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Cryptocurrencies

China moves to make digital yuan legal tender

Beijing looks to cement trailblazer status in virtual currencies

China's official app for digital yuan is seen on a mobile phone next to 100-yuan banknotes.   © Reuters

BEIJING -- China began a process Friday to give legal backing for a digital version of its currency, positioning itself as the global leader in the field after having launched trials involving actual payments by consumers ahead of other countries.

Draft legislation states that the yuan exists in both physical and digital forms. The bill will be put to public comment through Nov. 23.

China hopes to start officially issuing the digital yuan before the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February 2022.

The bill also bans organizations and individuals from making or issuing digital currencies, apparently over concern that managing the money supply would become difficult if virtual currencies issued by the private sector circulate in the market. As a result, such cryptocurrencies as Libra, which has been proposed by Facebook, may not be allowed in China.

China conducted a large test of a payment system for the digital yuan in Shenzhen on Oct. 12-18. Roughly 47,500 residents were each given 200 yuan ($30) in the digital currency and spent the money at about 3,400 stores in the city. Chinese monetary authorities hope to expand the test to more regions to quickly realize a full launch of the digital yuan.

If the digital yuan catches on, Chinese regulators will gain a better grasp of overseas transactions, allowing them to prevent rapid fund outflows more easily. Beijing also likely aims to take a leadership role in international discussions on digital currencies.

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