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China's central bank joins cross-border digital currency pilot

Alun John
·2 min read
People wearing face masks walk past the headquarters of PBOC, where the Chinese national flag flies at half mast

By Alun John

HONG KONG (Reuters) - China's central bank will join a project looking at using central bank digital currencies (CBDC) for cross-border payments, the Bank of International Settlements said on Tuesday.

CBDCs are like banknotes or coins, and give holders a direct claim on the central bank, potentially leapfrogging commercial banks.

The People's Bank of China (PBOC) has its own domestic CBDC project, the e-CNY, one of the most advanced initiatives of its kind in the world, in which real-life trials took place in several major cities.

Observers globally are watching the e-CNY closely, interested in both lessons they can learn and whether and how the PBOC tries to use it to internationalise the yuan, a long- standing ambition of Chinese authorities.

Tuesday's statement said the PBOC's Digital Currency Institute will join the multiple CBDC Bridge initiative currently run by the BIS and the Hong Kong and Thai central banks.

The project aims to develop a process for real-time cross-border foreign-exchange payments on distributed ledger technology, which underpins cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) and Bank of Thailand last year developed a prototype allowing banks in the two countries to use a CBDC to transfer funds and make payments between themselves.

Major blockchain developer ConsenSys said last year it is working on the implementation phase of that programme.

The expanded programme, which the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates has also joined, hopes to "pave the way for the securities exchanges, banks and corporates from multiple jurisdictions to make payments across borders and different time zones," the HKMA said on Tuesday.

Central banks representing one-fifth of the world’s population are likely to issue their own digital currencies in the next three years, according to a survey published last month by the BIS.

(Reporting by Alun John, editing by Larry King)