Blockchain Research

South Korea has long had an enthusiastic cryptocurrency investing community. According to the Korea Financial Intelligence Unit (KoFIU), by mid-2024 Korea will have about 6 million crypto investors, equivalent to 11.5% of the population. At the same time, crypto related crime is rising in Korea. While the most infamous example remains Do Kwon’s multi-billion-dollar TerraUSD-Luna fraud, other, smaller scale scams are proliferating, necessitating new regulation to protect investors and both deter and penalize crime. According to the FoFIU, Korean digital asset exchanges flagged 49% more suspicious transactions in 2023 compared to 2022.

The Philippines in late March began to blocking access to Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange by trading volume. The country’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said it received the assistance of the National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) to block access to Binance’s website and online trading platform, according to a statement published by the SEC.

The March 7 launch of Hong Kong’s wholesale CBDC project was memorable. Firstly, the enthusiasm of the city’s financial regulators for this project is strong. While painting in broad brushstrokes, they outlined some lofty objectives for the digital HKD. The project aims to develop an interoperable platform that will improve efficiency, transparency and financial inclusion in the monetary and financial systems. “We’re calling it Project Ensemble” internally, to conjure a group of items working together, Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) deputy chief executive Howard Lee said at a press conference. “We hope it will play beautifully, like music.

Since its return to China in 1997, Hong Kong has become the country’s indispensable offshore financial center, with considerable international links. It has engaged in financial innovation, such as the cultivation of the world’s premier offshore renminbi trading hub. However, Hong Kong also faces much more competition from Singapore than it did in the late 1990s, and other Asian cities like Tokyo.

Undertaking cross-border payments involving central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) is a complicated endeavor, and despite some media hype in the summer of 2023, the mBridge project of the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) and the central banks of mainland China, Hong Kong, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) did not launch late last year. Many questions remain about the ultimate utility of using CBDCs in cross-border payments as well as any attempt to directly challenge the US dollar in global financial flows. 

We have long held the view that India sees little upside in cryptocurrency, whether as an asset class or for payments – the latter for which it is developing a central bank digital currency (CBDC). Indeed, the Indian government has made a conscious decision to promote the digital rupee while simultaneously gradually reducing the space in which the cryptocurrency market can operate. Recent regulatory actions have tightened the screws on crypto in India and are likely to drive it further underground and offshore.

Although China cracked down hard on cryptocurrency beginning in late 2017, it did not succeed in eradicating demand for digital assets. And unsurprisingly, given the size of the country, it remains unofficially a big crypto market. Data compiled by research firm Chainalysis show that the Chinese crypto market recorded an estimated US$86.4 billion in raw transaction volume between July 2022 and June 2023. Further, the proportion of large retail transactions of US$10,000-US$1 million is nearly twice the global average of 3.6%. While crypto bros would have us believe that a full-throated revival of crypto in the world’s second largest economy is just around the corner, the reality is more nuanced.

Incumbent banks more often than not take a cautious if not skeptical approach to cryptocurrency, so it is surprising to see that Thailand’s Kasikornbank appears to be going all in on digital assets. After all, it was not so long ago that its competitor Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) thought better of acquiring the Thai crypto exchange Bitkub.

China made clear its stance on cryptocurrency with a crackdown that began in late 2017. The Chinese authorities then and now view decentralized digital currencies as more harmful than useful. From Beijing’s perspective, cryptocurrencies empower non-state actors in the financial system in a way that that they believe aggravates systemic financial risk.

In late December, the Chinese venture capital fund Greater Bay Area (GBA) Capital announced that it would set up a US$10 billion Web3 fund – the largest such initiative we know of in China. Unsurprisingly, this fund was established with considerations beyond actual market demand. Because GBA Capital, which is owned by the China Europe International Financial Group, has a state background, its thinking behind this fund is strategic. Beijing is trying to develop the Greater Bay Area as a financial center for China’s Pearl River Delta region. Becoming a domestic Web3 hub might be one way to do that.

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