Li Bo, a deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China, said on Sunday that the digital currency pilot was going well following last year’s launch in four cities, plus the venues for the Winter Olympics. The experiment has since been expanded to include 10 cities or provinces covering 100 million people.
Speaking at China’s Boao Forum for Asia, Li said the central bank was focused on how the digital yuan, or renminbi, could be used in the domestic economy, rather than as a way of reducing the country’s reliance on the US dollar.
“For the internationalization of renminbi, we have said many times that it’s a natural process, and our goal is not to replace US dollar or any other international currency,” Li told attendees at the business conference, which was held in China’s Hainan province. “Our goal is to allow the market to choose.”
Officials have touted the digital yuan as a futuristic currency that will make buying things more convenient and secure, and help those who don’t have access to bank accounts. But a digital yuan would also give Beijing an unprecedented amount of information about where people are and what they spend their money on, raising concerns about government surveillance.
Li said Sunday that there was still no timetable for a nationwide rollout of the digital currency, though he added that the central bank plans to expand the pilot to additional Chinese cities.
And he floated the idea that the digital yuan could be tested with foreign athletes and visitors during next year’s Winter Olympics, which will be held in Beijing.
Li pushed back against that idea.
“Our focus is that we want to establish a very solid domestic [digital yuan] first and build up a healthy eco-system,” Li added. But he also said that China would work with international partners to find ways for digital yuan payments to work across borders in the long term.
The central banker also struck a cautious tone on cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, which China has taken a hard stance on for years. In 2017, China banned initial coin offerings, a way for companies or individuals to raise money by issuing cryptocurrencies. That year, authorities also shut down local cryptocurrency exchanges.