Friday 25 August 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 25/8/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / James Chambers

Happy return

It has been a tale of two political exiles in Southeast Asia this week. On Tuesday, Thailand’s former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra (pictured), who was ousted by a military coup in 2006 and later convicted of corruption, touched down in Bangkok after 15 years away. Earlier in the week, the Philippines marked the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, a former senator and fierce rival of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Shinawatra and Aquino were both standard bearers of democracy during their time abroad but their homecomings were markedly different.

In 1983, Aquino was shot dead within minutes of landing at Manila’s international airport, having come home from the US to challenge Marcos. His death contributed to the end of the dictatorship era and the country’s main airport was subsequently named after him. Shinawatra, however, was quickly transferred from his private jet to a private hospital room, from where the de facto leader of the Pheu Thai party is likely to spend the next few months, pulling political strings and waiting for royal pardon. The cost of this VIP reception was a Faustian bargain negotiated in secret with the same military powers that Shinawatra has been battling for most of this century: a get-out-of-jail card in exchange for the generals continuing in government.

Shinawatra chose to return on the same day that Pheu Thai’s candidate for prime minister, Srettha Thavisin, was approved in parliament by a coalition dominated by conservative members of the outgoing government. The scale of this political volte-face has not been lost on Shinawatra’s supporters, known as red-shirts, who stayed behind to fight bloody battles with Thailand’s army in the early 2010s; a prominent leader of the movement resigned from Pheu Thai this week in disgust. Unlike Aquino, who stood by his principles and paid for it with his life, Shinawatra has sacrificed everything that he stood for politically and will pay for it with his legacy. When the military is finally removed from the country’s politics, it will have little to do with Shinawatra or Pheu Thai. That responsibility will be passed on to someone else.

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

Image: Reuters

Diplomacy / South Africa

Building blocs

Six new nations have been officially invited to join the Brics group of leading developing countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. During the bloc’s summit in South Africa, the host country’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, announced that invitations had been extended to Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iran to become full members, starting from January. But while Brics members aimed to display a public show of unity during this week’s debates over the enlargement of the group, internal divisions remain.

China and Russia are seeking a rapid expansion of the bloc as a way to counter Western powers but other nations are reluctant to tarnish ties with them. “India and South Africa have to balance their relationships with China and Russia as well as the West,” Lynsey Chutel, a Johannesburg-based journalist, tells The Monocle Minute. “In a couple of weeks, South Africa will host the US as part of a trade forum in Goa, so it has to walk a fine line.”

For more on the Brics summit, listen to Thursday’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Getty Images

Affairs / Japan & South Korea

Sea change

Japan has begun releasing more than one million tonnes of tainted water into the Pacific Ocean from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, immediately prompting China to announce a blanket ban on all seafood imports from the country. The discharge, which is expected to take 30 to 40 years, has not only resulted in anger from neighbouring countries and concern among fishers but also threatens to strain ties between Japan and South Korea in a US-led trilateral effort to counter North Korea, China and Russia.

“South Korea’s president, Yoon Suk Yeol, will try to keep a neutral stance but the opposition party is going to make things as difficult as possible,” John Lee, editor of Korea Pro, tells The Monocle Minute. In anticipation of South Korea’s parliamentary elections, which are currently scheduled for April, the issue is unlikely to be resolved soon.

Image: Mark Mahaney

Fashion / USA

Law of the land

California is set to put forward a new bill that would require large public and private companies operating in the state to report their greenhouse-gas emissions. This is the first time that a US state has proposed that companies should publicly disclose their environmental footprints. The bill, which was presented at the California State Capitol in Sacramento on Wednesday, has garnered support from the fashion industry, one of the world’s most polluting sectors.

Some of the country’s biggest firms and trading groups, including Patagonia and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), have backed the proposal in a public letter, stating that the “legislation is designed to help companies succeed at a difficult task where imperfections are virtually guaranteed”. If passed, the measure would affect firms with revenues of more than $1bn (€922m), from luxury conglomerates to mainstream retailers such as Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors. With many companies falling short of their climate pledges in recent years, strict government regulation offers a more viable solution for tackling the industry-wide issue.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Design / Switzerland

Little wonder

Mini electric vehicles (EVs) are booming in popularity but their design has sometimes felt like an afterthought. The Microlino, developed by Swiss brothers Merlin and Oliver Ouboter, is an electric, bubble-shaped two-seater, which offers a zippy alternative. The vehicle’s most distinguishable feature – apart from its miniscule size and a battery range of 230km – is its front opening door, which allows drivers to park it very close to other cars and exit onto the pavement.

It was originally unveiled at the 2016 Geneva International Motor Show as a micromobility concept but after a positive response, the company developed 1,400 of them and is hoping to develop a further 3,500 this year. While the Microlino does not solve all of the 21st century’s urban mobility challenges, the small EV can certainly do many of the things that its much larger, overengineered and often gas-guzzling cousins are capable of.

For more on Microlino, pick up a copy of Monocle’s September issue or join Microlino’s co-founder, Merlin Ouboter, and our editors live in Munich for Monocle’s Quality of Life Conference from 31 August to 2 September. Get your ticket now.

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Menu


We take a tour of Chelsea in west London with Leandro Carrier, executive chef of The Sea, The Sea, a fishmonger-cum-chef’s-table dining experience.

Monocle Films / Design

The future of Japanese craftsmanship

To celebrate The Monocle Book of Japan, we are presenting a film series that dives into the intriguing ecosystem that has preserved traditional Japanese skills over centuries. Meet the people who are future-proofing the age-old know-how.


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