BANGKOK, Thailand The economic dragons of Southeast Asia kept spitting fire in 1994, and every bit of evidence suggests that this year will be no different.
Even the economic laggards of the region the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, formerly Burma are showing new vitality. With Washington's lifting of a 17-year-old trade embargo last February, Vietnam could be poised for the sort of economic boom that it had long envied among its neighbors.
Southeast Asia, capitalizing on its large numbers of low-wage but relatively well-educated workers, remains the most economically vibrant region on earth, with 1994 growth of 7 percent or more in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, the tiny city-state that increasingly serves as the area's economic hub.
Economic forecasts say the growth should be just as impressive this year. In 1994, foreign investment continued to pour in, notably from Japan, where the strong yen forced companies to keep moving manufacturing offshore.
Furthermore, the creation of a vast middle class in Southeast Asia means that many of the products produced in factories here, everything from cars to television sets to running shoes, are no longer intended strictly for export. They are also for the domestic market.
For the richest Southeast Asians, the problem is where to put all that new-found wealth, and many of them are investing elsewhere in the region.
The biggest investors in Vietnam are from Hong Kong and Taiwan, while Thais are found most everywhere in Cambodia and Laos. The Singaporeans are taking over a large share of the economy of Myanmar, which has thrown open the doors to foreign investors after decades of self-imposed isolation.
The downside of the unrestrained economic boom here is the environmental devastation of the region, especially in urban areas, as well as the vast disparity between rich and poor.
Simply put, cities like Bangkok, the Thai capital, and Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, are now so overbuilt and congested that they may never again be pleasant places for anyone, rich or poor, to live.