The Chinese Government is taking a new look at blockchain technology’s promises. Its new approach became clear this week when it hosted the two-day First World Blockchain Conference in Changsha. And speakers weren’t afraid to use that once-scary B-word: Bitcoin.
The conference was officially organized by the World Blockchain Foundation, with the Hunan AsiaCoin Blockchain Charity Foundation and Hunan AsiaCoin Business School.
China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) backed the event, with several government and industry leaders attending.
The MIIT also contributed to a blockchain industry research paper last month. Notably, the paper referred to financial services as the first industry to feel blockchain’s benefits.
Now Officially Encouraging Blockchain for Chinese Industry
The invite-only blockchain event functioned less as a showcase for the latest in blockchain technology as an introduction for Chinese industry leaders and government representatives. Several high-level presenters spoke to give their thoughts on blockchain, Bitcoin, and China’s position in general.
Former Minister for Industry and Information Technology Li Yizhong spoke generally of his government’s role in promoting an innovation industry, whether it be robotics, quantum computing or 3D printing. The Director of the People’s Bank of China’s investigation and statistics department Sheng Songcheng also spoke. Curiously, Sheng didn’t mention Bitcoin or even blockchain, but of the dangers surrounding current China’s real estate asset bubble.
Bitcoin Still Gets its Time in the Spotlight
Raising a few eyebrows was Ji Xiaonan, of China’s State-Owned Asset Supervision and Administration Commission. The President of the Board of Supervisors not only praised blockchain, but actually referred to Bitcoin by name as “the only mature blockchain technology today”.
“The biggest blockchain market is China,” he added, saying there are still plenty of challenges and risks as the technology evolves. Surprising the audience again, he praised blockchain for its decentralization, P2P nature and trustless aspects. Blockchain would lead the next technological revolution, he said.
A New Push for Blockchain Innovation
Several attendees expressed surprised at the event’s scale and lavishness. Blockchain is now definitely on the Chinese government’s radar and the MIIT appears keen to find exactly where it should apply it.
Gatecoin‘s Thomas Glücksmann spoke at a Chinese-language roundtable at the event. He too noticed the government’s tonal shift in approach to blockchain. Speaking to Bitcoin.com, he said:
“The technological embodiment of a libertarian’s wet dream just took centre stage at the discussion on Communist China’s innovation-driven economic development strategy. Now that the party is on board, the Chinese banks are excited and the Chinese tech giants have their blockchain research divisions, expect some major developments coming out of China in the next few months and years.”
Glücksmann described a WeChat ecosystem on a blockchain, a national ‘Renminbit’ cryptocurrency and a smart city initiative of Shanghai’s scale also managed with a blockchain based system. “They’re global game changers,” he added.
Hong Kong-based Gatecoin itself is planning to expand its presence into mainland China and he said the company would like to contribute to and benefit from any state-led initiatives.
Guests Give an International Viewpoint
Organizers also invited several intentional guests from the Asia region to speak at conference sessions. Leading was energetic Bitcoin evangelist Willson Lee, who has maintained his non-stop Bitcoin World Tour for the past two years. In a speech, Lee noted there is more than one way to build a blockchain, and regulators understand this without fearing the technology itself, or its implications.
Adam Vaziri of BitLegal.io gave a lawyer’s perspective on Bitcoin regulatory policy, calling for a regulatory sandbox for Bitcoin startups. Glücksmann and Stephen DeMeulenaere of Digital Billions spoke on how China could play a leading role in a Bitcoin and blockchain economy. Both recommended a prudent but permissive regulatory environment to allow both technologies to flourish.
Bitcoin’s advantages could ease China’s path to economic superpower status, DeMeulenaere said.
Blockchain Now Bigger Than Bitcoin?
Notably absent from the event were representatives from China’s large bitcoin mining community, or any bitcoin exchange. However, although several speakers spoke at length about Bitcoin, the event signage didn’t refer specifically to cryptocurrency.
China wants to introduce its burgeoning economy to blockchain, and this time the government is right behind the push. However its focus is squarely on broader applications for the technology throughout many of China’s industrial sectors. Money these days is just one of them.
Images: Jon Southurst