Two weeks ago, we reported that one of the most remarkable “features” of the brand new and soon to be unrolled digital Yuan, which should not be confused with any account-based currencies or commercial bank, private or unbackstopped digital currencies…
… is that it will come with an expiration date. As the WSJ reported, “the money itself is programmable. Beijing has tested expiration dates to encourage users to spend it quickly, for times when the economy needs a jump start.”
That’s just the start.
While China’s digital yuan will have an uphill climb in seeking to dethrone the dollar as a global reserve currency – despite Beijing’s protests that it has no such ambitions – as it’s an electronic version of a currency nobody wants (for now), the new currency will allow Beijing to weaponize its currency response to its every growing roster of trade partners. As Bloomberg details, instead of challenging U.S. dollar dominance and neutralizing sanctions, “the digital yuan appears potentially more geopolitically significant as leverage over multinational companies and governments that want access to China’s 1.4 billion consumers. Since China has the ability to monitor transactions involving the digital currency, it may be easier to retaliate against anyone who rebuffs Beijing on sensitive issues like Taiwan, Xinjiang and Hong Kong.”
“If you think that the United States has a lot of power through our Treasury sanctions authorities, you ain’t seen nothing yet,” Matt Pottinger, former U.S. deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration, said last week at a hearing of the government-backed U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. “That currency can be turned off like a light switch.”
As Michael Every summarizes in his Tuesday Global Daily, “good luck to multinationals heartily agreeing that decoupling is unwanted, as they try to straddle the US, and its growing thicket of USD sanctions wrapped around a human rights foreign policy focus, and China, with its Panopticon e-CNY that can be turned off to ensure US sanctions and human rights foreign policy have no power over it.”
Indeed, as Bloomberg confirms, so far China has mostly resisted hitting foreign firms in response to U.S. actions on companies like Huawei, holding off on releasing an “unreliable entity list” designed to punish anyone who damages national security. Any move to cut off access to the digital yuan would carry similarly high stakes, potentially prompting foreign investors to pack up and leave.
But, as the report notes, Beijing has recently gone after such major multinationals like H&M for statements on human-rights issues, even while government officials have been careful to avoid directly endorsing a boycott. In a Weibo post last month, the Communist Party Youth League declared: “Want to make money in China while spreading false rumors and boycotting Xinjiang cotton? Wishful thinking!”
There’s more: widespread adoption of the digital yuan – also known as the e-CNY – could give China’s central bank more data on financial transactions than the big tech giants, allowing the Communist Party to both strengthen its grip on power and fine-tune policies to bolster the economy. While cryptos seek to disintermediate the state from monetary transactions, a digital yuan would do the opposite and give the PBOC even more sway and minute control over every single transaction, while obliterating monetary anonymity entirely.
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