Friday 14 April 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 14/4/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Christopher Lord

Friends and influence

It’s the last day of Joe Biden’s tour of Ireland and Northern Ireland marking 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement, and George Mitchell’s name has come up throughout. Mitchell (pictured, centre, with Northern Irish politician John Hume and Gerry Adams in 1998) was the former senator and US envoy during the peace process who helped to bring warring republicans and unionists to the negotiating table. At a time when the US is often struggling to be heard, it’s poignant to reflect on how effective American diplomacy can be when it’s done well.

Earlier this week, I spoke to Derek Chollet, a top adviser to the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, for The Monocle Daily. I asked him why many countries in the Global South have not joined the West in its condemnation of Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. “We’ve been trying to make the case by showing up,” said Chollet. Indeed, his boss has stepped up his touring schedule over the past six months, visiting old allies in Africa and elsewhere to counter the Russian narrative. Yet, as countries in Latin America turn their backs on Taiwan and Beijing mediates talks in the Middle East, it’s clear that the US view is not as prevalent globally as it once was.

Some of this is about boots on the ground. There are US embassies that haven’t had an ambassador in years. In the past few weeks a flurry of top diplomats have received their credentials and headed off to places that had been neglected for far too long. Take India, a vital player in the Indo-Pacific, and Saudi Arabia, which has a new US ambassador after several years without one. Showing up is not just about the big state visit. It’s a ground game too – and it’s one that Russian and Chinese diplomats are, in some corners of the world, winning.

Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Reuters

Diplomacy / Syria & Saudi Arabia

Mending bridges

Yesterday, Syria and Saudi Arabia announced that they would reopen embassies and resume flights between the nations. The news follows a visit by Syria’s foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad (pictured, on left, with Saudi Arabia’s deputy foreign minister, Waleed El Khereiji) – the first since diplomatic relations were severed in 2012 – and the appointment on Wednesday of a new ambassador at the reopened Syrian diplomatic mission in Tunisia. These milestones show that Syria is being brought back into the fold after it was suspended from the Arab League as a result of its brutal crackdown on anti-government protests in 2011 and the ensuing civil war. The restoration of its membership is high on Syria’s agenda; the country is patching up its relations with its neighbours in advance of next month’s summit. Delegates from Qatar and Bahrain also met this week to resolve a spat that began in 2017. Diplomatic ties were strained across the region after the Arab Spring in the early 2010s but there is a new impetus to find common ground, which points to a more harmonious future.

Image: Reuters

Business / Asia

Network connections

Apple executives are reportedly in talks with factories to start making Macbook computers in Thailand. It is the company’s latest effort to move its supply chain from China. Geopolitical tensions and, until the end of last year, uncertainty over strict coronavirus regulations disrupting production in China have prompted Apple to seek alternative manufacturing hubs in Asia. Vietnam and India have already benefited from new investments and factory openings by major Apple suppliers such as Foxconn.

About 7 per cent of iPhones are now made in India, compared with 1 per cent in 2021. Apple is no outlier: South Korean technology giant Samsung and sportswear companies Nike and Adidas have also shifted production from China to Vietnam recently; other international firms have increased investment in Bangladesh and Malaysia. China finally might have scrapped its onerous pandemic restrictions but wider political tensions remain – as do its creeping labour costs compared with its competitive neighbours in southeast Asia.

Image: Alamy

Education / UK & Africa

The new class

The UK’s education sector has become increasingly reliant on international students willing to pay high tuition fees for a prestigious degree. The largest foreign contingent has long been from China but a combination of factors, including the pandemic and a faltering economy, resulted in a dip in the numbers of young Chinese studying abroad. So UK schools and universities are hedging their bets by targeting African students too. Later this year, King’s College London will open a campus in Cairo. In 2024, Charterhouse – a fee-paying secondary school founded in 1611 whose pupils often go on to study at the UK’s top universities – will begin operating an outpost in Lagos, Nigeria.

Though the average annual salary in Nigeria is about €7,200, the country’s students now constitute the third-largest international cohort in UK universities (up from 11,000 in 2018 to more than 44,000 in 2022). These students pay between €11,000 and €30,000 a year to study, which helps to generate the money that the sector relies on. If the UK’s universities are to stay afloat, they must hope that British education can maintain its cachet in the continent with a younger population than any other.

Design / Italy

Part of the furniture

Next Tuesday, Milan’s hotels, restaurants and bars will be packed with members of the design crowd, who will be in the city for the world’s biggest furniture fair. At Salone del Mobile, designers and architects will be seeking inspiration and launching products, while developers and buyers link up with furniture companies to make deals that will furnish hotels, offices and homes with smart new wares. This dynamic makes the furniture fair an important event on the design calendar but it’s also significant for those beyond the industry.

“It’s about showing people, whether they’re designers or not, that good design can improve lives,” says Marva Griffin, founder of SaloneSatellite, an annual showcase of young designers’ work at Salone del Mobile that has helped to launch the careers of Nendo’s Oki Sato, French designer Patrick Jouin and others. “A comfortable chair or bed can change your life,” says Griffin – and that’s reason enough to pay attention to what happens in Milan next week.

For more from Marva Griffin, pick up a copy of Monocle’s ‘Salone del Mobile Special’ newspaper, which is available on newsstands and from The Monocle Shop today.

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Urbanist

The Georgian Military Highway

Jessica Bridger takes a trip down a historical trade route where the driving conditions are often as extreme and wild as the surrounding landscape.

Monocle Films / Japan

Tokyo’s colourful community bus

An electric bus service has injected a new playfulness into a borough of Tokyo in need of a revamp. We hop aboard and meet Eiji Mitooka, its creator and Japan’s foremost train designer, who explains why he puts fun at the top of his list when designing public transport. All aboard! Read more in the June issue of the magazine.


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