China uses digital yuan to stimulate virus-hit consumption

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FILE PHOTO: A sign indicating digital yuan, also referred to as e-CNY, is pictured at a shopping mall in Shanghai

SHANGHAI – China is using the digital yuan to stimulate consumption in its pandemic-hit economy, with more e-CNY applications expected in future to boost transparency and effectiveness of government policies.

The southern city of Shenzhen started distributing 30 million yuan ($4.50 million) worth of free digital cash on Monday to revive consumption and aid businesses. It comes days after Xiong’an New Area in northern Hebei province, launched a similar campaign to hand out 50 million yuan worth of e-CNY “red packets” as gifts.

China is at the fore of a global race to develop central bank digital currencies. Issuing e-CNY subsidies can both aid consumption and further promote use of the electronic yuan.

Transactions using e-CNY totalled 87.6 billion yuan at the end of 2021, with 261 million individual e-wallets opened, according to the central bank.

“Previously, when the government issued subsidies, there could be certain obstacles before the money reaches the recipients,” said G. Bin Zhao, senior economist at PwC China.

“With e-CNY, the cash directly lands into your hands,” boosting transparency, he said.

Zhao added that in the future, the government can use e-CNY for pension payments, fiscal subsidies and even infrastructure spending.

Xia Chun, chief economist at wealth manager Yintech Investment Holdings, said that compared with traditional means, e-CNY is more efficient and swift when it comes to subsidies, although he feels the size of the current consumption stimulus is too small.

Lin Yifu, an economist at Peking University said in a speech earlier this month that China should hand out 1,000 yuan to each family in locked-down areas, half of which can be in digital yuan.

In the latest campaign, consumers in Shenzhen can join a lottery for the free e-CNY, which can be used to shop online or at stores. In Xiong’an, digital cash subsidies can be used to buy products including food, electronics appliances and furniture.

($1 = 6.6600 Chinese yuan)

(Reporting by Samuel Shen and Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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