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OPINION

Thailand’s New Hope tells a commonplace emerging market story

There is reason for optimism in Thailand’s recovery from Covid. But comments from the country’s central bank governor and finance minister underscore one of the central challenges for officials in countries like this: that so much is out of their hands.

Chris Wright on Asia 1920px.jpg

There was a Star Wars theme to today’s (August 24) annual Thailand economic and capital markets conference, Thailand Focus 2022. “The New Hope” ran in strident blue capital letters at the back of the Bangkok stage, white lights rising behind it from the city skyline towards a darkened sky.

Hope has been a key part of the arsenal of finance ministers and central bank governors lately, and the Thai event presented a useful case study of the challenges that people in these positions are facing across the emerging world. All are grappling with distinct domestic tests, as every economy is different, while also trying to second-guess not only the behaviour of developed-world heavyweights like the Federal Reserve, but also the knock-on effects of anything that the Fed and its peers do.

The most interesting commentary came from Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput, governor of the Bank of Thailand. He is not your typical central bank governor: he abandons the lectern and strides the stage with a microphone, eschewing the careful, written speeches of many in his position and ad-libbing an honest discussion about the issues of the day.

A former World Bank senior economist, who started out at McKinsey & Co and has something of an American-accented confidence in delivery, his career embraces the entirety of Thai public and private finance: the stock exchange, Siam Commercial Bank, the Government Pension Fund, PTT, the Thailand Future Foundation and, finally, the central bank.

“The

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