Beijing Summit: What if They Had a Bitcoin Ban and No One Cared?

Jon Southurst
May 11, 2014 at 10:33 UTC
Updated May 12, 2014 at 12:58 UTC

If the recent issues surrounding bank account closures and domestic media warnings were supposed to scare Chinese attendees away from the two-day Global Bitcoin Summit starting in Beijing Saturday, someone forgot to tell everyone.

The main 400-seat auditorium was regularly full on the first day for the event’s keynote speakers, which included Roger Ver, Aaron Koenig of the Global Bitcoin Alliance, and Wang Wei of the Chinese Museum of Finance.

The overall tone was not so much defiance, but apathy towards greater regulation.

Summit_guide Beijing

While Bobby Lee of BTC China was noticeably absent from the day’s lineup, attendees remained focused on the future and dedicated to the cause.

Both the size and mood of the crowd confirmed what several of CoinDesk’s local Chinese sources have been saying for a while: the community at large is tired of hearing about banks vs. exchanges, and wants to keep building.

How exactly they plan to do this without fiat gateways will be a discussion point tomorrow and in the coming months.

China is big, in every sense

The huge China National Convention Center, located just across the road from Beijing’s 2008 Olympic main stadium, also highlighted just how niche bitcoin still remains in the overall Chinese economy, which is still booming.

The bitcoin summit itself took up a relatively small space at the back of the second floor. Attendees passed massive franchising and marketing conventions, each with their own collection of booths and babes, before even seeing a bitcoin logo.

Regulation not an issue

Regulatory issues were barely touched upon, if mentioned at all, during Roger Ver’s keynote. Stressing once again the utterly voluntary nature of the bitcoin economy, he told the audience his mission was now more that of a promoter of bitcoin’s cause around the world.

“I’m pretty much done investing in bitcoin startups. But if you know some good ones I’m always very happy to introduce you to the right people,” he said, when asked if he intended to invest further in Chinese companies.

Roger Ver speaks in BeijingRoger Ver speaks in Beijing

On the topic of which companies he predicted would succeed in future, Ver said “it’s still too early to tell” – comparing the landscape to search engines in the late 1990s, when it was still unclear whether Lycos, Yahoo or Altavista would dominate in future years. He continued:

“But somebody’s going to work it out. Somebody’s going to do it right.”

Chinese companies were continuing to do well, he added, “I’m often more impressed with Chinese bitcoin exchanges than I am with some of the US and European exchanges.”

Harry Zhou, an Associate with White & Case LLP, gave another presentation on regulation-specific issues, but chose to speak generally instead of referring to current events directly.

Comparing the legal situation in China to that in the US, he drew key differences between each country’s definition of ‘legal tender’, as well as the US’s federal system and competing state jurisdictions.

In China, he said, the renminbi is the only legal tender and that is sacrosanct – even precious metals are not allowed. In the US, however, alternative local barter systems and gold and silver are tolerated even though the US dollar remained the only official legal tender.

Other features

Other international guests on the day’s speaking agenda were Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin and Anthony di Iorio from the Bitcoin Alliance of Canada.

Ethereum's Vitalik Buterin & Ethan Wilding in BeijingEthereum’s Vitalik Buterin & Ethan Wilding in Beijing

While some booths marked with exchange names (like CHBTC) were empty, other local startups filled the spaces. We saw secure wallet Bifubao, mining equipment maker Gridseed Technology Ltd, and even a couple of OKCoin-branded ATMs.

Representing the alt universe was Zetacoin, promoting its Swiss-built payment infrastructure designed for countries like Kenya.

OKCoin_ATMs

Beijing’s Global Bitcoin Summit continues Sunday.