The Chinese diaspora is a tiny minority in southeast Asia, but it controls much of the region’s wealth and is investing heavily on the mainland. Hard times lie ahead for the ethnic Chinese whose business methods are blamed for the current Asian crisis
When the ho family fled Burma in 1964, their only asset was a wrist-watch. The second and third generations of a family of immigrants from southern China, their entire wealth had been confiscated at the start of Burma’s prolonged and disastrous experiment with socialist autarky. They moved to neighbouring Thailand, where they now preside over a business empire based in the towering skyscraper of Bangkok’s Jewellery Trade Centre. Yet one Ho son, Halpin, is now back in Burma, running the upmarket Kandawgi Hotel in Rangoon and trying to raise money for a grandiose World Trade Centre.
This is the classic overseas Chinese success story: the flight from penury, the fortune built from scratch through thrift, hard work and entrepreneurial flair. But the Ho story diverges from the textbook in one respect: this was their second escape; not from poverty and tyranny in China itself, but from a new form of