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Year in review: Top China blockchain news in 2021

Jacob Scott



China tries to stamp out Bitcoin mining while increasing its influence over blockchain technology and preparing the digital yuan for launch. What lies in store for 2022?

For China watchers and blockchain observers, China is a complex nation of extremes in its passionate embrace of blockchain technology while trying, with all its might, to stomp private cryptocurrencies out of existence.

From banning crypto trading and mining to massive nationwide testing of a central bank digital currency (CBDC) now at the cusp of launch, China’s big moves this year may be shocking but in fact were not unexpected. 

Here are the top China blockchain-related stories in 2021 that you should be aware of.

E-CNY trials

China got an early start studying what a central bank digital currency might mean for a country. In 2014, the People’s Bank of China began looking at the possibility of a government version of Bitcoin. With each passing year, the disappearance of paper yuan from the economy made the idea more feasible. By 2019, accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers reported that 96% of Chinese were regularly shopping online.

By spring 2020, the digital yuan was ready for pilot testing in four major Chinese cities. The authorities have given away at least 344 million digital yuan (US$54 million) in successively larger tests since, according to data compiled by Forkast.News, 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 people have opened personal e-CNY wallets and 10 million have created corporate wallets. 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.

China’s ambition for the e-CNY 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.

“Now we’re entering the phase-two research — that is, to explore the approaches for interlinking the e-CNY and the Faster Payment System in Hong Kong,” Mu said this month at a webinar jointly organized by the PBOC and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. The authorities hope 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.

See related article:China’s new mobile payment rules could pave the way for e-CNY, experts say

All the above measures could be paving the way for the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, where many expect the digital yuan to be fully rolled out. Fan Yifei, a deputy governor of the PBOC, said in September the preparations for e-CNY use during the Winter Olympics has entered a “sprint stage.”

As the digital yuan testing began to resemble a soft rollout and more e-CNY entered China’s economy, crimes related to the e-CNY also began cropping up. At least seven cases ranging from money laundering to scams related to the e-CNY have occurred, according to Forkast.News’ calculation based on publicly available information.

Crypto ban

On Sept. 24, China dropped the news that the country is banning all crypto transactions and crypto mining activities. To the shock of the crypto industry in China and abroad, Chinese authorities also suggested that they could go after overseas companies and Chinese nationals engaging in now-prohibited activities. 

Industry reactions were swift. Many crypto exchanges and platforms — including Huobi, BitMart, BHEX, Cobo and — said they would stop registering new mainland users and phase out existing users. OKEx and Binance also reiterated their services have been blocked in mainland China since 2017.

Overseas Chinese communities and crypto companies that employ Chinese nationals were also alarmed and confused by how people and companies outside China providing crypto services that are perfectly legal in those jurisdictions could still find themselves subject to an investigation by China and being in violation of the mainland’s new anti-crypto law.

See related article: China’s crypto investors get creative to bypass domestic trading ban

But even as China cracks down on crypto activities with all its might, throwing down more thunder and lightning than ever before, some crypto users and workers are finding creative cover right under the authorities’ noses and finding new ways to continue their crypto business as usual.

Some investors on the mainland are now registering as overseas companies to bypass the know-your-customer checks and that allows them to keep trading crypto as corporations.

Crypto mining’s great migration

Until this year, China was one of the major cryptocurrency-producing countries in the world.

But all that started to change this spring as one region after another — including Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang regions, as well as Qinghai, Yunnan, Sichuan, Hebei and Gansu provinces— imposed restrictions or outright bans on crypto mining on crypto mining

On Sept. 24, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the country’s top economic planner, jointly issued a notice with 10 other authorities to wipe out crypto mining nationwide. The NDRC has also proposed to label the crypto mining industry as “outdated,” which effectively serves as a government prohibition on investments in the sector.

See related article: China’s crypto presence shrinks, while the U.S. rides the tide

As a result of the clampdowns, crypto miners from China — which before the ban produced about 70% of the world’s hashrate for Bitcoin — have been fleeing to friendlier shores. Some of their early favorite destinations include Kazakhstan, North America and Northern Europe.

The U.S., in particular, has been a big recipient country from the exodus. In fact, the U.S. has overtaken China’s leading position in crypto mining, according to the latest data from the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance. At the end of August, the U.S. accounted for 35.4% of the global hashrate share — which refers to the level of computing power required to mine — representing a significant surge from 16.8% at the end of April.

Kazakhstan came in second with 18.1% of the global hashrate share, up from 8.2% at the end of April, while Russia’s share climbed to 11.2% from 6.8%, the Cambridge data show.

But even with a nationwide ban, China has not managed to fully stamp out crypto mining within the mainland’s borders. For example, Qihoo 360, a Chinese internet company best known for its antivirus software programs, has built a system that could help the Chinese government track crypto mining activities. The company recently detected 109,000 active crypto mining IP addresses still operating daily in November, mainly in the Guangdong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shandong provinces.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that despite the forced migrations and disruptions, crypto mining seems to have already bounced back. Following China’s crackdown on the sector, Bitcoin’s hashrate plunge by over 50% to 84.79 million TH/s on July 3, the lowest since September 2019. But this month, the Bitcoin hashrate has already nearly fully recovered to the pre-China ban level, according to data from

Expanding Blockchain-based Service Network

While China tries to kill off its domestic cryptocurrency industry, it is actively developing its Blockchain-based Service Network (BSN).

China announced the launch of the BSN — the public-private nationwide infrastructure project to spur mass adoption of blockchain technology — in April 2020 as a joint initiative of the State Information Center, China Mobile, China UnionPay and Red Date Technology. In July 2020, the BSN separated into two ecosystems, BSN China and BSN International

Red Date Technology, the company China tapped to manage the BSN, is now engaged in a series of partnerships to launch portals outside the mainland’s borders, specifically available for users in Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, Turkey and Uzbekistan

On top of that, BSN in October said it has partnered with a New York-based blockchain company to advance interoperability as BSN actively expands its global presence to lure more developers to use the blockchain network.

China’s BSN efforts are already paying off. In November, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) featuring famous traditional Chinese paintings by culture studio Rongbaozhai were successfully transferred from BSN’s WenChang Chain to the OpenSea marketplace on the Ethereum blockchain, a milestone in the development of interchain technology for NFTs — a fast-growing industry now worth US$7 billion.

But will China — which has also been issuing denunciations and warnings this year against NFT speculation through its network of state-controlled media — allow NFTs to remain legal? 

Stay tuned for 2022!

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Kazakhstan Orders Bitcoin Miners to File Status Reports

Jacob Scott



Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan (Image: Envato Elements)

Kazakhstan is mandating that cryptocurrency miners file regular status reports in a new ministerial order, as the Central Asian nation attempts to gain a stronger grip on the sector.

See related article: Ex-Kazakh president’s brother busted for illegal crypto mining

Crypto miners must submit information including locations of mining facilities, IP addresses, power consumption volume, number of mining rigs, staff size and planned investments, according to the order dated April 29.New miners will have to report 30 days before starting operations, and existing miners are to provide authorities with quarterly status updates.Crypto miners shutting down also need to report to authorities.Kazakhstan became the world’s second-largest Bitcoin producer in 2021 after miners moved there en masse following China’s mining crackdowns, but an unstable power supply has made for an increasingly unstable mining environment in the Central Asian nation.Former Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev’s brother Bolat Nazarbayev was among 106 illegal cryptocurrency miners to halt operations as the government raided illegal mining activities, the Financial Monitoring Agency said in March.

See related article:Crypto mining’s Great Migration continues — out of Kazakhstan

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Pakistan Takes a Fresh Look at Cryptocurrency

Jacob Scott



Image: Envato Elements

Pakistan’s federal government has formed three subcommittees to explore the future of cryptocurrencies and related services, local media report

See related article: Pakistani central bank echoes RBI’s concerns over crypto

The first panel is chaired by the law secretary with the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) as members, among others.Two other subcommittees have been set up under the chairmanship of SBP Deputy Governor Saima Kamal. Panel members include representatives from the Ministry of Information Technology, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, PTA and others. The subcommittees will prepare their proposals and send them to a committee headed by the finance secretary, after which the country will prepare recommendations on the future of cryptocurrencies.The SBP recommended a ban on cryptocurrencies earlier this year, with one of the nation’s largest banks quickly heeding the advice by asking customers to avoid using its bank for crypto transactions.  

See related article: From Myanmar to South Korea: Breaking Down Blockchain’s Future in Asia with Paul Ulrich, GSMA

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Blockchain Can Transform International Trade, but Big Hurdles Remain

Jacob Scott



The Covid-19 pandemic represents the single largest challenge to global trade for decades.  With restrictions of varying severity coming in and out of force around the world on a rolling basis for the past two years, normality for international trade is by now hard to remember. In 2020, world trade volumes plunged in a way never witnessed previously, and although trade rebounded sharply in 2021, there can be no doubt that the flows of goods and services around the world that global growth relies upon are today more fragile than perhaps at any point in recent history.

However, as research by the OECD has made clear, the impact of the pandemic has varied greatly in terms of its impact on different sectors, regions and individual countries.  Their analysis suggests that the pandemic generated trade changes in a single year roughly equivalent to the level of change that would previously have occurred over as many as five consecutive years.

The pace and severity of the disruption can, however, be seen to have had specific upsides for two highly important aspects of global trade. Firstly, the pandemic created new or intensified previous incentives toward risk mitigation strategies on the part of consumers, firms and governments, and secondly, the drive to develop, test, and implement new technologies for the management of cross-border trade has been dramatically accelerated.

Both were direct consequences of the pandemic-induced disruption, and both suggest an increased role for blockchain technology in this sector is likely in the near future — though risks and obstacles remain.

What are the main problems facing global trade today?

Macroeconomic research conducted by the Bank of England has shown that shipping costs have risen dramatically since the onset of the pandemic.

Source: Bank of England

This context has made it all the more essential for firms and governments to be looking for cost-efficiencies anywhere and everywhere, and this is where blockchain technology can make a positive impact.

Aside from Covid-related problems, the pre-existing difficulties with conducting successful cross-border trade are well-known. Primary among these are three areas to which blockchain has a huge amount to contribute: managing documents, speeding up trade finance and simplifying tariff collection.

Storing and displaying the correct documentation

Trading across borders is infinitely more complex than domestic trade, partly because the exchange now has to comply with two or more sets of regulations, rather than just one.  Demonstrating that trade is legal and compliant therefore involves a great deal of paperwork to be completed requiring input from both the importer and the exporter.

While specific requirements vary from one country to the next, an international shipment is likely to need at least some of the following documents to be prepared and ready to be displayed.

Common necessary trade documents include an airway bill, the certificate of origin, a bill of lading, a combined transport document, a bill of exchange, the insurance certificate, the packing specification, plus additional inspection certificates from customs posts that the cargo has passed through.

This generates a great deal of work for international traders, and the fact that much of this administrative work is carried out on paper creates obvious problems of trust and authenticity, not to mention efficiency.

Facilitating trade finance

Only a tiny fraction of global trade is settled in cash and prior to the goods being shipped. This is because buyers usually pay once goods have been received and inspected, and therefore some sort of financing is essential to bridge the time gap between when an exporter ships a consignment and when they receive payment.

The traditional method involves “letters of credit,” whereby a letter is issued by the buyer’s bank guaranteeing that the agreed payment to the seller will be received on time and for the correct amount. If the buyer is unable to make the pre-agreed payment on time for whatever reason, their bank is required to cover the full or remaining amount of the purchase.

This process, whereby one or both of the trading partners’ banks bear some of the risks for financing the transaction, means financial institutions are unwilling to commit to such arrangements without undertaking extensive due diligence.

This is an extremely labor- and paper-intensive process that takes considerable time and effort to complete. Research carried out by the Boston Consulting Group and SWIFT found that the process commonly involves more than 20 separate entities for a single trade finance deal, with necessary data typically contained in 10 to 20 different documents, creating approximately 5,000 data field interactions. Blockchain technology is uniquely capable of speeding up and simplifying these tasks.

Collecting tariffs and government trade data

The current inefficiencies in global trade also consume government resources. Tariff collection is a process that currently involves extensive paperwork as well as employee time from the government as well as the private sector. Tariff collection requires a great deal of infrastructure to be installed at docks, ports, airports, trains station and road entry points, and transporters often have to wait for extended periods of time while customs declarations are checked and other regulatory procedures are completed. This all adds time to delivery schedules, and therefore also indirectly raises costs for consumers.

How can blockchain applications help?

As World Trade Organisation economist Emmanuelle Ganne has argued, blockchain is “game-changer” technology with vast potential to solve some of the major problems facing global trade.

Toward paperless trade

The ability of blockchain to enhance the efficiency of business processes means we can move in the direction of fully paperless trade. By allowing the safe, secure and reliable digitization of trade documents, certain administrative procedures can be automated, with enormous impact on transaction speed.  

A host of banks and IT companies are currently working on such systems, including a Red Date Technology-built project for China’s Blockchain Service Network. These new blockchain-based systems aim to facilitate paperless trade by connecting trade partners together on a private network of blockchains, including both permissioned and permissionless chains. Once connected to this network, importing and exporting firms can then share data between jurisdictions in real time via the blockchain-powered data centers.

Trade finance on the blockchain

As explained above, the current system of trade finance is costly and slow. The digitization of trade finance processes can thus bring significant savings to international trade transactions.

The most promising developments here relate to digitizing and automating payments as well as digitizing information contained in scanned PDF documents. It is precisely the immutable and transparent nature of the blockchain that can enable full confidence in such digital processes to flourish.

One of the earliest and most impressive examples of a decentralized application of this type emerged from a collaboration between Barclays and fintech start-up Wave, which successfully conducted the first known blockchain-based trade finance transaction back in 2016.

This transaction took place on a permissioned chain and provided trade finance to facilitate the export of approximately US$100,000 worth of dairy products from Ireland to Seychelles. Crucially, the process of obtaining a letter of credit, which normally takes around 10 days, can be cut to less than four hours, according to Barclays.

Smart contracts at the customs post

A blockchain system would allow smart contracts to be encoded with the relevant legal and regulatory requirements to allow the automatic payment of customs duties.

The technical architecture to allow this would rely on a digital mechanism for monitoring external events, sometimes described as a “blockchain oracle.” The third-party services provided by the oracle can then be used to trigger smart contract execution if all the pre-defined conditions are met.

A simple example of this concept in action would be that an oracle could be designated to monitor a delivery truck equipped with sensors. A smart contract could be linked to this oracle and would then be able to automatically execute payment when the delivery crossed the border.

Decentralized applications similar to the proposal above could also be used to allow intermediaries to collect tariffs and any other taxes due on a shipment on behalf of governments. Not only would this save time at borders, but it would significantly reduce the risk of piracy or other forms of customs fraud.

Finally, the use of blockchain applications to collect tariffs would also help improve the accuracy of trade data and statistics, some of which are still based on approximations due to the challenges of collecting and systematizing all the relevant data.

Is blockchain technology the future of global trade?

The short answer to this question is that we still don’t know for sure, although several blockchain-based applications seem to open up very exciting opportunities in the field of cross-border trade.

There are risks ahead, however, particularly around scalability and whether or not such applications can be deployed as widely across dozens of organizations as they’d need to be to have the desired impact.

Cost and interoperability are also potential issues standing in the way of mass adoption. Blockchain technology is relatively new and it remains costly to build blockchain-based applications. Developers with blockchain experience are also in short supply, which again can add to the cost of application development.

For those reasons, we are still a long way away from blockchain and distributed ledger technology being as widely understood and used by companies and governments, despite their demonstrated potential to transform the global trading system for the better. Fortunately, the industry is building infrastructures and tools that address these issues. We have also seen significant momentum over the past year with mainstream global enterprises investing in or embarking upon blockchain technology initiatives. The combination of infrastructures, tools and mainstream adoption is cause for optimism that over the next several years, we will see the positive impact of blockchain technology in the international trade space.

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