Photo: iStock
State-backed media have indicated there is high-level understanding in Beijing that the PRC needs to have its own centralized and controlled cryptocurrency that could be very similar to Facebook's Libra coin. Photo: iStock

Digital asset markets have been on fire all week, largely led, quite typically, by Bitcoin, which has hit 2019 highs. The king of crypto surged to a peak of US$13,800 on Wednesday before a flash crash wiped out $2,000 in two hours and, to date, a full market recovery has not been immediately forthcoming. In late Asia trading, Bitcoin was trading at a little more than $11,000.

The drop still means Bitcoin has risen more than 200% this year with most of those gains happening in the past fortnight. The parabolic rise seen in mid to late June also pushed total market capitalization for all crypto assets to its highest level for more than a year. In the middle of the week, it sat close to $385 billion and it now sits closer to $325 billion.

China could be a possible catalyst for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, furthering their epic recent performance as, according to an editorial in Forbes, Beijing could be warming to a Facebook Libra-style digital currency.

According to an editorial in the PRC-backed Global Times, there is a concern in Beijing that Facebook’s crypto will be backed by real currencies and securities and this, in turn, is creating a growing worry about US tech dominance in digital assets.

“If China cannot participate in this new phase of the digital economic revolution, then it may find itself in a passive position within currency competition, not to mention it could lose its advantages within the internet and financial technology sectors,” the editorial said.

China has supported blockchain technology but clamped down on all domestic crypto operations in late 2017 when it outlawed exchanges and trading. Beijing still seems to have no intention of embracing decentralized, permission-less digital assets – such as Bitcoin– but there now seems to be a high-level of understanding that the PRC must have its own centralized and controlled crypto. Which, according to the nuances in the Global Times editorial, could be very similar to Libra.

While some have said Bitcoin’s recent rapid rise is due, in part, to Beijing using it as a short-term alternative investment to help it hedge against the impacts of the US trade war, the PRC now seems likely to roll out its own ‘crypto Yuan’ in the not too distant future.

India’s crypto woes are deepening as the Indian government continues its crackdown. There is still a huge demand for peer-to-peer digital currencies and Bitcoin has been selling, on the few crypto exchanges that have remained operational, at more than $500 above the global market rate. Banks have reportedly been warning clients that their accounts will be closed if they dabble in digital assets and the government, according to Reuters, has also followed China’s lead by blocking crypto discussion platforms such as Telegram and Reddit.

Crypto trading exchanges are dwindling in India and another one closed its doors this week. Koinex, one of the country’s largest exchanges, announced it was ceasing operations on Thursday following months of uncertainty and disruption. Co-founder Rahul Raj said over the last year it’s been “tough to operate a digital assets trading business in India, on account of the closure of bank accounts holding user deposits.”

Local media in Russia have reported that the country’s Ministry of Finance is mulling new legislation which will permit the buying and selling of cryptocurrencies. Deputy Finance Minister Alexei Moiseyev told reporters this week that the ministry had met with the Russian central bank and the Federal Security Service to discuss the new bill. Regulation regarding crypto is still a grey area in Russia and international finance watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), has urged lawmakers to establish a clearer regulatory framework before the end of the year. The move by Moscow has, again, been linked to the Facebook launch.

The Philippines is another country that appears to be pressing ahead with crypto adoption and a total of 48 digital exchanges have reportedly now been approved for operations. This week the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) was said to have registered 11 exchanges for business in addition to 37 other crypto operators licensed by the government-owned Cagayan Economic Zone Authority. The freeport, located at the northeastern tip of the country and operated as a separate customs territory in theory similar to Hong Kong and Singapore, has become a hub for the global “grey market” online gambling industry.

Cagayan was linked to a headline-hitting 2016 cyber heist, where $81 million was taken from a Bangladesh central bank account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York – if it wasn’t for a typo on the bank drafts, almost $1 billion may have been stolen – before the money vanished into the casino industry in the Philippines.

It seems the perfect place for 48 crypto exchanges.

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