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Things like this come in 3′s

Like Junior Soprano claims, “things like this come in 3’s.”  Maybe it’s true.

For the first time today I saw a Bangkok license plate on a car in China.  (I can’t upload the photo for some reason, you’ll just have to believe me that I saw it.)  Now I know that the Bangkok traffic is a mess, but this is a bit of a stretch, don’t you think—and a in Citrone?  I’ve got a French supplier in Taiwan who told me straight out “I’d buy an American car before I bought a French one.”

Next, an actual news article on Lao.  The only other two “mainstream press” pieces I’ve ever seen on Lao were one on poorly built Chinese motorcycles taking over the Lao markets and the NYT’s claim that Lao was “The Destination” of 2008.  I’ve been there twice and would hardly call it a “destination.”  I have also tried for years to get my wife and friends to join me on a drive from Shenzhen to BKK; but to no avail.  Any takers?

Lao ranks at the bottom of most international lists, and for good reason.  While it is resource rich, it’s very mountainous, has been connected at the hip to Vietnam for 30 years and has less than half the number of people (6.5 million) than the Lao population of Thailand (about 15 million).  Quick myth-busting side note: despite what I’ve heard for decades from Thai/Lao friends in the US there are NOT more Lao in the US than in Lao.  The US Lao/Hmong population is only about 350K. Until 2002 there was really no economy to speak of in Lao.  But today, Lao is the “land-link” of Southeast Asia with China, Thailand and Vietnam all vying for influence and access.  Most fascinating to me were the trade numbers.  Lao-Vietnamese trade is almost to $1 billion annually.  With a GDP of $12 billion and only 6 million people, there are a lot of very rich government officials (and 30% of the population living under the poverty line).

And finally, I had a conversation with a potential client last night that included a discussion about “not wanting to be in Communist China.”  Her words, not mine.  I have no problems with other peoples’ politics or reasons for wanting to be or not to be in China or anywhere else.  My position is that it’s their call—but once the decision has been made there are cost/consequences associated with that choice. Sometimes China is cheaper than the ASEAN countries and sometimes it’s not.  China’s government has a bad name (communist/socialist), serious social problems but a vibrant economy.  Thailand’s government, on the other hand, has a good name (Constitutional Monarchy) but rampant (political) corruption and a relatively strong economy as well.  Thailand and China are both ranked in the same general level of corruption in Transparency International’s 2007 report.  So corruption and social ill’s are, like I told the client, are pretty much par for the course in this part of the world.

The Guardian has a good set of pieces, photos and video (in Thai) on the conflict in Bangkok.

Coincidence or harbinger of things to come?