It looks like China is starting the notice how powerful blockchain can be for information distribution. According to multiple reports from credible Asian news outlets, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) is working toward introducing regulations for blockchain users. Unsurprisingly, they are working on a system that would require anyone who uses a blockchain to give their personal information.
China has been one of the most prolific online state censors, and has severely limited access to foreign websites by their citizens. In many cases the “Great Firewall” has been circumvented by rudimentary means, which puts the CAC in a tricky spot.
When blockchain and cryptos hit it big last year, Beijing’s knee-jerk reaction was to ban it all outright. That plan lasted the better part of a year, but now they are doing everything they can to bring blockchain development to China.
Although many people outside of China are attached to the anonymity that blockchain provides, popular Chinese apps haven’t encountered any issues when asking for extensive personal information.
China Has a Different Market
People in the West will give their phone number over the WhatsApp so they can use the platform, but the idea that a fully funded bank account will be required to use a messaging service could be an issue. Not so in China, where one of the most popular apps, WeChat Pay, requires that new users link a bank account with around $130 USD at the ready to get started.
To be fair, the two apps have wildly different capabilities. We Chat Pay is something of a hybrid between a messaging app, payment service, and numerous other things. Popular messaging apps in the west offer less functionality but also risk far less personal information.
Blockchain is a big deal in China right now, and it could be the next big technology for consumers all over the world.
There are lots of things that blockchain could help Chinese consumers with. Counterfeit goods are a common problem in Chinese markets. Blockchain is already being used by Alibaba for tracking high-end agricultural goods, so it could be a natural fit for the Chinese consumer that is already using an app to do most of their communications and purchasing.
The Chinese Crypto Question
China may or may not emerge as a global leader in blockchain development, but their near total antagonism of cryptocurrencies is likely a sticking point for innovation. The vast majority of developed economies are debating how cryptos can be regulated, not how they can best be banned. This issue is especially challenging because China is still a hot-bed of crypto use and mining, which doesn’t bode well for their new initiative to regulate blockchain users.
The underlying themes in all of this cryptocurrency and blockchain regulation probably runs deeper in China than most nations. Since the Chinese Communist Party took control of China, they have done everything in their power to control the nature of media, and who is allowed access. Blockchain has already shown that it can challenge Beijing’s authority in this regard. They probably aren’t thrilled about it, but there isn’t much they can do about it.
A Power Problem
Earlier this year Chinese activists used blockchain to record acts that were being actively suppressed by the Chinese government. There isn’t anything Beijing can do about it, and the ‘offensive’ material is still up on blockchains that are accessible to the public. Registering blockchain users probably isn’t the answer for the Chinese government, but they will probably try to make it a workable solution.
The problem is that Chinese citizens are being forced to live in a media environment that is meaningfully detached from reality. Many of the Chinese people know it, and they are looking for alternative ways to communicate. Blockchain may be the technology they have been looking for. As far as Beijing goes, they should be careful to refrain from overstepping their technical ability.
Being bested by blockchain would be humiliating for Beijing, but it could also demonstrate that they are no longer able to control the popular narrative in China. The latter is far more dangerous than the former.