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New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, will step down in the next few weeks. Announcing her shock resignation, Ardern said that she “no longer had enough in the tank to do the job justice”. The left-wing politician was facing a tough election battle later this year after leading her Labour party to a surprise election victory in 2017 and winning an outright majority in 2020. For more on this story, listen to Monocle 24 throughout the day.
Opinion / Chiara Rimella
Not all of the world’s most important diplomatic developments will be taking place in the Swiss Alps at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Something big has been unfolding in China’s cinemas too. For the first time since 2019, new films by US mega-production company Marvel Studios, which is owned by Disney, will be allowed to be shown across the country. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania will debut on Chinese screens in February.
Comments by director Chloé Zhao, who had previously spoken out about her home country’s propaganda machine, were understood to be the reason for China’s censorship of her Marvel film Eternals last year. Beijing never explicitly stated why it had banned other Marvel titles, though some speculated that the decision was related to Disney’s refusal to edit out same-sex love scenes from some of its features and a desire to protect China’s domestic film industry. What is certain is that the ban coincided with a period of tense relations between the US and China, and had significant consequences. It is estimated that the forced intermission cost Disney hundreds of millions of dollars.
Hollywood productions are so ubiquitous that sometimes we forget to think of them as emissaries of US soft power. But as the world becomes ever hungrier for Asian film and TV – Chinese sci-fi blockbuster The Wandering Earth 2 is being readied for its international release and Netflix has just announced its biggest-ever South Korean slate – this is a big win for brand California.
All of this is happening at a time when China is softening its stance on everything from its coronavirus policy to private enterprise, so it’s not a stretch to wonder whether it could be a sign of more openness to come. The world is waiting with bated breath for Joe Biden and Xi Jinping to give details of a sequel to their November meeting. Will the next instalment feel more like a “Part Two: The Return” or “The Revenge”?
Chiara Rimella is Monocle’s executive editor and covers culture, entertainment and media for the magazine.
Lebanon / Elections
Lebanon is approaching its third month of political stalemate as members of parliament are split over who should be the country’s next president. MPs will vote for the 11th time today on a replacement for Michel Aoun, whose six-year term ended on 31 October. The country’s politics are effectively paralysed until a new president is appointed. According to part of a 1989 peace agreement that ensures balanced religious representation, the incoming leader must be from the country’s Christian Maronite community. Meanwhile, a team of European investigators arrived in Beirut this week to look into allegations of corruption in Lebanon’s central bank. All the while, ordinary people are suffering perhaps the most severe economic crisis in Lebanese history, with millions plunged into poverty. Others have held up banks to access their savings. But Aoun’s election involved 46 rounds of voting and took 29 months; the signs this time around are little better. Urgently needed consensus could be a long way off.
To hear more about Lebanon’s political struggles and other stories from around the world, tune in to ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.
One of Neste’s goals is combating the climate crisis. For the Finnish renewable refining company, this means leading by example – such as committing to reach carbon neutral production by 2035. Neste is also helping customers to reduce their own greenhouse emissions by more than 20 million tonnes annually by 2030.
Business / Brazil
São Paulo’s pavements are still glistening from a downpour and Mateo Garafulic is sipping a pick-me-up with his mother at The Coffee, a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop on the bustling Rua dos Pinheiros. “It’s Japanese,” says Garafulic confidently. “The marketing is in Japanese and the website ends in .jp.” He’s half-right. The sign above the door is written in both Japanese and English, and he’s not wrong about the domain extension but The Coffee is as Brazilian as samba.
Carlos, Luis and Alexandre Fertonani are the three urbane Brazilian brothers who founded the chain in the southern city of Curitiba after selling their internet businesses because they couldn’t expand them quickly enough. They’ve not had that problem with The Coffee. The chain’s expansion rate stands at about two new shops a week and their portfolio includes 200 outlets across Brazil, Colombia, France, Portugal and Spain.
To find out why The Coffee is one of Monocle’s ‘places that work’, pick up your copy of Monocle’s February issue, which is out on newsstands from today.
Politics / UK
Rishi Sunak has been fairly quiet since becoming the UK’s prime minister in October but he is now volubly recruiting for a candidate to pipe up on behalf of free speech. The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill currently moving through the country’s parliament will enforce a duty on universities and colleges to actively promote freedom of speech, rather than shutting down discussion, cancelling debate or denying platforms to people with whom students or staffers disagree.
According to The Times, the frontrunner for the new role of director for freedom of speech and academic freedom is Cambridge philosophy professor Arif Ahmed, whose remit will involve liaising with a newly established Office for Students to handle complaints. While Sunak has been taciturn since entering Downing Street, protecting freedom of speech in centres of higher education is an issue worth voicing. Perhaps other countries should consider nominating a free-speech tsar to argue the toss too.
Architecture / Japan
Thousands of people in Tokyo have signed a petition to stop the demolition of Meiji Jingu Stadium, home to baseball team Yakult Swallows. The petition was started last weekend by Robert Whiting, an author who has written about both Japan and baseball. “They will lose a beautiful, quiet, relaxing spot and a great place to watch a baseball game,” he says. “The citizens of Tokyo will regret it.”
The open-air stadium, which was built in 1926, is at risk due to a project by a group of developers that includes property company Mitsui Fudosan. It’s not just baseball fans who would miss the structure: it was here that Japan’s best-selling author Haruki Murakami first considered writing a novel when he was watching a game in 1978. Tokyo has lost too many historical buildings to thoughtless redevelopment. The capital city should do more to protect its heritage.
Monocle 24 / Monocle On Design
We visit the industrial design consultancy whose portfolio ranges from quantum computing to bioplastic sporks.
Monocle Films / Global
Monocle has so far resisted the temptation to open a hotel – but that doesn’t mean that we don’t spend time thinking about who we’d hire to oversee a renovation, run the bar or design the uniforms. With this in mind, here are the six house rules we’d strictly enforce to keep things civil and serene around the pool, in the lobby and on the balcony.
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