📍Saigon, Vietnam

11th November 2022
2,180 words / 5 minute read

Geopolitical Diversification

Vietnamese Boat People

Vote with your feet

“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.” ― John Adams

When I was in highschool I did a school exchange to a town in what had previously been the former East German Democratic Republic (GDR). At the time, the iron curtain and the Berlin wall were still fresh in the memories of people all across Europe. My German host parents imparted their experiences on to me over late night beers in the depth of the northern european winter. Their grievances - as I have since come to understand - were typical of the communist experience. Travel was highly regulated. Families were separated for decades across geopolitical fault lines, in their case - East and West Germany. One could practically forget about leaving the country, and even travel within the Warsaw Pact countries and the USSR was difficult. People went missing, political opposition and dissenting opinions were suppressed. Shortages of basic goods from fruit to cars - where decade long waitlists persisted - were par for the course.

The thing that stuck with me the most was the inability to leave the country - an irony not lost on me after Australia's response to the pandemic made it illegal to do exactly that. It is understandable that a country determine who enters its territory, but preventing its own citizens from leaving is tyrannical in every sense. People went to great lengths to leave the eastern bloc. From flying, to swimming, to sneaking through forests or hiding in the trunk of cars. A situation not dissimilar - albeit less dramatic - than the plight of the Vietnamese Boat People.

When visiting the Baltic coast in north-east Germany and dipping my toes in the freezing - in the literal sense - water, I remarked on the futility of attempting to swim to Sweden. To that my German host mother remarked in German, "One does not know what these people went through". Escape at any cost, which victims of the state could rationalise on account of their suffering so that even a high probability of death was no deterrent. To resist such a cruel society is honourable, to avoid it altogether is preferable.

Our society

The modern, US modeled system is far more sophisticated in its surveillance techniques and efficiency than were the Warsaw Pact nations. Modern technologies allow for this. It is also a less overtly cruel system, until it needs to be. Governments can be voted in or out, but the prevailing direction remains unchanged. Things can be questioned, as long as those questions are not based in truth, else they be censored, not by a sluggish state apparatus, but rather a sophisticated web of crony capitalist tech monopolies and a collusive media machine. Until 2020, control was exercised softly. But in the words of Mao Zedong, "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun".

In this sense, while the parody that is democratic governance plays out in the form of debates on meaningless and insignificant decisions, the narrative around anything that threatens the legitimacy of the powers that be is actively suppressed. Much more than suppressed and censored though, a state of mass psychosis prevails in the West, meaning any opinion that deviates from the prevailing narrative is effectively self-censored by the society itself from within.

Recently in Sydney I sat down with a friend who exclaimed that "recent studies and literature have shown that Australia's COVID response was too extreme". Nothing better sums up western democracy than pursuing a disastrous policy at any cost, and with no consideration given to other views, only to later admit that "mistakes were made" without any sense of accountability. Knowing however that this is the modus operandi of the legacy west, it became more than apparent that the most effective strategy is to vote with one's feet. To leave.

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart!” - Confucius

I have been fortunate to live in many different countries and a variety of systems. Majority Islamic countries, officially communist countries, monarchies, republics and parliamentary democracies. A common misconception is that only Western Democracies have freedoms - probably the only thing the United States still leads in is propaganda, hence this misconception. But just because certain rights are not enshrined in any official document does not mean they do not exist. In fact, the presence of any legal rights is often evidence that such rights do not really exist in practice.

A Westerner will not understand that a Beijing cab-driver will talk to you about all matter of topics, and is often eager to, because from the perspective of the Westerner no such discussion legally exists in China, and even if there is, this person is probably not even capable of such a discussion. Conversely, westerners walk on egg shells around each other, worried about making offence, and yet their right to freedom of expression is - ironically - often enshrined in law.

The difficulty for most Westerners in the new world is that they do not know where the delineation lies, because they are unfamiliar with the rules and the rules are often not written. This is understandable of course, as in the West, as rife as corruption is, it exists primarily at the top, and as such, is not accessible to the majority of people who are as a result understandably unsure of how to operate within its grey confines. Fortunately, my journey through life has exposed me to this corruption, and perhaps more importantly, help me to understand it.

In the context of what I have described here, as well as the emerging geopolitical shift that is dividing the world in two, I have identified three countries which I consider to be ideal for the purpose of tyrannical government avoidance. Rather than draw conclusions based solely upon official laws in each country, I have rather given significant weight to my own understanding and experiences of certain systems wherein for example laws do not exist or otherwise may exist, but are rarely enforced, or can be easily circumvented, in a sense allowing some of us to live above them. Furthermore, I have given great consideration to the example provided in the last two years, which provided insights into how governments may react to future crises - whether manufactured or real. Finally, given we are looking for a way out the ease of obtaining a residence permit, and especially naturalisation, is a factor.

🇹🇭 Thailand


No country seems better placed to balance relations with both geopolitical camps than is Thailand. Increasingly seen as an investment safe haven - in the form of precious metal storage and real estate -, and ever more popular amongst digital nomads, Thailand was, prior to the pandemic, the world's 8th most popular tourist destination. While its relationship with the United States has deteriorated, it is still - officially at least - considered an ally. At the same time, Thailand maintains good relations with both Russia and China.

As a destination for global tourism Thai's will often switch between English and Chinese, and while - like any country - not without its challenges, Thailand retains a level of independence and self-confidence that is unseen in most Western countries, allowing it to maintain its distinct culture and way of life. Thai's are pragmatic, which helped them to avoid colonisation, as well as serious entanglement in the 2nd World War. Thailand's direct support for the United States during the Vietnam war is in stark contrast to the growing cooperation with China today, whether through joint military exercises, economic trade, tourism or infrastructure projects.

As someone who believes in the future of East and South-East Asia, Thailand offers much of the best of what the region has to offer. Beyond the fascinating local culture of the country itself, Bangkok also boasts one of the largest Chinatowns in the world as well as a world class international airport which was the 14th most connected (by number of destinations) in 2019. Connecting to HK, Japan and Europe, as well as regional destinations is easy.

5G coverage and internet speeds in Thailand are faster than most "developed" nations. Coupled with an unintrusive tax regime and a newly legislated Long-Term Residence visa program, Thailand offers, in my view, the single best destination for the Western exodus at this time. The word "Thai" (ไทย) - originally "Tai" - literally means free after all.

🇲🇽 Mexico

Mexico City

Probably one of the least restrictive countries throughout the pandemic, Mexico, like much of Latin America exhibits a level of openness unparalleled in Asia. While Thailand is my first choice for the aforementioned reasons, the path to citizenship there is more difficult and dual citizenship is technically not allowed. Conversely, Mexico offers one of the most accessible paths to citizenship in the world, and, should you become a naturalised citizen, a remarkably strong passport with access to the Schengen Zone in Europe, the UK, Latin America, Russia and many destinations in Asia. Mexico permits dual citizenship.

10 years ago it would have been difficult to imagine a situation wherein citizens of the United States of America would be fleeing in droves to Mexico, but in the last two years that is exactly what has happened. The country's proximity to the United States means there is no shortage of online work available and the cost of living, like Thailand, is significantly lower than that of its northern neighbour.

Mexico isn't a low tax jurisdiction, far from it, but residence permits are readily available if you are able to either prove a certain amount of liquid assets over the last 12 months, or otherwise, a certain level of income in the last 6 months. Residence permits can be maintained, even if residing less than 183 days in the country - thereby avoiding tax residency. After 5 years of legal residence in Mexico, it may be possible to apply for citizenship, and thereby qualify for a Mexican passport, assuming a number of factors, such as fluency in the Spanish language and physical presence requirements have been fulfilled.

While Mexico may not be at the centre of the world in the way that countries in Asia are, there is still connectivity to Europe and Latin America, and the country itself is incredibly diverse in nature and topography. More than anything, Mexico is a country that has proven willing to respond reasonably, and not excessively, to crises - as witnessed throughout the pandemic. Most people's concerns relate to rates of violent crime, which is understandable. However, cities such as Merida on the Yucatan peninsula are considered among the safest in Latin America.

Overall, Mexico's openness from a residence standpoint, great food, beautiful climate and growing economy make it a great base for at least part of the year. It should be noted also that where Mexican Permanent Residence is obtained, it will ordinarily not be revoked, which is rare among permanent residency programmes.

🇵🇹 Portugal

Tram 28, Lisbon

There are a number of countries in Europe that are attractive from a residency standpoint. Italy, for example, is not married to the European Project in the way that Germany or France are and nowhere else in Europe is skepticism of NATO more pronounced in my experience. Armenia, despite the precarious situation with respect to its neighbour, may well become a success story in the coming years and offers one of the fastest paths to citizenship in the world. Montenegro offers a straightforward residency through business incorporation. However, in my view, Portugal represents the single best destination on the continent at present.

Often overshadowed by its larger, more famous neighbour, Spain, Portugal offers a number of accessible residence pathways and has become a go to destination for tech entrepreneurs and digital workers. Lisbon, a beautiful city architecturally and in terms of the lay of its land, hosts Web Summit - one of the largest tech conferences in the world - and boasts a sizable tech community.

While full of exceptions and not entirely straightforward, the Non-Habitual Residence Program (NHR) may allow new residents to significantly reduce their taxes as a Portuguese tax resident. Compared to Mexico and Thailand, Portugal has a far lower financial means test requirement to qualify for a residence permit (D-7 Visa). Additionally, access to Portugal means access to the entire Schengen area, and Portugal also offers one of the fastest and most attainable paths to citizenship in the European Union - with all that entails, good and bad. However, obtaining citizenship will require you to spend significant time in the country in order to qualify, but is theoretically possible in around 5 years assuming some level of Portuguese language is attained (A2).

While considered by many as "a suburb of Europe", Portugal's small size should rather be considered a net positive, as it is often overlooked and out-of-sight and out-of-mind to the corrupt, bureaucratic European Union institutions in Brussels. Add to that beautiful coastlines, one of oldest borders of any nation, and a property market that still offers some level of value, Portugal is an excellent choice for those looking for a European foothold.