‘Heated’ Bitcoin Debate Flares at Asian Financial Forum

Pete Rizzo
Jan 16, 2014 at 11:30 UTC
Updated Jan 16, 2014 at 15:24 UTC

The chief executive of Octopus, a Hong Kong-based contactless smart card provider, has suggested the company hasn’t ruled out accepting bitcoin, The Standard reported yesterday.

“We don’t exclude the possibility that one day our customers are entitled to use bitcoin to add value to their Octopus card,” said CEO Sunny Cheung Yiu-Tong.

The comment was reportedly issued during a “heated debate” between Cheung and Hong Kong Monetary Authority official Esmond Lee Kin-Ying at a panel discussion on financial service innovation at the Asian Financial Forum on 14th January. The conference sought to bring together Asia’s financial leaders to discuss regional economic matters, and was held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center.

Virtual commodity?

At the event, Cheung suggested that he expects bitcoin’s user base to expand as the currency wins acceptance with online merchants. Lee countered, saying that bitcoin cannot yet be classified as a virtual currency, preferring instead to label it a “virtual commodity.”

“Bitcoin fails to meet two preconditions as a virtual currency: consensus on its par value and confidence in the issuers.”

Lee cast doubt on Cheung’s statements that suggested more online merchants would seek to do business in the currency. In particular, Lee asserted that real estate developers, automobile manufacturers and other real-world businesses were unlikely to use bitcoin.

This statement comes just a few weeks after a UK car classifieds site indicated it would list prices in bitcoin, and one month after a Lamborghini dealership accepted bitcoins for payment, suggesting growing interest in digital currency within the auto industry.

Panelist Zennon Kapron, founder of financial industry consulting firm Kapronasia, also weighed in on the discussion, advocating for a “rational” approach to bitcoin use across all economic sectors.

Regulation in Asia

This open dialogue is notable at a time when many Asian markets like China and India are enacting or debating restrictions on virtual currencies like bitcoin and litecoin.

Public comments from the bitcoin meetup group Bitcoin HK suggest that this debate may not have been the only time bitcoin was discussed at the convention. The group had noted its intent to use the forum as a way to inspire dialogue about emerging virtual currencies in public posts.

Despite Cheung’s seeming support for bitcoin, it is unlikely that Octopus’ decision to formally accept the currency would come under his leadership.

Cheung is currently the outgoing CEO of Octopus Cards Limited, the organization that oversees the Octopus smart card network. Last August, he announced his intention to retire in January 2014.

Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre Image via Shutterstock

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