The Agenda: Affairs - Issue 170 - Magazine | Monocle

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Holiday hot spot

India’s outbound and inbound tourism looks set to continue its upward trajectory this year. The country is projected to be the fastest-growing inbound market for many Southeast Asian countries in 2024. And, in return, Indian nationals will be able to travel smoothly in the other direction too: both Thailand and Malaysia dropped short-stay visa requirements late last year, while others, including Vietnam and Indonesia, are reportedly considering a similar waiver.


Also working in New Delhi’s favour is the drop-off in Chinese arrivals to the region. While there is still a way to go to match the numbers that arrived from China before the pandemic, Southeast Asian destinations are already beginning to introduce new direct flights to and from major Indian hubs, such as Bangalore and Mumbai. A McKinsey report, published last November, suggested that India’s outbound travel has the potential to grow to more than 80 million by 2040. These numbers are also strengthened by rising income levels nationwide and a strong economic outlook.

But at the heart of India’s tourism boom is the simple factor of ease. “Decisions are based on visas, frequency of flights and seamless connectivity, plus the choice of hotels and price-point per night,” Paul Charles, ceo of luxury global travel consultancy the PC Agency, tells monocle. And then there is another important factor: “Whether locals speak English.”

Essentially, the future looks bright. “India’s energetic, young population is definitely on the march,” adds Charles. “Destinations ignore them at their peril.”


andrew mueller on...
Standing alone

“Strategic autonomy” was one of the vogueish buzzwords of 2023 and it needs to be one of the priorities of 2024. This is the idea that Europe – and this is very much Europe the continent, as well as the EU political bloc – should be ready, willing and able to defend itself without relying on the US. Strategic autonomy has become a pet cause of Emmanuel Macron and though his foreign policy has not lacked flights of vainglorious eccentricity, this is not one of them. Europe’s complacency regarding this matter has been, or at least should have been, jolted twice in recent years. First, in 2016, by the election of Donald Trump, a president contemptuous of America’s allies and indifferent to its obligations. Second, in 2022, by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. It is far from impossible that by this time next year another Trumpian tantrum by American voters might result in Europe facing both of the above at once: effectively at war to its east and abandoned by its mighty ally to the west.

Europe has complacently allowed the US to pick up a hefty chunk of its defence tab for far too long. There is no reason why the continent should not become what Macron has pitched as a “third superpower”. Though experience suggests that time and energy spent on the idea of a unified EU military is probably time and energy wasted, more can be done to make Europe’s extant forces more self-sufficient and cohesive. Another idea that should become as important as strategic autonomy is interoperability. One cause of Europe’s dependence on American kit is the ease of buying off-the-shelf from the US compared to adapting purchases from the continent’s hotchpotch of competing national defence industries. It has been the great success of the EU that its members are vanishingly unlikely to fight each other again; everything should be geared towards the common threat to the east.

Europe has allowed the US to pick up a hefty chunk of its defence tab for far too long. There is no reason why the continent should not become a “third superpower”

Strategic autonomy will be complicated – and expensive – but embracing it now will be good practice. Macron doubtless has a case when he hints that France is the natural default leader of a strategically autonomous Europe; since Brexit, France is the only country that’s a member of Nato, the EU and the UN Security Council’s permanent five. But it is just three years until voters elect Macron’s successor. There is no guarantee that it won’t be Marine Le Pen, or some other isolationist populist who might be friendlier to Russia and a less reliable ally to its more immediate neighbours. In 2024, Europe needs to start thinking about how to rely less on France as well. 

Andrew Mueller hosts ‘The Foreign Desk’ on Monocle Radio. Listen live at every Saturday at midday London time or download as a podcast.


Plenty to chew over

“Here I am, yummy French fries! I’m so crispy and I smell great,” sing the cartoon chips (write Nathan Paul Southern and Lindsey Kennedy). The transfixed toddler stops wailing; his father is relieved. We’re in the Philippines, where the big story is a public-health emergency. Heart disease is the country’s biggest killer, followed by cancer and diabetes. Life expectancy here is 70, compared with 75 in Malaysia, 74 in Vietnam and 70 in Cambodia, which is twice as poor. The Philippines also has 655 McDonald’s branches (plus 1,186 of domestic rival Jollibee’s) while Vietnam has 20 and Cambodia has none. Many former colonies absorbed their occupier’s cuisine: in the Philippines, America’s legacy is junk food. Five of the world’s top 20 countries for diabetes prevalence are US territories or former colonies. In 2013, American Samoa had the world’s highest rate of diabetes and 93 per cent of the island was obese. 


The US (which, at 76, has a low life expectancy for a high-income country) can’t resist foisting its food on poorer nations. The government spends $2bn (€1.85bn) annually on food aid, including buying and donating excess American crops. But this can undercut local producers. During the Afghanistan War, it is likely that the reluctance to support wheat farmers increased reliance on opium. In Laos, where 60 per cent of land is used for rice, the last thing farmers need is competition. So why does the US send American rice to its Laotian school meals programme? 

As an ngo worker explained, despite an abundance of cheap, familiar, local ingredients, the programme was instructed to use American lentils, which the children, being children, refused to eat. American aid can achieve so much but pushing its cuisine on countries often leaves a bitter taste. 

Nathan Paul Southern and Lindsey Kennedy are journalists and security analysts based in Cambodia.

Swelling the ranks

The new pride of the Marinha Portuguesa’s fleet will be the 108-metre-long D Joao II, named after the 15th-century king who oversaw a previous revival of the Iberian nation’s maritime enterprise. To be built by Dutch shipwrights Damen, it looks like an aircraft carrier but isn’t – its flat deck and ramp will launch helicopters and drones. Portugal is emphasising its possibilities for marine surveillance and research but it has more pugnacious capacities if needed. It is similar to, if smaller than, Turkey’s recently commissioned drone-carrier TCG Anadolu. Just as drones serve as budget alternatives to fighter jets, so do drone carriers to aircraft carriers – the most recent aircraft carrier commissioned by a European Nato country, the Royal Navy’s HMS Prince of Wales, cost €3.7bn.

In the basket: One drone carrier
Who’s buying: Portugal
Who’s selling: Netherlands
Price: €132m
Delivery date: 2026


Boiling over

The peaceful reputation of Latin America and the Caribbean was tested in December when Venezuelans voted to exert their claim on the oil-rich Essequibo territory that comprises two thirds of neighbouring Guyana. The sabre-rattling prompted Brazil to move troops closer to its shared border with the potential belligerents and for the US to hold joint military exercises with Guyana. The Venezuela-Guyana dispute, which dates to 1899, is pending at the International Court of Justice. But despite the region not seeing a major land war since the 19th century, three territorial disputes have been lodged with the court. 

Settlers carved out the tropical enclave of British Honduras and harvested wood from the southern half of what is modern-day Belize, which Guatemala claims as its own. At stake? The world’s second largest coral reserve, a major tourism draw.

The San Andrés archipelago is three times closer to Nicaragua than Colombia but the latter holds sway over the islands, much to the former’s consternation. One of the least visited corners of the Caribbean, the coral islands are a Unesco Biosphere Reserve.

Landlocked Bolivia claims that Chile owes millions of dollars for downstream use of the Silala River. La Paz is still sore that it lost its oceangoing port during the War of the Pacific, which ended in 1884. 

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