Tuesday 11 July 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 11/7/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / James Chambers

Hanging in the balance

Experts on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) sometimes split the 10-member bloc into two subgroups: the mostly democratic “maritime” countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines, and the authoritarian “mainland” quintet of Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. Admittedly, it’s imperfect. Brunei, an absolute monarchy with no elected representatives at the national level, is clearly in the wrong place and Vietnam has a huge fishing fleet. But the diverging positions taken by these two groups on major issues, such as the crisis in Myanmar, help to explain why Asean has had such a hard time getting anything done. As much as the so-called maritime nations might want to get tough on the junta in Naypyidaw, its generals have been able to expect a friendlier hearing from their neighbours in Bangkok or Phnom Penh.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, is travelling to the region this week to address a meeting of Asean foreign ministers. A lecture about getting tough on Myanmar is unlikely to break the impasse, however, and those in attendance will be paying closer attention to events in Bangkok.

On Thursday, Thailand’s parliament will vote on the country’s next prime minister. Should Pita Limjaroenrat (pictured) of the Move Forward Party succeed in replacing coup leader Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the fresh-faced 42-year-old reformist could bring about a positive step change not just for Thailand but for the wider region too. A democratic Thai government could act as a much-needed bridge between Asean’s two groups and bring a sense of urgency to an organisation facing tough questions about its relevance. But should Limjaroenrat fail to get the support he needs – a clear possibility, given Thailand’s rigged electoral system – the outlook for the region will be very different. Another former army general could end up becoming the country’s 30th prime minister. Meanwhile, Cambodia’s authoritarian leader, Hun Sen, will preside over a sham election later this month in which the main opposition party has been banned. In terms of the balance between Asean’s two subgroups, much rests on Thursday’s vote in Thailand.

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

Image: Getty Images


Joining forces

Germany has announced its inaugural participation in Australia’s largest-ever Talisman Sabre military exercise later this month. As many as 240 of its soldiers will be trained in jungle warfare, large-scale logistical operations, amphibious landings and more, alongside 30,000 troops from 12 other nations, including the US, the UK, Japan and South Korea. Berlin’s new involvement signals its increased focus on the Indo-Pacific region against a backdrop of strained relations with China.

“It’s striking to see German troop activity in Australia,” Elisabeth Braw, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, tells The Monocle Minute. “Australia is trying to figure out a way to increase its defence ties with other countries and Germany is a safe country to do that with. The drills are part of Australia’s efforts to get involved more with its allies even if they are far away, to increase the likelihood of support in case of an emergency.”

For more on Australia’s joint military drills and Germany’s participation, tune in to Monday’s edition of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Claude Cormier and Associates

Urbanism / Toronto

Heart to heart

Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway runs close to the shore of Lake Ontario, serving as a key artery linking the city from east to west. But it has long served as an unofficial barrier between the buzz of the downtown area and the beauty of the lake. The unveiling of Toronto’s newest public park, however, has helped to reintegrate those two aspects of the city.

Designed by Montréal-based firm Claude Cormier x Associés, Love Park is built on the site of a former Gardiner Expressway off-ramp. Cormier, along with Toronto-based architects GH3*, has transformed the space by constructing a large, heart-shaped pond, whose curving periphery has been trimmed in red mosaic tiles. If that sounds gimmicky, fear not: the pond’s shape is only fully visible from the top of the tall towers that fringe the park, so the effect is subtle. Toronto’s residents are unsurprisingly flocking to the new park, which has lovingly reimagined the area.

For more on the business of landscape architecture and our interview with designer Claude Cormier, tune in to episode 543 of ‘The Enterpreneurs’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Seibu Railway


Talking cure

As Japan’s tourism sector bounces back, the sight of train-station counter staff struggling to communicate with overseas travellers is once again becoming common. Seibu Railway is testing a possible solution: a device resembling a window that can display a real-time translation of a conversation between two people on either side of its screen.

It has already been trialled in four locations but its big test began yesterday at Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, the world’s busiest terminal. So far, it can translate between Japanese and 11 other languages, and transcribe Japanese for those with hearing or speech difficulties. While the Voice Biz UCDisplay’s name doesn’t trip off the tongue, the device has one advantage over existing translation devices and apps: it allows for face-to-face conversation. Its developer, Toppan, says that because it is tailored specifically for the Japanese language, the results are more accurate, so vital travel information is less likely to be lost in translation.

Image: Getty Images

Music / USA

Country comfort

For the past 13 weeks, “Last Night” by country singer Morgan Wallen (pictured) has held the top spot on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. It is only the 15th song to spend so long at number one and is taken from the artist’s One Thing at a Time, which has topped the Billboard 200 album chart for 15 weeks since its release in March. Wallen’s overwhelming success is the only thing keeping fellow country artist Luke Combs’s cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” from the singles chart’s summit.

So does this represent a revival for country music? Though the genre has been a staple of American music for decades, it experienced a decline at the beginning of the streaming era. But consumption of country music has risen by more than 20 per cent this year, fuelled not just by streaming but also physical sales. Regional Mexican music known as norteño – another staple in the US – is also growing in popularity, due to acts such as Grupo Frontera. It seems that less-heralded US genres are getting their groove back.

Image: Krystyna Fitzgerald-Morris

Monocle Radio / Meet The Writers

Paul Burston

Paul Burston is an acclaimed Welsh writer, journalist, documentarian and activist. He has dedicated his career to creating and promoting LGBTQ+ stories, both in his own work and by lifting up other artists. He joins Georgina Godwin to discuss his new memoir, We Can Be Heroes: A Survivor’s Story.

Monocle Films / Transport

Inside the airship industry

Airships, once tipped to be the future of flight, are now largely used as costly billboards that drift across cities or over major sporting events. We travelled to Friedrichshafen in Germany to take a peek inside one of the world’s few commercial operations and explore this niche area of aviation.


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