Tuesday 16 January 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 16/1/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Affairs / Iona Craig

Caught in the riptide

The joint US-UK airstrikes on the Houthi militant group last Friday are the first foreign military interventions in Yemen since Saudi Arabia paused its seven-year-long bombing campaign in March 2022. Baited by relentless attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea, Washington and London have been sucked into the Houthi maelstrom that Riyadh is so desperately trying to back out of.

The Western allies are incongruously trying to bomb their way to peace in the Bab el Mandeb. The aim is to end the economic disruption caused by having to reroute 70 per cent of the cargo vessels that usually traverse the Red Sea and Suez Canal between the Far East, South Asia and Europe by more than 5,500km. It is election year in the US and, potentially, the UK. Neither Joe Biden nor Rishi Sunak want to head to the polls with the resulting rise of inflation and supply-chain crisis at their backs.

Houthi rebels on board a Japanese ship

Image: Alamy, Getty Images

Protest march in Sana’a on Friday

Image: Alamy, Getty Images

Meanwhile, the Houthis are also playing to a domestic audience. Growing disquiet at home over governance issues and unpaid state salaries was soon forgotten when the militants launched their Red Sea attacks in November, ostensibly in support of Palestinians in Gaza. In the absence of any Arab nations taking a stand against Israel’s response to Hamas’s 7 October attacks, the Houthis have filled the vacuum, garnering widespread popularity at home (even on the anti-Houthi side in Yemen’s civil war), across the region and, further afield, among some leftists globally.

Relishing their new status, the Houthis have recruited tens of thousands of new fighters to their ranks in the name of the fight for Palestine and deployed them to the front lines of the war in Yemen, which have seen little activity since 2022. The militant group’s sponsor, Iran, is its weapons supplier, military trainer and intelligence provider. Yet the monster that Tehran has created is not under its control. The Houthis are willing to take on the West, with little concern for the escalation that the US, in particular, wants to avoid.

Iona Craig is a freelance journalist who was based in Yemen between 2010 and 2015. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.


Hand in hand: Sergey Lavrov and Choe Son-hui

Image: Alamy

Diplomacy / North Korea & Russia

Friends like these

North Korea’s foreign minister, Choe Son-hui, arrived in Russia yesterday for a three-day visit. She is expected to meet her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, today for talks aimed at strengthening bilateral ties. The trip follows a series of high-level meetings, including a rare summit between Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin in September at which the leaders pledged to deepen their economic, military and political relations, despite international sanctions.

The summit also resulted in North Korea opening its doors to Russian visitors in a bid to boost its less-than-booming tourism industry. “North Korea is turning towards old friends,” John Everard, the UK’s former ambassador to North Korea, tells The Monocle Minute. “It has shut down a slew of embassies in Africa and the Middle East to concentrate on relations with Russia and China. It is likely that this week’s visit will be about deepening ties with Russia and, in particular, discussing further supplies of North Korean weapons for the war in Ukraine.”

Business / China & Japan

Strained partnership

A newly published survey of 1,700 Japanese companies operating in China has revealed that nearly half of them are planning to reduce or suspend investment in the country. China is Japan’s biggest trading partner but the latter country’s investors are wary of uncertainty and 39 per cent of respondents fear that China’s economy will worsen this year. Japanese companies also have reservations about the operating environment, citing concerns about the newly broadened scope of China’s anti-espionage laws, which were revised last year. After the arrest of a Japanese businessman on spying charges, many are waiting to see how the legislation will affect foreign businesses. It wasn’t all negative, though: half of the companies surveyed by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China still rate the world’s most populous country as its most important market.

Fit for purpose: the new Etro made-to-measure shop in Milan

Image: Filippo Piantanida

Fashion / Italy

Making the cut

What better time than during Milan’s menswear-focused fashion week to launch a new in-store tailoring service? That’s what fashion house Etro is doing in the northern Italian city, seizing the moment to start offering made-to-order clothing for men in its shop on the chic Via Montenapoleone. Clients schedule appointments to customise a suit, jacket, gilet or pair of trousers; they then choose the silhouette, fabric and details (the shop offers 28 button types and 45 lining options) and take their pick of the swirling signature patterns that Etro is known for.

Its expert tailors can cut clothes to a slim, regular or looser fit in materials manufactured by Etro’s partners, including cashmere from Piacenza 1733 and wool from Biella-based manufacturer Drago Lanificio. Such services give customers the chance to get their hands on some truly unique garments. We wouldn’t be surprised if higher-end houses follow suit.

Beyond the Headlines

Q&A / Mirek Dušek

Talking cures

Heads of state and delegates from more than 100 countries – including industry experts, NGO workers, civil-society leaders, business owners and members of the press – have gathered this week in Davos for the 54th edition of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting. Monocle catches up with the organisation’s managing director, Mirek Dušek, to hear about this year’s theme and the importance of nurturing dialogue.

What can you tell us about this year’s meeting?
The theme this year is “Rebuilding Trust”, which is a direct response to the erosion of trust that is evident in societies and among nations. This is the result of deep geopolitical, economic, climate and social transformations. Taken together, these shifts have ushered in a stark new reality. So, this week, we are gathering more than 3,000 leaders from around the world to think about what partnerships, business strategies, policies and intellectual frameworks are needed to effectively deal with this new reality.

How do we reach this goal?
The way we work is by forming what we call “communities”, which include leaders of governments, civil society and industry. This annual meeting is a milestone in our ongoing work throughout the year. Dialogues are at the core of our approach. The main talking points this time are the war in Ukraine and the violence in the Middle East, among other geopolitical developments. We are not underestimating the disagreements and sensitivities of these issues. But, together, we will try to identify what tools were used in the past and what others we need to get things done today. We have also released a new intellectual product, the Global Co-operation Barometer, to assess and improve the state of global co-operation through data.

The forum has been running since the 1970s. How does Davos maintain its relevance in the current climate?
First, at its core, it represents the need for dialogue. We might think that this is trivial but a lack of it is behind the complicated geopolitical situations that we find ourselves in right now. By gathering thousands of leaders from all walks of life here, we are doubling down on dialogue. Second, what makes it relevant is that we push for solutions. It is so important to move towards systemic and long-term solutions. This week you will find us nudging leaders to think about implementable actions to address some of the world’s major issues.

For our full interview with Mirek Dušek, tune in to Monday’s episode of ‘The Daily’ on Monocle Radio.

Monocle Radio / Monocle On Saturday

US-UK air strikes on Houthi rebels and AI finishes a famous painting

Can the Israel-Hamas conflict be contained? What is likely to happen at the Iowa caucuses? And why are people upset at artificial intelligence finishing Keith Haring’s ‘Unfinished Painting’? Join Georgina Godwin and communications consultant Simon Brooke for this and more from the week’s news and culture.


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