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As Digital Yuan Hype Fades, China Must Find Fresh Institutional Use Cases

China’s e-CNY, the digital yuan, had once captured global attention as central banks, journalists, and politicians closely monitored its implications. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) rolled out a pilot app in January 2022, showcasing the world’s most advanced Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). However, the initial hype around the e-CNY has diminished considerably.

According to Richard Turrin, a Shanghai-based fintech consultant, the PBOC is now focused on the “hard and dirty work” of building a reliable and ubiquitous national digital currency. Unlike launching a cryptocurrency, creating the e-CNY requires thorough testing and ensuring seamless functionality for every user. Youwei Yang, the chief economist of Bit Mining, highlighted the challenges the e-CNY faces, including privacy concerns, user habits, and interoperability with existing payment systems like Alipay and WeChat Pay.

Despite the diminishing hype, the PBOC has expanded the digital yuan trial to 26 locations in 17 provincial-level cities and regions. Matteo Giovannini, a senior finance manager at ICBC, China’s largest state-owned commercial bank, mentioned that the e-CNY remains the world’s largest CBDC pilot in terms of currency in circulation and user base.

To regain momentum, the PBOC is shifting its focus to business-to-business promotion, aiming to compel more retailers to accept digital currency. Recently, DBS Bank became one of the first foreign banks to launch an e-CNY initiative, allowing corporate clients to receive payments in digital yuan. This move is seen as a significant milestone, indicating the added value of the e-CNY in the banking sector.

While integration with major institutions could drive wider adoption, it remains uncertain whether offshore entities will embrace the e-CNY for widespread settlement, especially considering geopolitical tensions. Western financial institutions face challenges when engaging in partnerships that promote the Chinese yuan while efforts toward de-dollarization are underway in various countries.

Despite the dominance of Alipay and WeChat Pay, which have integrated the e-CNY into their services, increasing daily usage of digital currency remains a challenge. To overcome this, authorities in Shenzhen have started testing prepaid consumption using e-CNY, and the Bank of China is exploring new offline payment methods linked to SIM cards.

However, the e-CNY still has limitations, such as the absence of deposit insurance and interest. Overcoming these challenges requires expanding use cases that incentivize users to spend e-CNY and encourage merchants to accept it.

In conclusion, while the initial hype around China’s e-CNY has faded, the PBOC continues its efforts to build a reliable and widely adopted digital currency. Overcoming challenges such as privacy concerns and interoperability will be crucial for the future success of the e-CNY. With a shift toward business-to-business promotion and strategic partnerships, the digital yuan aims to expand its reach and gain traction among retailers and consumers alike.

 

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