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Former Chinese central banker says digital yuan ‘usage has been low’

Former Chinese central banker says digital yuan ‘usage has been low’

A former official of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), the country’s central bank, has expressed disappointment that China’s digital yuan is seeing little use.

Xie Ping, a former PBOC research director and current finance professor at Tsinghua University, made critical public comments about China’s central bank digital currency (CBDC) at a recent university conference, according to a Dec. 28 Caixin report.

Xie noted that cumulative digital yuan transactions had only crossed $14 billion (100 billion yuan) in October, two years after launch. “The results are not ideal,” he said, adding that “usage has been low, highly inactive.”

Despite the government’s rapid expansion of the trials and new wallet features to try to attract users, a January PBOC report stated that only 261 million users had set up an e-CNY wallet.

This compares to around 903.6 million people that utilize mobile payments in China, according to a 2021 China UnionPay report.

The former central banker said the use case of e-CNY “needs to be changed” from its current use as a cash substitute and opened to other uses such as the ability to pay for financial products or connected to more payment platforms to boost adoption.

He compared the digital yuan to other third-party payment systems in the country such as WeChat Pay, Alipay, and QQ Wallet, which allow for investments, lending or loans. He said they “have formed a payment market structure that has met needs for daily consumption.”

Some third-party financial apps are e-CNY compatible but see little use, as Xie said “people are used to” using the original service and change “is difficult.”

Such criticism of Chinese government initiatives is rare from former officials and signals the country may be seriously struggling to gain traction on its CBDC initiative.

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The government has rapidly expanded e-CNY trails most recently in December to four new cities. It was previously expanded in September to Guangdong province, its most populous, and three others.

New features were added to the e-CNY wallet app in a bid to attract users in time for Chinese New Year that added functionality to send digital versions of traditional red packets or red envelopes (hongbao) containing money — a popular custom during festivities.