So is China readying its own Bitcoin? Banish the thought.
It’s far bigger than that. Yes, just like any other cryptocurrency — or for that matter, cigarettes in prisoners-of-war camps — the upcoming digital yuan will be “tokenized” money. But the similarity ends there. The crypto yuan, which may be on offer as soon as 2020, will be fully backed by the central bank of the world’s second-largest economy, drawing its value from the Chinese state’s ability to impose taxes in perpetuity. Other national authorities are bound to embrace this powerful idea.
Little is known about the digital yuan except that it’s been in the works for five years and Beijing is nearly ready to roll. The consensus is that the token will be a private blockchain, a peer-to-peer network for sharing information and validating transactions, with the People’s Bank of China in control of who gets to participate. To begin with, the currency will be supplied via the banking system and replace some part of physical cash. That won’t be hard, given the ubiquitous presence of Chinese QR code-based digital wallets such as Alipay and WeChat Pay.