作者：Yinan Zhao, Heng Xie, Zheping Huang, and Ling Zeng
日期：2019年9月11日，GMT + 8上午5:00
The People’s Bank of China is poised to become the first major central bank to issue a digital version of its currency, the yuan, seeking to keep up with — and control of — a rapidly digitizing economy. Unlike cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, though, dealing in the digital yuan won’t have any presumption of total anonymity, and its value will be as stable as the physical yuan, which will be sticking around too. Some questions remain, including the impact on commercial banks as well as Big Tech companies such as Ant Financial and Tencent Holdings Ltd. that already offer payment services.
Behind China’s rush is a desire to manage technological change on its own terms. As one PBOC official put it, currency isn’t only an economic issue, it’s also about sovereignty.
What’s the plan?
并非所有细节都已公布，但根据中国人民银行注册的新专利和官方发言，它可能会起到这样的作用：消费者和企业会在他们的手机上下载数字钱包并从他们的帐户中加载数字现金银行 – 类似于操作ATM机器。然后他们像使用现金一样，与其他拥有数字钱包的人一起支付款。
Not all the details are out, but according to new patents registered by the PBOC and official speeches, it could work something like this: Consumers and businesses would download a digital wallet on their mobile phone and load the digital cash from their account at a commercial bank — similar to going to an ATM. They then use that like cash to make and receive payments with anyone else who also has a digital wallet.
Aren’t most transactions already electronic?
Yes. China is increasingly a cashless society.
Even street-food sellers in small towns will prefer to use a mobile payment app than make actual change. Inthe first quarter of 2019, such apps handled 59 trillion yuan ($8.3 trillion)of transactions in China, up 15% from a year earlier, according to researchfirm Analysys.
Ant Financial’s Alipay handled almost half of that, followed byTencent’s WeChat Pay with a third. The PBOC says all non-cash transactions(which also includes such things as credit, debit and stored-value cards, banktransfers and checks) totaled 3.8 quadrillion yuan in 2018. The trend is hardlyunique to China: A central bank survey inSweden found that only 13% of people in 2018 paid for their most-recentpurchase in cash, down from 39% in 2010.
So why is the PBOC doing this?
There are important regulatory and political considerations.
Having theability to track money electronically as it changes hands would be useful incombating money laundering and other illegal activities. The project wasstarted by former PBOC Governor Zhou Xiaochuan, who retired in March 2018. Hewanted to protect China from having to some day adopt a standard, like Bitcoin,designed and controlled by others.
Facebook Inc.’s push to introduce its owndigital coin, called Libra, in 2020 may be speeding things up, as it could endup strengthening the dollar’s dominance — and weakening China’s capitalcontrols. As the head of the PBOC’s research bureau, Wang Xin, putit in July, that could have “economic, financial and eveninternational political consequences.”
Is it a cryptocurrency?
When we say cryptocurrency, we usually mean an offering suchas Bitcoin that uses decentralized, online ledgers known as blockchain to verify and record transactions. It and others such as Ethereum support anonymous transfers without theneed for a middleman — or a central bank. The wild volatility in their value,however, makes them ill-suited for use as a means of payment.
Libra will also be a cryptocurrency, but a so-called stablecoin, 100% backed by a basket of securities andreal-life currencies such as the dollar, euro, pound and yen. Because thosedon’t fluctuate much, Libra’s value should be steady as well. Initially atleast, Libra will be run by private companies including Facebook, Visa andUber. The PBOC will, of course, back the digital yuan, making the currency the opposite of decentralized. 它也不确定是否会使用区块链。It’s also not certain that it will use blockchain,either.
Why not use existing coins?
China banned cryptocurrency exchanges and so-called initial coin offeringsin 2017 amid a broad effort to cleanse risk from its financial system and clampdown on so-called shadow banking. They can still be traded, but through aslower, more restrictive process.
Digital currencies also could provide a way to move money out of China, potentially adding to capital outflows that would undermine the yuan’s value. Even though Libra isn’t out yet, Chinese officials have called for oversight by monetary authorities. (Facebook’s website is banned in China, but many Chinese access it via a work-around called a virtual private network, or VPN.)
Why not use blockchain?
The PBOC has considered it, but researchers have expressed doubts about whether the technology would be able to support a large volume of simultaneous transactions. China’s annual Singles’Day shopping gala in 2018 had payment demand peaking at 92,771 transactions per second, far above what Bitcoin’s blockchain could support, according to another central bank official, MuChangchun.
How about privacy?
The bank wants to “strike a balance” between anonymity and the need to crack down on financial crimes, Mu said, but it’s unclear what that means. The PBOC has said that user information won’t be completely exposed to banks. But user identities will likely be tied to individual wallets, giving authorities another window into people’s lives. PBOC Deputy Governor Fan Yifei suggested in an article in 2018 that banks may need to submit daily information on transactions and that there could be caps on transactions by individuals.
When’s it coming?
Soon, it seems.
Mu said in August that the digital cash is “close to being out.” The PBOC has been looking into a digital currency since at least 2014, and it’s been recruiting staff for a dedicated institute. Research and innovation regarding digital currencies was mentioned in the grand plan to make Shenzhen, the technology hub next to Hong Kong, into a world-class city by 2025.
Will people use it?
It’s hard to say.
The PBOC’s digital wallet is just a wallet, at least fornow, whereas the incumbents Alipay and WeChat Pay are deeply embedded in awhole world of social media, e-commerce, ride-hailing, bill-paying, investmentsand other functions. Da Hongfei, the Shanghai-based founder of open-sourcedblockchain platform Neo, said he can’t see why the general public would choosethe PBOC’s digital currency over something as handy as Alipay.
How will banks be affected?
Mainly in bookkeeping.
Digital cash would have to be kept separate from regular savings, because it represents money in actual circulation (known in central banking parlance as M0), not the so-called demand deposits (M1) whichbanks use to lend out again to companies and households. Commercial lenders would deposit 100% worth of reserves at the central bank in exchange for digital currency, which it then distributes to retail users. The two-tier system also reduces the burden on the PBOC to perform due diligence, revamp ITsystems and answer client requests.
Probably not immediately.
As the PBOC’s digital money is designed toreplace cash, it won’t have a big impact on the broad money supply, and therebyits affect on monetary policy will likely be neutral. If the digital currencyis widely accepted and people are encouraged to hold more cash, bank depositscould decline, but the impact will be manageable, according to a 2018 article fromthe PBOC’s digital currency research institute. In a more distant future, thecentral bank might use digital currency to help steer the economy.
Patent filings made public in October 2018 described a currency that would require banks making loans to input details about borrowers and interest rates before funds could be transferred. That could allow the PBOC to more proactively control bank lending and direct funding where it deems appropriate.Furthermore, should there be a need for China to turn to an unconventional monetary policy toolkit, digitized currency would allow it to apply negative rates even for people holding digital cash.
What are other central banks doing?
Uruguay has done a pilot program,called e-Peso, that was praised by the International Monetary Fund. Venezuela has a controversial offering called the petro, and Sweden’s Riksbank is exploring ane-krona. Last month, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney called for Libra-like reserve currency to end the dollar’s dominance. An anonymous survey by the Bank for International Settlements in early 2019 showed most of the global central banks are participating in theoretical and conceptual research.
QuickTakes on Facebook’s Libra coin, stablecoins, what happened to ICOs, Tether and blockchain.
Bloomberg Opinion’s Andrew Browne on China’s crypto ambitions.
Sweden’s Riksbank has an e-krona project wellunder way.
Read more on the PBOC’s thinking on Libra.
The PBOC’s deputy governor writing on why central banks should lead the wayon digital currencies.