Tuesday 12 September 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 12/9/2023

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Leading nowhere: Narendra Modi (on left) with Joe Biden in New Delhi

Image: Getty Images

Affairs / Alexis Self

Summit to think about

Like many multilateral summits, last weekend’s G20 gathering in New Delhi began with much fanfare and ended as a damp squib. The attendees’ joint communiqué on the war in Ukraine was diplomatic in the sense that it was so carefully worded that it lacked any essential meaning. Lambasting the toothlessness of such meetings is almost a cliché but, prior to the summit, much had been made of the host country’s importance on the world stage.

It has been a big year for India. The world’s largest democracy became the world’s most populous country, having become the fifth-largest economy in 2022. These statistics have provided India’s pugnacious prime minister, Narendra Modi, with the justification to trumpet his country’s ascendance. But rather than using this influence to press for solutions to any of the world’s myriad crises, New Delhi has engaged in grand equivocation.

Take Ukraine. From the outset of Russia’s invasion, India was clear that it would refuse to participate in the West’s attempts to isolate Moscow economically and diplomatically. But this response, part of a policy of strategic non-alignment, also led to indirect benefits, such as discounted energy from Russia. India has exhibited similar fecklessness in its approach to climate change. An expressed desire to effect change has been followed by equivocation when it is time to act – as seen in its eleventh-hour watering-down of the joint declaration at the end of 2021’s Cop26 summit in Glasgow.

At a time when the world seems to be staggering into a new cold war, the presence of a large, non-aligned democratic country should be a good thing. Indeed, India’s desire to advance the interests of the Global South is noble. But in order to influence on a global scale, the country must be prepared to find answers to the many difficult questions facing the planet. Sitting on the fence isn’t always an option.

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


Armenian soldier at the border with Azerbaijan

Image: Getty Images


Fraying alliance

Armenia has long been considered a nation that is more likely to call on Russia than the West for help. Yesterday, however, marked the beginning of its joint military exercises with the US. Continuing until 20 September, the Eagle Partner 2023 exercises near Yerevan follow Armenia’s decision to cancel drills with members of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation earlier this year. Analysts warn that the current activities could anger Russia, which has historically seen itself as the pre-eminent power in the Caucasus region.

The drills involve just 85 US soldiers and 175 Armenians, and will not make use of heavy weaponry. “It’s a welcome demonstration of US support but the timing and small size of the drills are more significant than the military activity,” Richard Giragosian, director of the Yerevan-based Regional Studies Center, tells The Monocle Minute. “This comes in the context of Russia’s weakness and Azerbaijan’s coercion and pressure. Russia remains overwhelmed by its failed invasion of Ukraine but we might have a storm on the horizon in which a vindictive Kremlin lashes out at all of its neighbours.”

For more on the significance of the US-Armenian defence drills, tune in to Monday’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle Radio.

Beat the jam with a tram

Image: Alamy


On the right track

Japan’s first new tram system in 75 years has begun operations. The new yellow-and-black tram, dubbed the “Lightline”, runs on a 14.6km track connecting Utsunomiya city in Tochigi prefecture and the nearby town of Haga. The Lightline runs on renewables and, like so much public design in Japan as its society continues to age, it has been designed with the elderly in mind, with low, easily accessible floors and a judder-free ride.

The project has cost about ¥68.4bn (€440m) but the country has shown time and again that investment in transport pays dividends. A 5km extension to the 48-minute route is already planned to open by 2035. If we want to keep our seniors active and our city centres vibrant, local governments around the world will need to invest in similarly imaginative and useful public-transport projects.


Peace offering

As the death toll continues to rise after a major earthquake hit the High Atlas mountains region of Morocco last Friday, Algeria has announced that it would open its airspace to allow humanitarian and medical flights to pass through, while also providing resources and aid. This unexpected gesture of solidarity comes at a time when relations between the North African neighbours are at an all-time low; tensions have been particularly high since 2021, when Algiers accused Rabat of “hostile acts” and severed diplomatic ties. Hostilities continued on 29 August as two French-Moroccan jet skiers who strayed into Algerian waters were shot dead by security forces.

The hope is that Algeria’s announcement will pave the way to a reconciliation with Morocco similar to how Greece’s provision of humanitarian aid to earthquake-hit Turkey in February led to better relations between the two countries. While it’s too early to know what Morocco will do once the dust settles, this gesture is a step in the right direction.

Beyond the Headlines

FILM / Celine Song

Lives in motion

Celine Song is a Korean-Canadian playwright and director based in the US. Known for her play Endlings and for staging Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull in the video game The Sims 4, she transitioned to the silver screen this year with her debut film, Past Lives. Here she tells us about the switch to film, her portrayal of big cities and how her experience as an immigrant was weaved into the story.

Drawing from memory: film-maker Celine Song

Image: Alamy

What made you decide to shift from theatre to film with Past Lives?
This is a story about three ordinary people whose lives are completely extraordinary and quite epic. It spans many decades and continents. Because of that, I was interested in telling it in a cinematic form. In film, you’re able to have a literal representation and shoot different cities as well as different parts of them. Also, by casting both children and adults, you can represent time in a literal way and transition more easily through past and present.

The film is mostly set in big cities, such as Seoul and New York, and the cinematography gives it a kind of lived-in perspective. How did you achieve that?
In order for the movie to feel natural and organic, the filming of the cities had to be done from the eye level of the characters. It had to have this amazing sense of what’s beautiful in our everyday lives while also reflecting the mundane and ordinary to connect the audience with how people experience big cities like New York.

Tell us about how the film reflects your experience as a migrant.
The story is a universal one, in the sense that leaving one place to go to another can feel like leaving a past life. Whether you have an immigration story like mine or the feeling that, six years ago, you were a different person, we can all connect to the movie’s story.

For our full interview with Celine Song, tune in to last Friday’s edition of ‘The Daily’ on Monocle Radio.

Monocle Radio / Monocle on Design

Bavarian manufacturing

Monocle’s Nic Monisse reflects on the strength of craft and production in southeast Germany with Faber-Castell, Gmund Paper and handmade glassware brand Theresienthal.


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