Tuesday 4 July 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 4/7/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / James Chambers

Group theory

Minilateralism might be all the rage in international relations but how many of these small groupings of like-minded countries prove to be anything more than a clever acronym? South Africa, the host of next month’s Brics summit (that’s Brazil, Russia, India, China and SA), is in a bind about what to do if Vladimir Putin shows up. Meanwhile, Australia’s prime minister, Anthony Albanese, was left red-faced when Joe Biden pulled out of May’s Quad summit at the last minute because he needed to address the US debt-ceiling crisis.

The G7 is the gold standard of minilateralism for good reason. Dating back to the 1970s, it’s essentially a bunch of rich kids with very similar world-views coming together to decide what’s what. These seven nations can meet and issue a statement at the drop of a hat, as they demonstrated last year on the fringes of the G20 summit in Bali after a stray rocket landed in Poland. This unity survived Donald Trump, while Russia was booted out of what was then the G8 after Putin decided to invade Crimea.

The importance of shared views and common values to the success of a minilateral organisation will be on display today at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Though Beijing’s closest equivalent to the G7 is meant to bring together China, Russia, India, Pakistan and four central Asian countries, the eight leaders will take part via video. The physical distance between the SCO leaders on-screen will be in stark contrast to May’s heavily choreographed G7 summit in Hiroshima, where presidents and prime ministers huddled around a remarkably small table (pictured) that offered little elbow room, let alone space for disagreement.

The SCO arguably gave up on getting anything done when it admitted warring neighbours India and Pakistan in 2017. Granting full membership to Iran and allowing its arch-rival Saudi Arabia to become a “dialogue partner” is hardly likely to improve matters. For mini groupings, major differences can get in the way of reaching agreements.

James Chambers is Monocle’s Asia editor, based in Bangkok. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Shutterstock

Space / Egypt & China

Beyond the sky

Last week, Egypt emerged as a rising space power in North Africa after it took delivery of two MisrSat-2 satellite prototypes (pictured) from China for assembly and testing. The Chinese-funded programme also includes a $142m (€131m) grant for the facilities. The satellite is expected to be launched from China in October. The partnership positions Egypt, a member of the Arab Space Cooperation Group, as a frontrunner in the continent’s space race. Last month the country’s parliament also agreed to host the African Space Agency’s headquarters in Cairo.

Egypt, however, isn’t alone in working with China to boost its space industry. Beijing has collaborated with numerous countries across the continent – including Ethiopia, Sudan, Algeria, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo – on projects in the sector, turning space technology into an important tool for Chinese soft power in the region.

Image: Alamy

Culture / Vietnam & USA

Crossing the line

Greta Gerwig’s highly anticipated film Barbie is expected to draw crowds to cinemas across the world this summer after it premieres in Los Angeles on 9 July. But one place that the hype won’t reach is Vietnam. On Monday the country banned the domestic distribution of the Warner Bros film over a scene containing a map that depicts the controversial “nine-dash line”. The boundary marks out China’s unilaterally claimed territory in the South China Sea, which includes potentially energy-rich areas that Vietnam considers its own. This disputed line was repudiated in 2016 in an international arbitration ruling by a court in The Hague that China refuses to recognise.

It seems that Hollywood is reluctant to address the territorial issue more sensitively, with Dreamworks’ animated film Abominable and Sony’s Uncharted also banned in Vietnam in recent years for the same reason. Ultimately, the move shows that geopolitics comes second to Hollywood’s ambition to earn big money at the Chinese box office.

Architecture / Zürich

Happy congregation

While Zürich Town Hall is undergoing refurbishments over the next few years, a historic Protestant church, the Bullingerkirche, has been converted into a temporary seat of municipal parliament. Ernst Niklaus Fausch Partner AG was tapped to retrofit the church for its new political purpose. In a bold reimagining of the space, the architects dismantled the pulpit and installed seating in a horseshoe formation to encourage dialogue.

Image: Hannes Henz

The overhauled church, which hosted its first council session in February, is already proving to be a hit with lawmakers. “A few of the members of parliament have told me that they don’t want to go back to the historic town hall,” architect Bertram Ernst tells The Monocle Minute. If that’s the case, they might have to fight it out with the building’s usual occupants, who have hinted at their interest in retaining the new set-up for the church’s governing body.

Read more about Zürich’s new municipal seat in Monocle’s July/August issue, which is out now and features our Quality of Life Survey.

Image: Jonathan Ingalls

Fashion / USA

Male order

International Male was one of the most popular mail-order catalogues in the US during the 1970s and 1980s. With its early slogan “Freedom for the man”, it helped to change perceptions of masculinity in the US and was highly influential on men’s fashion magazines. In new documentary All Man: The ‘International Male’ Story, directors Jesse Finley Reed and Bryan Darling explore the catalogue’s remarkable history. The pair tell Monocle what inspired them to do the project.

Could you tell us about the importance of International Male?
Finley Reed: The catalogue was the vision of Gene Burkard, who saw a need for a greater range of men’s fashion in the US. It gave us the chance to see men in a way that we had never seen before: they were international, mysterious and sexy.

How did it stand out as a physical product?
Finley Reed: It had such a wide reach as it was delivered directly to people’s homes. And it wasn’t just reserved for big urban centres, such as New York or Los Angeles. People got it in the suburbs and in the countryside too. It gave men the freedom to see these boundary-pushing clothes, the kinds that they would only have seen in Miami Vice.

What was your inspiration for the project?
Darling: There’s so much narrative in the catalogue images. That was unlike anything we had seen before. Initially, we were planning to do a short film about how gay men connected with it. Then we realised that there was a far bigger film to be made about something that affected culture and society at a time when male sexuality was exploding but also being commodified. In many ways, the catalogue is more important than the clothes.

For more on ‘International Male’ and Monocle’s interview with the directors of ‘All Man’, tune in to our latest edition of ‘The Stack’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Getty Images

Monocle Radio / The Big Interview

Chuck D

Andrew Mueller sits down with the ground-breaking hip-hop pioneer and revolutionary activist to discuss his extraordinary career and his new illustrated memoir, Livin’ Loud: ARTitation.

Monocle Films / Edits

‘Portugal: The Monocle Handbook’

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


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