China on a Blockchain? Maybe in 2018

OPINION
Chun Yin Cheung
Dec 30, 2017 at 23:20 UTC  |  Updated  Dec 31, 2017 at 15:01 UTC

Chun Yin Cheung is a partner in PwC China's risk assurance practice, based in the Shanghai office, and a committee member of VeChain Foundation.

The following article is an exclusive contribution to CoinDesk's 2017 in Review, and represents the author's personal view, not necessarily the opinions of his employer.


In 2018, I forecast China will surprise the world (again) and change the crypto world.

I personally believe in 2018 China will be the first major country to launch a central bank digital currency (CBDC), and that we will also see a large-scale blockchain implementation in the retail and logistic industry with a blockchain solution developed by Chinese companies.

Now, I'll unpack my predictions.

A Chinese CBDC

Although cryptocurrency exchanges were banned from China in September this year, the country has always taken a positive attitude toward central bank digital currency and blockchain, actively carrying out relevant research.

In Feb. 2016, for example, People's Bank of China (PBOC) president Mr. Zhou Xiaochun admitted during an interview that the Chinese government has been investigating the adoption of CBDC for a long time. On Dec. 27 of that year, blockchain was written into the "13th Five-Year Plan for National Informatization." The government affirmed the value of blockchain, and it has since risen to the level of our national science and technology strategy.

Technically, China is ready to launch the first CBDC, as the PBOC has set up a dedicated digital currency research group in 2014 to study both digital currency issuance and the business operation framework that would need to support the launch of such technology.

In January 2017, China's central bank successfully tested the digital notes exchange platform.

According to a paper published in Tsinghua Financial Review, a digital currency was used to exchange notes between commercial banks, including Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Bank of China, WeBank, Shanghai Pudong Development Bank and Bank of Hangzhou.

In July, the Central Bank Digital Currency Research Institution officially began operating as a separate business unit within PBOC.

A strategic play

Strategically, the launch of the Chinese CBDC is in line with the Belt and Road Initiative, an integrated upgrade of China's international cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union, China-Japan-South Korea Free Trade Area and other areas.

It enables China to exert its geopolitical advantages, and is an important platform for cooperation.

Transactions with digital currency are more efficient and convenient, eliminating the third-party reconciliation and the automated implementation reducing payment costs and error rates. It increases the chances other countries would pay with RMB in transactions, which increases the liquidity and internationalizes the RMB.

From risk management perspective, the Chinese CBDC may first be launched through a pilot program to manage the risk and public expectation. A Chinese CBDC may first be limited to banks for intra-bank transactions so that existing foreign exchange and capital controls can still be imposed without radical changes.

It also avoids the worry that RMB paper notes or metal coins will be abolished (like what India did) and lead to financial instability. The general public and commercial world also needs more time to understand the technology and develop the associated applications.

Business progress

I also expect we will see some high-profile adoptions of blockchain technology in retail and logistic companies.

Startups like VeChain launched the first commercial blockchain platform through which a Chinese state-owned enterprise is now tracking and managing red wine imported from overseas. Customers can use their mobile phones to scan the IoT tags attached to the wine bottles to access to information shared by manufacturers, logistic companies and distributors through blockchain.

We will also see global luxury brands, automobiles and wine manufacturers use blockchain and IoT technologies developed in China to tackle counterfeiting and introduce completely new experiences to customers.

I am also aware that a major Chinese Internet company established a blockchain laboratory last year. In 2018, they plan to launch a blockchain platform to integrate their B2C, B2B, logistic and financial business units so as to share data with their suppliers and business partners.

Don't see China taking center stage? CoinDesk is accepting submissions for our annual 2017 in Review. Emails news@coindesk.com to share your thoughts.

Yuan image via Shutterstock

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