China’s BSN Builder Is Registering a Nonprofit in Singapore to Manage International Arm

Red Date hopes its “internet of blockchains” isn’t seen as a project controlled by China.

Sep 25, 2021
CoinDesk Insights

Red Date Technology, the company developing China’s Blockchain Services Network (BSN), wants the project to move past its government roots as it pushes for international expansion in a tumultuous geopolitical climate.

Red Date filed in late July to register a nonprofit foundation in Singapore to manage the international version of the network, CEO Yifan He told CoinDesk.

The company hopes to bring international leaders from tech and financial services companies to the board of directors, he said.

The move is aimed at making the BSN into an “international standard open-source community” that, like the internet, isn’t controlled by any one entity. It might even step down from the board of the Singapore foundation at some point in the future, He said.

What is it?

The BSN is a blockchain development platform made available through cloud-based nodes in cities in China and abroad. Developers can access more than a dozen protocols, including Tezos, Nervos, Solana, Polkadot, Hyperledger Fabric, IRISnet, Algogrand, R3′s Corda and Baidu’s Xuperchain, among others.

Red Date’s headquarters sit on the outskirts of Beijing, in a building among countless rows of other identical office spaces. Most of its 150 employees are engineers. Nothing about the setting implies that the company is building one of China’s flagship blockchain projects. For most of its seven-year history, it wasn’t. Founded in 2014, it was working on smart-city projects with local governments in China until the BSN was begun in 2018.

Aspiring blockchain developers can buy a bundle of Blockchain-as-a-Service and cloud hosting to make decentralized applications. The bundle is cheaper and easier to deploy than most other alternatives, Red Date says.

The BSN also comes with interoperability protocols, enabling interconnected decentralized applications (dapps). By making this cheap connectivity-enabled blockchain platform around the world, Red Date hopes it will lead to global adoption of the technology and eventually become the de facto infrastructure for an “internet of blockchains.”

But the network is split into two versions to ensure compliance with Chinese authorities, who do not look favorably upon fully decentralized and permissionless chains like Ethereum and Solana.

In the Chinese version, permissionless chains are “adapted” into permissioned chains, thus becoming centralized and easy to control.

The international version currently operates eight nodes in eight locations using Amazon Web Services, Google, and Microsoft Cloud servers. South Korea is the latest country to get its own BSN portal earlier in September.

CEO He declined to disclose data on the platform’s uptake internationally.

The origins

As the BSN seeks to attract developers to the platform, its Chinese origins are coming under scrutiny. One of the key questions is who is really in charge, according to Paul Triolo, head of geo-tech risk consulting at Washington, D.C.-based Eurasia Group.

Triolo argues that if the project is perceived as an attempt by the Chinese government to control blockchain development, it will likely fail to attract developers from around the world.

“The idea of a global blockchain internet is really interesting,” Triolo said, but the question is how to do this “in a way that wouldn’t be seen as a Chinese government alternative.”

The BSN Development Association, the committee that oversees the network’s buildout, is chaired by the State Information Center, a think tank under the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s highest economic planning body. Other founding members include state-owned telcos such as China Mobile and China Unicom, as well as payments provider China UnionPay.

Given this origin story, questions about the BSN’s independence from government interference have emerged. Splitting the network in two, and trying to onboard other entities to run the international version, could help position the network as a more neutral platform, at least in theory.

DISCLOSURE

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Eliza Gkritsi is a CoinDesk news reporter based in Asia.