China expands crackdown by declaring all crypto activities ‘illegal’

Newsletter: Unhedged

China has expanded its crackdown on cryptocurrencies by declaring that all activities related to digital coins are “illegal”.

The People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank, specifically targeted overseas cryptocurrency exchanges on Friday, declaring that it was illegal for them to provide online services to residents in China.

The move was an apparent bid to close a loophole that remained after the PBoC in May banned domestic financial institutions from providing cryptocurrency transaction services.

In the months since, Chinese traders have continued to invest in cryptocurrency using foreign platforms.

The PBoC said in its notice on Friday that all Chinese nationals working for overseas cryptocurrency exchanges would be “investigated according to the law”, as would organisations providing marketing, payment and technical support to them.

The PBoC said it would work alongside the Ministry of Public Security and the internet regulator to clamp down on “those suspected of undermining the financial order”.

Despite China’s crackdowns, the country remains an important global crypto market. Crypto wallets controlled by users thought to be in China received $150m worth of digital coins from January to June, “second only to the US”, according to a report from analytics providers Chainalysis.

The PBoC said: “Recently, cryptocurrency speculation has increased, disturbing economic and financial order, breeding illegal and criminal activity such as gambling, illegal fundraising, fraud, pyramid schemes and money laundering. This all seriously endangers the people’s safety.”

The PBoC is separately preparing to unveil an official digital renminbi, making it a central bank pioneer in the area. The currency is due for a trial run during the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Jason Guthrie, head of capital markets and digital assets for asset manager WisdomTree in Europe, said: “China trying to ban crypto is just a continuation of a trend, but they’re ratcheting up the rhetoric ahead of the launch of the digital renminbi.”

Provincial governments have this year issued a series of bans on energy-intensive cryptocurrency mining activity.

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