Friday 21 June 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 21/6/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Grape success: Vladimir Putin and To Lam in Hanoi

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Naomi Xu Elegant

Maintaining relationships with superpowers is a balancing act. Amid increasing geopolitical tensions, can Southeast Asian nations hold on?

Vladimir Putin’s trip to Hanoi yesterday to meet Vietnam’s new president, To Lam, has clearly ruffled American feathers. A US Embassy official reportedly criticised the reception of the Russian leader as a way to “normalise his atrocities”. But Vietnam is taking a more pragmatic approach: in the past nine months, Hanoi has hosted Putin, China’s Xi Jinping and Joe Biden. The Xi and Biden trips also resulted in promises to deepen ties and work together on security issues.

It’s a similar story a little further south, where Chinese premier Li Qiang just wrapped up a three-day visit to meet Malaysia’s prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim. The two signed a spate of trade and business pacts, and Anwar also announced that he would like Malaysia to join Brics, the intergovernmental group that initially consisted of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Since Israel’s invasion of Gaza, Anwar has been strident in his criticism of what he deems to be hypocrisy over the West’s support of Ukraine and lack of support for Palestine.

For US and European governments, the dividing line is clear: Western liberal democracies on one side and autocratic, illiberal rulers such as Putin on the other. But for Vietnam, Malaysia and neighbours in Southeast Asia, getting along with one group doesn’t preclude friendship with the other. By opening up to the West, Vietnam avoids the fate of a political pariah such as North Korea. Conversely, by joining Brics, a US ally and an Asian democracy such as Malaysia could make decisions that Washington might not like.

Vietnam and Malaysia have long been adept at juggling the egos of superpowers to stay friends – and extract benefits. The question is whether, between Ukraine, Gaza and the South China Sea, not to mention the current climate of increasing polarities and hostilities, they will be able to keep it up.

Naomi Xu Elegant is a Monocle writer based in Singapore. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

The Briefings

Grass is greener: Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer 2025 menswear collection

Image: Getty Images

Fashion / Paris

Men’s fashion week in Paris proves that good things can come in small packages

The fashion industry has been out in full force in Paris this week, undeterred by Olympics-related traffic issues. To kick off the spring/summer 2025 menswear presentations, Louis Vuitton took over the gardens at Unesco’s headquarters. On show was the latest collection from men’s creative director Pharrell Williams, which was filled with trunks, smart weekender bags and sporty tailoring for frequent travellers. Though many Paris fashion shows have been hosted on similarly grand scales, there’s plenty to discover in more intimate settings too.

British shoemaker John Lobb used a cosy room at the Palais-Royal to introduce a handful of new styles, including a great pair of slip-ons made from leather and stitched Japanese denim. For Seoul-based Solid Homme, a dimly lit parking lot served as the perfect backdrop to introducing its technical, crease-proof shirting, while Berluti showed off its signature footwear and growing collection of immaculate leather outerwear inside The Simone and Cino del Duca Foundation. The sheer variety of the work on display reaffirms Paris’s reputation as the fashion capital of the world.

Hear more on Paris from Monocle’s fashion director, Natalie Theodosi, on today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle Radio.

Poster girl: Renho Murata campaigns in Tokyo

Image: Alamy

Politics / Tokyo

Tokyo governor race seen as a proxy war for Japan’s 2025 general election

Official campaigning for Tokyo’s gubernatorial election kicked off this week. A record-breaking 56 people have thrown their hat in the ring to run the world’s most populous city but it will all boil down to two female candidates, veteran incumbent Yuriko Koike and Renho Murata. The 7 July election has focused primarily on how to tackle the capital’s demographic crisis and shrinking birth rate.

But the contest is also being seen nationally as a proxy war between the governing Liberal Democratic Party, which backs Koike, and the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, which supports Renho, ahead of the 2025 Japanese general election. “Prime minister Fumio Kishida has, so far, failed to grab the opportunity to dissolve parliament and call for a snap election as his political weight diminishes,” Tomohiko Taniguchi, former special adviser to the cabinet of Shinzo Abe, told The Briefing on Monocle Radio. “We can consider this a bellwether for next year’s elections.”

Media / Austria

Opposition party promises subsidised newspaper subscription for young voters in Austria

Austria’s opposition Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) has pledged to fund subsidised newspaper subscriptions to anyone between the ages of 16 and 30. The hope is to tackle the rise of “fake news” by getting factual reporting back in front of younger voters. The proposal, which was made earlier this week by SPÖ leader Andreas Babler, would be financed by a digital tax levied on organisations such as Facebook and Tiktok. It would offer subscriptions worth up to €150 a year to publications with reputable newsrooms. As in many countries, print media in Austria has been struggling to make a profit and many outlets have been forced to cut jobs; the country’s oldest newspaper, Wiener Zeitung, went out of print last year. This initiative likely has political motivations – ahead of September’s national elections, Babler is presenting himself as the thinking man’s choice and a protector of democracy in the face of a predicted populist victory. But whatever the reasoning, Austria’s establishment would do well to follow his lead to help keep print media afloat.

Beyond the Headlines

Image: Luke & Nik

Photo of the week / ‘Reconstructed Nature’, London

Colourful London exhibition offers fresh perspectives on natural world

Artist duo Luke & Nik are known for their playful approach to photography. This week marks the opening of their first solo exhibition, Reconstructed Nature: The Collaborative Process, in London, which runs alongside a showcase in Copenhagen.

The artworks juxtapose moments of joy in nature with the realities of ecological loss. Throughout the exhibition, the audience is exposed to the creative process in new ways: photos have been cut up and made into collages or painted over with acrylics. The viewer is offered a fresh, engaging perspective on the subject matter at every turn.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle Radio / The Urbanist

Biophilic design, London’s Olympia and transit innovation

This week we visit one of the jewels in west London’s cultural crown of Olympia. Then: we head to Dublin for a look at the latest in transport technology and browse two projects in the US that are bringing biophilic design to residents and businesses alike.


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