China’s central bank digital currency, known as ‘DC/EP’ (digital currency/electronic payment), is rapidly progressing and, if successful, will have major international implications that have not yet been widely considered by policymakers.
DC/EP would have ramifications for governments, investors, and companies, including China’s own tech champions.
It has the potential to create the world’s largest centralised repository of financial transactions data and, while it may address some financial governance challenges, such as money laundering, it would also create unprecedented opportunities for surveillance. The initial impact of a successful DC/EP project will be primarily domestic, but little thought has been given to the longer term and global implications. DC/EP could be exported overseas via the digital wallets of Chinese tourists, students and businesspeople.
Over time, it is not far-fetched to speculate that the Chinese party-state will incentivise or even mandate that foreigners also use DC/EP for certain categories of cross-border RMB transactions as a condition of accessing the Chinese marketplace.
The potential for DC/EP to be successful enough to have a disruptive impact on the global economic system might be far into the future, but it’s important to consider what impact DC/EP could have on the global economy. Liberal democracies should act now to deepen analysis, develop standards and coordinate approaches to the risks inherent in DC/EP, including unconstrained data collection and the creation of powerful new tools for social control and economic coercion. By acting now to build a baseline analysis of the DC/EP project, decision-makers have an opportunity to anticipate challenges and build a consistent and coherent policy framework for managing them.