Economies Need Central Bank Digital Currencies More Than Bitcoin
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Economies Need Central Bank Digital Currencies More Than Bitcoin

According to a global banking watchdog.

By Barbara Kollmeyer
Fri, Jun 25, 2021 12:10pmGrey Clock 2 min

While investors in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies may disagree, when it comes to digital money, central banks have the right stuff.

That is according to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), which has put its stamp of approval on central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) as it urges those institutions to pick up the pace.

Central banks are perfectly placed to offer “settlement finality, liquidity and integrity. They are an advanced representation of money for the digital economy,” which needs to be designed “with the public in mind,” the global banking regulatory body argued in a study released on Wednesday.

A form of digital money, CBDCs are denominated in the national unit of account, which is a direct liability of that central bank. According to PwC, more than 85% of central banks are currently investigating digital versions of their currencies, with China now in the lead.

The spotlight has increased on digital currencies this year, largely due to the popularity of Bitcoin, which the BIS again criticised, as it brandished cryptocurrencies as speculative assets used at times for financial crimes and ransomware. “Bitcoin in particular has few redeeming public interest attributes when also considering its wasteful energy footprint,” it said.

Cryptocurrency risks have been evident this year, as Bitcoin has taken investors on a wild ride, with prices down more than 50% from an all-time high of over US$64,000 reached in mid-April.

Neither are stable coins going to work as digital money, said the BIS, describing those as “ultimately only an appendage to the conventional monetary system and not a game changer.”

The BIS’ fresh urgency to get central banks moving comes amid its concerns that Big Tech could get there first as it muscles into financial services. And user data in existing technology businesses such as social media or e-commerce offer those companies a competitive edge. That can lead to a so-called “data-network-activities” loop that creates a vicious circle of “data silos, market power and anti-competitive practices,” it warned.

Left in the hands of central banks, though, CBDCs “could form the backbone of a highly efficient new digital payment system by enabling broad access and providing strong data governance and privacy standards based on digital ID,” it said.

Of course, international collaboration will be paramount, the BIS added. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell in May promised his central bank would take the lead in “developing international standards for CBDCs.”



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China’s EV Juggernaut Is a Warning for the West

Competitive pressure and creativity have made Chinese-designed and -built electric cars formidable competitors

By GREG IP
Thu, Jun 8, 2023 4 min

China rocked the auto world twice this year. First, its electric vehicles stunned Western rivals at the Shanghai auto show with their quality, features and price. Then came reports that in the first quarter of 2023 it dethroned Japan as the world’s largest auto exporter.

How is China in contention to lead the world’s most lucrative and prestigious consumer goods market, one long dominated by American, European, Japanese and South Korean nameplates? The answer is a unique combination of industrial policy, protectionism and homegrown competitive dynamism. Western policy makers and business leaders are better prepared for the first two than the third.

Start with industrial policy—the use of government resources to help favoured sectors. China has practiced industrial policy for decades. While it’s finding increased favour even in the U.S., the concept remains controversial. Governments have a poor record of identifying winning technologies and often end up subsidising inferior and wasteful capacity, including in China.

But in the case of EVs, Chinese industrial policy had a couple of things going for it. First, governments around the world saw climate change as an enduring threat that would require decade-long interventions to transition away from fossil fuels. China bet correctly that in transportation, the transition would favour electric vehicles.

In 2009, China started handing out generous subsidies to buyers of EVs. Public procurement of taxis and buses was targeted to electric vehicles, rechargers were subsidised, and provincial governments stumped up capital for lithium mining and refining for EV batteries. In 2020 NIO, at the time an aspiring challenger to Tesla, avoided bankruptcy thanks to a government-led bailout.

While industrial policy guaranteed a demand for EVs, protectionism ensured those EVs would be made in China, by Chinese companies. To qualify for subsidies, cars had to be domestically made, although foreign brands did qualify. They also had to have batteries made by Chinese companies, giving Chinese national champions like Contemporary Amperex Technology and BYD an advantage over then-market leaders from Japan and South Korea.

To sell in China, foreign automakers had to abide by conditions intended to upgrade the local industry’s skills. State-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group developed the manufacturing know-how necessary to become a player in EVs thanks to joint ventures with Toyota and Honda, said Gregor Sebastian, an analyst at Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Despite all that government support, sales of EVs remained weak until 2019, when China let Tesla open a wholly owned factory in Shanghai. “It took this catalyst…to boost interest and increase the level of competitiveness of the local Chinese makers,” said Tu Le, managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a research service specialising in the Chinese auto industry.

Back in 2011 Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent, explained what set Chinese capitalism apart from its American counterpart. “In America, when you bring an idea to market you usually have several months before competition pops up, allowing you to capture significant market share,” he said, according to Fast Company, a technology magazine. “In China, you can have hundreds of competitors within the first hours of going live. Ideas are not important in China—execution is.”

Thanks to that competition and focus on execution, the EV industry went from a niche industrial-policy project to a sprawling ecosystem of predominantly private companies. Much of this happened below the Western radar while China was cut off from the world because of Covid-19 restrictions.

When Western auto executives flew in for April’s Shanghai auto show, “they saw a sea of green plates, a sea of Chinese brands,” said Le, referring to the green license plates assigned to clean-energy vehicles in China. “They hear the sounds of the door closing, sit inside and look at the quality of the materials, the fabric or the plastic on the console, that’s the other holy s— moment—they’ve caught up to us.”

Manufacturers of gasoline cars are product-oriented, whereas EV manufacturers, like tech companies, are user-oriented, Le said. Chinese EVs feature at least two, often three, display screens, one suitable for watching movies from the back seat, multiple lidars (laser-based sensors) for driver assistance, and even a microphone for karaoke (quickly copied by Tesla). Meanwhile, Chinese suppliers such as CATL have gone from laggard to leader.

Chinese dominance of EVs isn’t preordained. The low barriers to entry exploited by Chinese brands also open the door to future non-Chinese competitors. Nor does China’s success in EVs necessarily translate to other sectors where industrial policy matters less and creativity, privacy and deeply woven technological capability—such as software, cloud computing and semiconductors—matter more.

Still, the threat to Western auto market share posed by Chinese EVs is one for which Western policy makers have no obvious answer. “You can shut off your own market and to a certain extent that will shield production for your domestic needs,” said Sebastian. “The question really is, what are you going to do for the global south, countries that are still very happily trading with China?”

Western companies themselves are likely to respond by deepening their presence in China—not to sell cars, but for proximity to the most sophisticated customers and suppliers. Jörg Wuttke, the past president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, calls China a “fitness centre.” Even as conditions there become steadily more difficult, Western multinationals “have to be there. It keeps you fit.”

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