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AsiaFriday, January 12

Chinese Settlers Unsettle Thai locals

Thailand has long had communities of Chinese, who number about 10 million. But in recent years, newcomers have increased their presence. And friction is developing with local businesses.

Businesspeople in Bangkok's Chinatown have been trading with Thais for many years.

But things have changed lately. About 8 kilometers east of the original Chinatown, where land prices are cheaper, another Chinatown has sprung up.

Newcomers run souvenir shops for the 9-million Chinese tourists who visit Thailand each year.

The shops operate new payment systems designed for smartphones, which are widely used in China.

There are even businesses specializing in international shipments to China.

One bedding company is operated by a woman who has just moved here from inland China.

"Chinese people like these pillows and often buy them. They introduce their friends to us," says the CEO of the company.

She says she felt uncertain about the future of China's economy. So she moved to Thailand, following in the footsteps of relatives who had already set up a business here.

"I moved here soon after graduating from college," she says. "It's been 2 years. This has become the second-largest Chinatown in Thailand. You don't have to speak English or Thai here. The Chinese come here because they can do business in Chinese.

Settlers' businesses are flourishing, but not everyone is happy.

At this bedding company operated by Thais, sales have plummeted by half.

Chinese customers know that shops run by new overseas Chinese offer better prices, so it doesn't make sense for them to shop at Thai-owned stores.

"Both our profit and per-customer sales are declining," says one Thai shopkeeper. "Our income has dropped, and we're having tough time."

Another problem for the locals has emerged as Chinese immigrants race to open shops--rents have jumped fivefold. Thai-owned shops have been forced to move elsewhere.

"Most of the people who move in after the Thais leave are Chinese," says one Thai drugstore owner. "They only do business with other Chinese, so it's really tough for local business owners."

Four times as many Chinese people obtained visas to live in Thailand in 2016 as did 10 years earlier. Business is booming for them. But for the locals, it's a bust.