An official for China’s central bank has unveiled usage statistics of state-backed digital currency trials conducted in three Chinese cities.

Speaking virtually at the Sibos 2020 conference on Monday, Fan Yifei, deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China, said the bank opened 113,300 consumer digital wallets and 8,859 corporate digital wallets for residents of Shenzhen, Suzhou and Xiong’an to pilot a digital yuan.

The digital wallets processed RMB 1.1 billion ($162 million) across 3.1 million digital yuan transactions between April and August when the pilots launched and ended, Fan said, making it the most widely used central bank digital currency (CBDC) in a commercial setting. 

Hooked up to facial recognition, barcode scanning and tap and go payment technologies, the digital yuan transactions spanned over 6,700 types of use cases. These applications included retail, hospitality, transportation, utility payments, government services and electronic versions of red envelopes gifted to healthcare workers in Shenzhen’s Luohu district, Fan detailed.

Also known as DC/EP, an acronym that stands for digital currency/electronic payment, the digital yuan is a longstanding initiative by the Chinese government since 2014 – when it established a digital currency research institute – to use cryptocurrency-inspired technology to modernize payments, bypass international trade networks and exert geopolitical strength.

“To protect fiat currency from crypto assets and safeguard monetary sovereignty, it is necessary for the central banks to digitize bank notes through new technologies,” Fan stressed in his Sibos talk about the importance of a digital yuan.

The digital yuan’s use in tourism will also be explored in a forthcoming pilot at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in the nation’s capital of Beijing, the People’s Bank of China said in April, when it announced Shenzhen, Suzhou, Xiong’an and Chengdu were chosen as the first sites for trials.

The trials have expanded to Beijing, the Yangtze River Delta region, the provinces of Tianjin, Hebei and Guangdong, and the cities of Hong Kong and Macau, the country’s Commerce Ministry said in August, and they could roll out to central and western China in the future.

Among the digital yuan’s corporate partners are Alibaba e-commerce competitor JD.com, the Tencent-backed Didi Chuxing ride-sharing, Meituan-Dianping food delivery and Bilibili video-streaming apps, and six other state-owned Chinese banks, it has been reported.

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