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Popularity of e-CNY at Beijing Winter Olympics reflects China's ambition to broaden its use

China is ramping up efforts to push for the broader use of its digital Chinese yuan (e-CNY), a digital currency issued by China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, with over 400,000 pilot scenarios featuring at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

The e-CNY stands out among the three forms of payment available at the Winter Games, including VISA payments and cash. A volunteer surnamed Sun who downloaded the e-CNY app and used it for daily payments indicated that the “experience of using e-CNY is pretty much the same as Alipay and WeChat pay.” “It’s very fast and convenient. Simply with a tap of the phone, the payment is done,” Sun added.

Similarly, many people bought Bing Dwen Dwen, the mascot for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games and other products related to the Winter Olympics at a Beijing 2022 Licensed Products Store on Wangfujing Street using e-CNY, and found it very convenient.

Foreign residents visiting China can open an e-CNY wallet in order to meet their daily payment needs without opening a bank account. The e-CNY app, which is downloadable from Chinese app stores, offers four tiers of e-CNY wallets, each with different levels of anonymity and balance limits. The app allows for the exchange of e-CNY with foreign bank deposits, making it easier for foreign residents temporarily visiting China to access financial services.

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The Beijing Winter Olympics represents a prime opportunity for the pilot use of the digital currency, which was first launched in 2019. Making its debut in places such as Shenzhen in south China’s Guangdong Province, Suzhou in east China’s Jiangsu Province, and the Xiong’an New Area near Beijing in 2019, the digital currency has since been extended to include pilots covering another six places around the country, with the e-CNY (Pilot Version) app having officially launched at the beginning of this year, ahead of the Winter Olympics.

Promotion activities have been launched to encourage the use of this new payment channel. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and Beijing Ruubypay Science and Technology Co., Ltd. launched a campaign together, for example, which allows passengers to take the subway once for only 0.01 yuan when using the digital RMB to make their payment.

The e-CNY payment method is also accepted in more than 200 types of scenarios, including for food delivery, retail, ride hailing, hotel, tourism, movies and entertainment performances as offered by China’s service-focused e-commerce giant Meituan.

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By the end of June 2021, the number of users on the white list for e-CNY had exceeded 10 million. There were 20.87 million accounts for individual users and 3.51 million corporate users of the digital yuan, with the overall transaction value meanwhile reached upwards of 34.5 billion yuan (about $5.44bn). Besides, this digital RMB service was further extended to cover over 1.32 million pilot scenarios, including both those online and offline, by June 30 last year, permeating almost all aspects of people’s life, such as wholesale, retail, catering, tourism, education, healthcare, transport, tax and subsidies. “The feedback of users on the white list shows that the e-CNY has higher payment efficiency, reduces payment costs and brings tangible benefits and convenience to individual users, enterprises and small and micro enterprises and businesses,” remarked Fan Yifei, deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China.

China’s reason for developing the e-CNY is that on the country’s way to high-quality development, it needs a new payment option that is safer, applicable to more scenarios and more convenient, which will not only meet people’s needs for diverse payment options, but will also enhance the capability and efficiency of basic financial services. Moreover, users can open several sub-wallets under the parent wallet. This feature allows people to reduce the flow of data to big tech firms that tend to aggregate data about spending patterns from multiple sources, in this way better protecting the privacy of digital payment users. In addition, the e-CNY is designed to facilitate payments without being subject to interest.

“The world is paying close attention to the development trend and influence of e-CNY. Relevant explorations of the People’s Bank of China will lay a foundation for China in the international dialogue on digital currency,” said Fan. 

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