO, who was grilled by a congressional committee in Washington yesterday. The committee is examining whether the app and its Beijing-based parent company, Bytedance, is entwined with the Chinese Communist Party. Tiktok’s future is very much in the dock: Joe Biden is mulling an outright ban or a move to force its Chinese owners to sell up; many countries are already stripping the app from government devices.

Yet the US administration’s rationale for a ban remains vague. It’s high time that it spelt out exactly what national intelligence knows about Tiktok. There are theories that passwords and intellectual property could be funnelled to China and we hear that the app is gathering vast amounts of data about Americans, though many will see that as an accepted consequence of using social media. If Tiktok is banned in the US, users need to know why. Otherwise, it plays into a narrative – professed by China and others – that the US is not quite as open as it claims to be. Banning a media outlet or technology company without explanation, especially in the current downturn for the sector, isn’t a strong look.

What struck me when I briefly perused the platform is that users also come across a wealth of videos showing a grim vision of society in disarray – heated arguments, unrest and divisive ideas. Tiktok prides itself on its finely tuned algorithm. But a key question remains: who is helping to decide what you see?

Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US editor. For a break from social media and an upbeat, opportunity-oriented read on the world, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Thailand

Family ties

Thai voters hoping for change after the general election on 14 May are tempering their expectations. The Pheu Thai Party’s Paetongtarn “Ung Ing” Shinawatra is the favourite to become prime minister but her surname carries plenty of political baggage. The 36-year-old political novice (pictured) is the youngest daughter of Thaksin Shinawatra and niece of Yingluck Shinawatra, two former prime ministers who were both ousted by military coups. Her father controls Pheu Thai, Thailand’s main opposition party, from his self-imposed exile in Dubai. Though Pheu Thai is predicted to win the most parliamentary seats, there are plenty of potential potholes along the road back to power. Thaksin Shinawatra still divides opinion at home and the prospect of a third member of the family becoming prime minister is likely to face strong opposition from many here. If Pheu Thai is serious about entering government, it might yet have to rally behind a compromise candidate. That or come good on its promise of winning by a landslide.

Image: Shutterstock

Population / Canada

Growth spurt

Canada has retained its status as the fastest-growing G7 country with a population that swelled by more than one million people in 2022. This growth was almost entirely fuelled by liberal immigration policies designed to tempt skilled foreign workers and refugees, in the hope of easing a national labour shortage and offsetting the strain on the nation’s ageing workforce. The number of new arrivals hasn’t been without controversy, especially since the country is amid a housing crisis: according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, some 3.5 million units need to be built by 2030 just to keep up with demand.

Meanwhile, the inflow of new arrivals shows no sign of slowing. In November the government announced plans to welcome 1.5 million more migrants by 2025, alongside record numbers of those fleeing from conflicts such as those in Ukraine and Afghanistan. Canada has set itself apart from the US with policies and rhetoric focusing on openness and diversity but warm words alone won’t be enough. The country now needs to back up its position by providing better access to homes and healthcare, and improving its infrastructure, if it wants to remain a great place to put down roots.

Image: Getty Images

Fashion / Spain

Sweet smell of success

Family-owned Catalan fashion, beauty and fragrance company Puig came up smelling of roses this week. Monocle was in Barcelona yesterday for the announcement of the group’s annual results, which its CEO, Marc Puig (pictured), described as “exceptional”. Buoyed by strong growth in Asia and the Americas, the company announced a net income of €400m in 2022 and sales that were 40 per cent up on the previous year.

Puig, which has 27 affiliates and regional offices in 25 countries, has a wide portfolio of brands including Dries Van Noten, Jean Paul Gaultier and Carolina Herrera. Over the past few years it has rapidly expanded: despite the pandemic, it acquired a majority stake in UK make-up and skincare brand Charlotte Tilbury in 2020, following this in 2022 with India’s Kama Ayurveda and then Sweden’s Byredo and Colombian skincare company Loto Del Sur. “We’ve seen no sign of a slowdown in our evolution,” Puig tells Monocle. With more shop openings planned, the group clearly believes that it is on the scent of further success.

Image: Shutterstock

Culture / USA & Philippines

Must the show go on?

After a decade on lower-profile stages, Here Lies Love, a disco-pop musical about Imelda Marcos is set to open on New York’s Broadway in June. The production charts the rise and fall of the infamously extravagant and corrupt first lady, the wife of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, during her husband’s tumultuous dictatorship from 1965 to 1986. Critics in the Philippines are speaking out about the show’s timing (Imelda’s son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, won the presidency last May) and how the play might humanise or trivialise its larger-than-life protagonist.

“The Marcos name alone should send shivers down the spine of anyone with an interest in maintaining democracy,” Filipina playwright Dominique La Victoria tells The Monocle Minute. While producers of Here Lies Love maintain that the show is “anti-Marcos” and “pro-Filipino”, the furore won’t hurt ticket sales. For those who suffered at the hands of the Marcos regime or have reservations about the current one, there will never be a good moment for a musical about it.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle 24 / The Foreign Desk

Colombia: Total Peace

In 2022, Colombia’s president, Gustavo Petro, introduced his concept of Total Peace, a plan intended to encourage criminal gangs to compromise with the government. Andrew Mueller explains how recent events have impeded such ambitions.

Monocle Films / Sicily

Sicily’s tropical produce

Climate change is prompting fruit farmers to diversify and coffee roasters to start considering areas beyond the so-called bean belt to source their raw material. In Sicily, Morettino, a forward-looking family-run roastery, has already started growing coffee plants in Palermo, creating an espresso that is truly made in Italy. To discover more surprising business opportunities, subscribe to Monocle magazine today.


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