China’s digital yuan to be primary payment method at the Winter Olympics

  • China aims to have athletes and spectators use its digital yuan during the Winter Olympics — the first major test of the virtual currency among foreigners
  • Alongside e-CNY, only renminbi notes and Visa cards will be accepted while famous WeChat Pay and AliPay will not be accepted
  • Visitors can download an app or get a physical card that stores the digital yuan, or converts foreign bank notes into e-CNY at machines provided

Just recently China announced its intentions to ramp up the roll out of the digital yuan e-currency to its broader population. To date, the country’s central bank has only been piloting the digital currency via introductory lotteries for citizens in an initiative known as ‘e-CNY’ or red packet in a handful of cities. Now, Beijing wants to put its digital currency on its first major test among foreigners — by making e-CNY the only digital payment option at the upcoming Winter Olympics.

Kicking off on February 2, the Winter Games will be China’s maiden opportunity to showcase the centrally-backed digital currency, the e-CNY’s clout globally. According to the Bank of China Ltd, the state lender and official partner of the Games, visitors can download an app or get a physical card that stores the digital yuan, or convert foreign bank notes into e-CNY at self-service machines.

According to a Bloomberg report, athletes and their coaches are eligible to get wristbands that act as e-wallets and can be swiped to pay for goods or services. There are however concerns on the possibility of some groups of athletes not adopting the digital currency, given the concerns over data risks as well as heightened political tensions around the sporting event.

In fact, in July last year, three US Republican Senators called on the US Olympic Committee to forbid American athletes from using the digital yuan, citing espionage and data-security concerns.

Winter Olympics without China’s two dominant payment system

The country’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), has been working on the digital form of its sovereign currency since 2014. In essence, the digital yuan is considered a form of central bank digital currency (CBDC) which many other central banks around the world are also working on.

Based on a promotional video to showcase the electronic currency, Bloomberg said that within the Olympic Village itself, all the convenience stores, cafes and other merchants are equipped with machines that accept digital yuan payment. This includes shops at railway stations near the game venues.

The manager of the operations team of the Olympic Village in Beijing, Qu Songming, even shared that payments including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Alipay and Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat Pay — which both support e-CNY — won’t be available at the village. “The only payment methods are renminbi cash, Visa cards (sponsor) and the digital yuan at all of the competition and non-competition venues during the Olympics,” Qu said.

Just the past week, the PBOC launched an app to allow users in 10 different areas, including major cities Shanghai and Beijing, to sign up and use the digital currency. Shortly after that, the app has become one of the country’s most downloaded apps, “a development that could disrupt a consumer payment market dominated by Alipay and WeChat Pay,” South China Morning Post stated.

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