How many such groups there are, no one knows. They are privately owned, publish no figures or annual reports, and are secretive to a fault. In Taiwan, where many of them have their lawyers, the best estimate is that there are at least a thousand. How big the overseas Chinese economy is, is not known either. An often-heard guess - over $2 trillion in investments outside their own home territories - is wildly improbable. It would make the overseas Chinese foreign investments larger than those of the United States! But even $500 billion would mean foreign investments by the overseas Chinese roughly equal to those of the Japanese. The overseas Chinese are certainly the largest investors in mainland China. They have put in more money than either the Americans or the Japanese - more even than the Chinese government has invested this last decade in its own economy. They are thus the driving force behind the explosive economic growth of coastal China. And, with the sole exception of South Korea (which, by and large, is closed to them), they also lead the economies of the other fast-growing countries of Southeast Asia: not only the three islands with a solidly Chinese population - that is, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore - but also Malaysia (where ethnic Chinese are 30 per cent of the population), Thailand (10 per cent ethnic Chinese), Indonesia (2 per cent ethnic Chinese), and the Philippines (1 per cent ethnic Chinese). And they are branching out to wherever there are even small populations of ethnic Chinese, to the United States

and Canada, to Australia and to Europe. The overseas Chinese have become the new economic superpower.