The United States, Canada, and Europe are all in a slow state of collapse. South America has opportunities but is still a land of up-and-down chaos. Russia is a crap shoot. China is having problems. India has lost its mind. The Middle East is full of wars and death, as always. Africa is, well, Africa. New Zealand and Australia aren’t collapsing but aren’t growing either. The Asian Tigers like Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and so forth are already at the top and have nowhere to go.
There is one region in the world, and just one, that is going to experience explosive and near-guaranteed economic growth over the next few decades: Southeast Asia. Unlike anywhere else in the world, these countries are likely going to experience high single-digit and likely double-digit annual GDP growth for many, many years to come. There are many reasons for this including regional, demographic, economic, and cultural. Regardless of the reasons, SE Asia is the place for creative, international entrepreneurs and investors to focus on for the foreseeable future.
When I say “Southeast Asia” in this growth context I’m talking about mainland SE Asia meaning Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and partially the western half of Malaysia (officially known as “Peninsular Malaysia”). Some people consider nations such as Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia as part of “Southeast Asia,” but I do not, at least not when talking about economic growth.
I’ll overview each country in SE Asia below in order of GDP (except for Malaysia). I used Wikipedia for all economic stats and all GDP figures are nominal.
Malaysia, the only Islamic country on this list, only partially fits into this growth category as I said above. Its GDP sits at just over $373 billion. It’s been growing strongly for a very long time at around 6.5% annually for almost 50 years(!). Unlike the rest of SE Asia, it is a Muslim nation rather than embracing the Buddhism that encompasses the other SE Asian nations, though it is a much milder and more inclusive version of Islam than is used in most of the Middle East.
My personal opinion is that Malaysia is a decent bet, but I don’t think it will grow nearly as fast as the other nations in SE Asia primarily because it’s already grown so fast for so long. Don’t get me wrong, Malaysia will still grow, just not as fast as the other nations listed here. I also know a lot of guys who live in (or spend a lot of time in) Kuala Lumpur and really love it, so I have no doubt it’s a good place to live.
Thailand is the king of SE Asia with a GDP of over half a trillion. It’s the “anchor” economy for SE Asia the way that Japan and China used to be for greater Asia before moving to first-world status. Already a favorite for many Western travelers and expats, the people and culture of Thailand are extremely friendly and welcoming to foreigners as compared to other Asian nations; this is reflected in its business culture which grew by double-digits annually during most of the 80s and 90s and by strong single digits post-2002. Their economic growth has slowed a little lately but is still light-years ahead of the Collapsing West.
My personal opinion regarding Thailand is almost the same as my view on Malaysia. Thailand will continue to grow strongly but I don’t think it will experience the explosive growth of the other nations listed below mostly because it’s already number one and has already grown so much. However, Thailand is a really good place to invest for many Westerners since the currency is more solid and so inexpensive as compared to the US Dollar, making it perhaps a safer investment than the more wild-west nature of other SE Asian nations.
Vietnam is the next largest SE Asian nation with a GDP of around $260 billion. Vietnam is badass. It’s ranked as the ninth fastest growing country in the entire world. It was a socialist shithole for many years, but it finally got its act together several decades ago and has surpassed powerhouses like China and India in terms of reducing poverty rates. Very impressive. Vietnam is predicted to have 10%+ annual growth rates starting in 2025(!). It’s even predicted to surpass all the nations in Scandinavia and even Singapore(!).
My personal opinion is that Vietnam is going to continue to explode, in a good way, and will do extraordinarily well, barring something unusual and unforeseen. Go for it.
Myanmar is the most interesting, risky, dangerous, and perhaps exciting of the SE Asian nations. For the past several years, at least until 2011, Myanmar was a hellscape of violent civil war and brutal ethnic violence. Thousands upon thousands of people were slaughtered, raped, and/or became refugees. Economic sanctions crushed much of the economy. Thankfully, they’ve calmed down in recent years. There are still many problems but they’re improving. In 2016 they actually opened their first stock exchange.
My personal opinion is that Myanmar will grow faster and sooner than any other SE Asian nation, but the risks are still high and doing business there or investing for Westerners will be difficult. Consider any investing or business operations there as purely speculative and be prepared to work very hard.
Cambodia is an economic baby with a GDP at only $24 billion. However, because of this smallness it is one of the fastest growing countries in the world, growing even faster than Vietnam(!). It’s averaged 7.6% growth over the past decade. Staggering! It’s also a world leader in poverty reduction.
My personal opinion is that Cambodia is my favorite country in SE Asia. I think that Cambodia will become the next Singapore or Hong Kong in our lifetimes, though growth will be choppy at times. I think amazing things will happen there over the next few decades. I plan on investing there heavily and doing business there.
Laos is the economically smallest country in SE Asia with a GDP of barely $20 billion. Guess why. Because it’s socialist, even communist in certain respects. Despite all of that, it is still growing faster than most other countries in the world, but not nearly as fast as its other SE Asian brothers.
My personal opinion is to stay away from Laos and instead focus on the more exciting nations like Vietnam or Cambodia. With its backward communist bent, there’s no reason to screw around with Laos when other SE Asian nations are better bets. At some point Laos will become more capitalist and then it will be a good time to look at it.
Southeast Asia, folks! That’s where the growth will be over the next few decades. With the possible exception of Africa, it’s the only place in the world where this kind of growth is virtually guaranteed. I have extensive business plans and investment plans for SE Asia. You should too.
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