While major central banks are starting to study the new form of currency, China is sparing no efforts to put its retail CBDC into practice to a point where not just its residents but foreign tourists would be comfortable embracing and using the digital yuan.
The world’s second-largest economy has already launched various trials across the country, dropping dozens of batches of e-CNY red packets to some of its residents. The authorities have given away at least 344 million digital yuan (US$54 million) in red pockets, according to Forkast.News’ calculation based on publicly available information.
Mu Changchun, director-general of the People’s Bank of China’s digital currency institute, said in November at Hong Kong Fintech Week that as of October, about 140 million individuals have opened their digital yuan wallets, and 10 million corporate wallets have been created. Meanwhile, the e-CNY transaction value amounted to 62 billion yuan (US$9.7 billion), and 1.55 million merchants now accept e-CNY payment, including utilities, catering services, transportation, shopping and government services, Mu added.
China’s ambition for the digital yuan doesn’t stop at just facilitating its domestic residents for their daily spending. It wants to make cross-border payment easier, using the digital yuan.
Mu said at a recent webinar jointly organized by the PBOC and the Hong Kong Hong Kong Monetary Authority that the central bank has launched a collaborative project with the HKMA to “explore the feasibility of using CBDC to improve cross-border payments.”
The PBOC official said the team has run through preliminary technical tests with a limited number of Hong Kong residents who could create e-CNY wallets with basic features, such as top-up, transfer and payment with certain merchants.
“Now we’re entering the phase-two research — that is to explore the approaches for interlinking the digital yuan and the Faster Payment System in Hong Kong,” Mu said, adding that it could further improve the payment efficiency without changing local residents’ payment habits. Mu hopes in the future, for mainland tourists traveling to Hong Kong, they could make payments to local merchants with e-CNY while the merchants could receive directly in HKD.
All of the above measures could be paving the way for the Beijing Winter Olympics in February in the new year, where many expect the digital yuan to be fully rolled out. For example, earlier this month, four state-run banks in Beijing released a new batch of e-CNY coupons to promote its adoption rate in rehearsal for the upcoming Winter Olympics. This batch of coupons tests the e-CNY’s application in small-amount and high-frequency payment scenarios.
However, some might not be as ecstatic about the new digital currency and have expressed concerns over privacy. In a white paper released in July, the PBOC noted that the e-CNY is not a 100% anonymous system, but supports “managed anonymity” with tiers of complexity based on know-your-customer needs.
In the same month, three U.S. senators wrote to the country’s Olympic and Paralympic Committee to urge it to “forbid American athletes from receiving or using digital yuan during the Beijing Olympics,” due to privacy concerns.
Regardless, as the Winter Olympics approaches, China doesn’t seem to shy away from showcasing its technology innovation muscles.
The Beijing Winter Olympics will open on Feb. 4, which Chinese authorities regard as an essential stage for country’s new digital currency, with the expectation that participants from all over the world may use the digital yuan at the Olympics venues.
In a bid to make it easier for residents and tourists to navigate the digital yuan, the authorities have revealed a number of ways to make e-CNY payments on some quirky devices that could be put to use not just at the Olympics venue.
Here are some we find more interesting.
One of the highlights of the Winter Olympics is no doubt the games related to skiing. What can be more chic than paying with a pair of ski gloves at the venue for more souvenirs?
The authorities are rolling out ski gloves that are built with the e-CNY payment feature, according to local media reports.
One of the most important features for e-CNY is its network-less payment system. For example, the state-run Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and telecommunications service giant China Mobile have launched a fiat digital-yuan hard wallet that comes with a SIM card with near-field communication technology, allowing devices to transact in e-CNY without a mobile network.
Bank of China and China Unicom have also launched hard wallets that come as ski gloves. In a trial run, Shen Xue, a Chinese retired pair skater and the 2020 Olympic champion, took a subway ride with a swipe on the gate using a pair of ski gloves, as reported by state-run Financial News.
Smart watches come as natural fits for mobile payment. Bank of China, together with China Unicom, have showcased smart watches that could be used to make e-CNY payments.
Such watches also come with a network-less payment system, so users can use them to make payments when they’re playing sports or lose mobile connections, a manager at the bank told local press.
In September, China displayed various e-CNY “hard wallet” devices at the China International for Trade in Services in Beijing. Among them, what particularly stood out was a crutch that could be used for e-CNY payments.
Users of this crutch hard wallet could just “tap and go,” making it easier especially for elders to make payment, according to local media reports.
Fans for Olympic pins may have a new option for the upcoming games to add to their collections. Several Chinese banks have publicly showcased e-CNY hard wallets in the shape of Olympic pins.
Imagine carrying around a red envelope with no physical money in it.
Bank of China has dispatched a number of paper envelopes that come with the e-CNY payment feature. That could come in handy especially when the Winter Olympics takes place right after the Chinese New Year, which falls on Feb. 1 next year, where traditionally elders give away red envelopes to their juniors for good fortune in the coming year.