Tuesday 23 May 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 23/5/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Jeyup S Kwaak

Ready to launch

Tomorrow will see South Korea launch a domestically made three-stage Nuri rocket into space from the Naro Space Center in the southern coastal county of Goheung. With eight satellites on board, the mission follows last year’s successful attempt to send a small satellite and a 1.3 tonne dummy into orbit on a domestic launch vehicle (pictured). Tomorrow’s launch marks a giant leap forward in the country’s ambition to become a serious player in the burgeoning global space industry.

Joining the elite space club has been a key objective for Seoul since the 1980s. For some, it has had a symbolic value, representing a nation’s technological prowess. For others, it meant that the country – often self-derided as a “shrimp between whales” in superpower terms – could better defend its territory by spying on its sabre-rattling neighbours, North Korea. Either way, it is a high-stakes gamble. South Korea’s space budget is still miniscule next to those of the US, China and Japan, and spending billions of taxpayer dollars is a hard sell politically. Likewise, the pace of technological progress never feels fast or consistent enough: it was only in January that a fire occurred during a test at the Naro Space Center (though it was reportedly unrelated to this week’s launch).

Recent developments similar to the likes of SpaceX, the US firm founded by Elon Musk, gave the programme an exit strategy. Thanks to an agreement struck last year, the South Korean government’s long-time private sector partner Hanwha Aerospace is in the process of receiving a technological transfer from the national space agency. The Changwon-based company is aiming to grow into a formidable challenger by following in the footsteps of other Korean manufacturers (particularly in the electronics and automotive sectors) that grew into global players from nought. Hanwha Aerospace vows to become a one-stop shop for all things satellite, from assembly to flight and service.

The timing couldn’t be better. Numerous start-ups around the world are entering the space race with smaller, cheaper satellite options and what do they all need? A rocket to send them into orbit. US bank Morgan Stanley projects that the value of the global space industry will surpass $1trn (€924bn) by 2040. South Korea’s investments will win political points as well as offering its industry a head-start on the competition: the sky is no longer the limit.

Jeyup S Kwaak is Monocle’s Seoul correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / France & Mongolia

French connection

As Emmanuel Macron’s popularity in France faces a new low after his controversial push for pension reform (a recent survey suggests a 70 per cent dissatisfaction rate), France’s president is hoping to burnish his reputation abroad. Following the 49th G7 summit in Hiroshima, Macron made a stopover in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, on Sunday and held a private conversation with Mongolia’s president, Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh (pictured, on right, with Macron), in the People’s Palace. This is the first time that a French head of state has made a visit to the vast landlocked country and it is an effort to strengthen diplomatic ties with Mongolia. As it is located between Russia and China, this visit might be an attempt to find a diplomatic gap in the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine. For Ulaanbaatar, welcoming Macron is also part of a “third neighbour” policy that aims to strengthen relations with Europe and the US. As China accounts for 80 per cent of Mongolia’s exports and Russia provides more than half of the country’s electricity, how Khürelsükh’s government chooses to emerge from the shadows of its powerful neighbours is a geopolitical tightrope.

Image: Reuters

Politics / Greece

Second opinion

Greece’s New Democracy party won the country’s general election on Sunday but fell short of securing an outright parliamentary majority. The country’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis (pictured), rejected the mandate to form a coalition and opted to hold out for the second round of voting. He is now poised to secure a majority thanks to the country’s new proportional representation system, which requires the winning party to achieve just 37 per cent of the votes in the second round (instead of 45 per cent in the first).

“The date of 2 July was floated for the second round of voting and Mitsotakis has asked to hold it as early as 25 June,” Athens-based journalist Lydia Emmanouilidou tells The Monocle Minute. “It will be interesting to see whether people opt to vote for smaller parties that could change the dynamic and make it harder for him to gain additional seats. But with the new rules, it looks like a clear win for him.”

For more on Greece’s parliamentary elections, listen to Monday’s episode of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Alamy

Cinema / USA

Close watch

While the attention of the movie industry is on the Cannes Film Festival, which runs until this Saturday, Hollywood film studios are also looking closely at this summer’s box-office numbers. This season’s figures will indicate whether cinemas are able to fully rebound to pre-pandemic levels. By late April, 2023’s total US box office gross figures stood at $2.4bn (€2.2bn), just 16 per cent below the level at the same stage in 2019. Released last week, the 10th instalment of the Fast & Furious franchise, Fast X, grossed more than $67m (€62m) at the US box office on its opening weekend.

Other potential summer blockbusters that are set to boost these figures further include Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One, Barbie (pictured) and Oppenheimer. At the height of the pandemic, industry talk was focused on customers preferring streaming services to cinemas but that has proved to be a temporary flux: Netflix and Disney+ have both recently announced substantial budget cuts, while Hollywood studios are preparing for audiences to return to cinemas in even greater numbers. This summer will have a total of 42 major cinematic releases in the US compared to 22 during the same period last year. Despite the challenges, the credits aren’t rolling on American cinema-goers just yet.

Image: Dazaifu Tenmangu/Sou Fujimoto Architects

Society / Japan

Plum job

Sou Fujimoto is one of Japan’s busiest architects, currently overseeing the design of the Expo 2025 in Osaka and building the top part of Tokyo’s Torch Tower, which will be Japan’s tallest skyscraper when it opens in 2028. On a smaller scale but no less significant is the temporary building that he has designed in Fukuoka’s Dazaifu Tenmangu, one of Japan's most important Shinto shrines. The ancient temple will be celebrating the 1,125th anniversary of its founding deity in 2027 and its main hall is being restored in preparation.

This month, with the old building shrouded, he was commissioned to build a temporary place to worship. Fujimoto has covered the roof with foliage, including the plum trees for which Dazaifu Tenmangu is famed; huge crowds descend on the shrine every February when the trees are in bloom. In three years’ time, once the old hall is repaired, Dazaifu’s new addition will disappear. But there are still plenty of opportunities to see it before then – and it is well worth a day trip for visitors to Fukuoka.

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Concierge

Portofino, Le Collectionist and Rio de Janeiro

In the latest edition of our travel show, Fernando Augusto Pacheco celebrates the centenary of Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Palace, which is owned by the Belmond group. Also in the programme: Monocle Radio’s Tom Webb takes us on a tour of Portofino, Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois concierge Domonkos Kékesi shines a light on Basel and Rob Bound speaks to Max Aniort, co-founder of Le Collectionist.

Monocle Films / Global

Welcome to the Auberge Monocle

Monocle has so far resisted the temptation to open a hotel – but that doesn’t mean that we don’t spend time thinking about who we’d hire to oversee a renovation, run the bar or design the uniforms. With this in mind, here are the six house rules we’d strictly enforce to keep things civil and serene around the pool, in the lobby and on the balcony.


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