Thursday 4 May 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 4/5/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Alexis Self

Uneasy alliance

As the foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) – an alliance of eight countries, led by China and Russia, that is soon to include Iran – meet in Goa today to shore up ties, it’s easy to be apprehensive about the future of global geopolitics. Defensive and economic co-operation between the perpetrators of heinous crimes in Ukraine, Xinjiang and Iran would seem to signal a new era of Cold War-style realignment, in which two diametrically opposite blocs – the SCO and the West – vie for world supremacy.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the 14 years of rules-based international relations between 1989 and 2003 were an exception rather than the norm. The important thing now is to prevent the solidifying of two distinct adversarial alliances that could grow further and further apart until their opposition becomes confrontational. In this regard, countries such as India (an SCO member) and Turkey (a Nato member and SCO dialogue partner) are crucial. Both should be offered the opportunity for greater co-operation with – and integration within – alliances such as Nato and the EU, while also being encouraged to maintain relations with Beijing and even Moscow.

Dictatorial regimes are dependent on the whims (and lifespans) of their rulers. Democratic nations, whose leaders must consider the opinions of their own citizens, should be frank about their responsibilities to safeguarding others. Preventing the enlargement in size and influence of the SCO is only possible through such accountability. If countries such as India and Turkey are not kept on side – and the SCO becomes a military alliance – a multipolar world risks becoming a bipolar one, which is just what Cold War nostalgists such as Vladimir Putin desire.

Alexis Self is Monocle’s foreign editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Iran & Syria

Friends in need

Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, landed in Syria yesterday for a meeting with president Bashar al-Assad (pictured, on right, with Raisi) in the first state visit to Damascus by an Iranian leader in 13 years. After more than a decade of civil war, Syria is largely an international pariah but has retained close ties with Tehran, which has provided military and financial backing to Assad’s regime. According to Syrian state media, a number of bilateral agreements will be signed during the two-day visit. The warming of diplomatic relations between Syria and its neighbouring countries comes ahead of the forthcoming Arab League Summit on 19 May, where the nation hopes to restore its membership to the group. According to Middle East analyst Bill Law, Raisi’s visit aims to curry favour for Tehran as Damascus reconstructs. “The Iranian economy is still in a shambles,” Law tells The Monocle Minute. “If the Iranians can get something out of Syria to put back into their battered economy, they’ll definitely go for it.”

For more on the Iranian president’s visit to Syria, tune in to the latest episode of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: US Embassy

Diplomacy / USA & Tonga

Charm offensive

The US is boosting its diplomatic presence in the Pacific by opening a new embassy in Tonga. Washington is also in talks with Vanuatu and Kiribati about similar diplomatic ties. The Biden administration’s bid to put down ambassadorial roots is the latest development in the intense competition over influence in the region. Last year, China and the Solomon Islands agreed on a security pact, which caused widespread alarm in the West, leading the US to reopen its embassy in the island nation after a 30-year absence.

Both the Solomon Islands and Kiribati have switched diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to Beijing, a clear win for China. Washington, for its part, is trying to secure more than $7bn (€6.3bn) for economic assistance to the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau over the next 20 years. With a Biden visit to Papua New Guinea slated for later this month, the US is clearly trying to get wind in its diplomatic sails.

Image: Kunsthistorische Museum

Culture / Greece & Austria

Hard facts

The foreign ministers of Greece and Austria have announced that they will set up talks later this month about the possible return of two Ancient Greek works to the Acropolis Museum. The 2,500-year-old historical pieces in question are part of a larger collection of marbles, once part of Athens’ Parthenon, currently on display at Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum. Greece has recently negotiated two successful restitution deals: some sculptures were repatriated from Sicily in 2022 and from the Vatican earlier this year.

The country is also seeking to reclaim pieces from Paris, Munich and Copenhagen. Greece’s foreign minister, Nikos Dendias, pointed out that a potential agreement with Austria should make the UK think: Athens has been calling for the return of the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum since 1832. The two countries said in February that they were working on a deal but since then things have gone quiet. A reckoning will be hard to avoid for much longer.

Image: VISA Fashion Week Almaty

Fashion / Kazakhstan

Style revival

This week, central Asia’s creative community gathered in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, for its seasonal fashion week. The schedule featured local creatives as well as designers from Uzbekistan, Ukraine and Georgia. “There’s a lot of new talent here but they often lack the budgets and experience,” Bauyrzhan Shadibekov (pictured), Fashion Week Almaty’s CEO, tells The Monocle Minute. The event, which wraps up today, aims to attract international attention to the region.

According to Shadibekov, central Asia has seen a post-pandemic creative resurgence and is experiencing a newfound respect for its heritage. Many designers are choosing to revive ancient textile crafts and make traditional suzani and ikat fabrics to use in their collections. “Our aim is to highlight the fashion and also promote our country,” says Shadibekov. The ability of labels to sustain homegrown manufacturing will be the most enduring proof of the event’s success.

Image: Amara Eno

Monocle Radio / Monocle on Culture

Jessie Ware

British singer-songwriter Jessie Ware is famed for her catchy songs and hit podcast Table Manners. She stops by Midori House to chat to Robert Bound about the making of her new album, That! Feels Good!.

Monocle Films / Portugal

Portuguese problem-solving

Lisbon-based architect and artist Joana Astolfi takes us on a journey into the Portuguese word “desenrascanço”, meaning to find an improvised solution to a problem. She explains what it says about Portuguese culture and how it is embodied by an unusual structure in Comporta. Read more stories from the country in Portugal: The Monocle Handbook.


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