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China's digital currency comes to WeChat. Next stop: over a billion users

For now, a mere 80 million more citizens can trial the Digital Yuan

China's central bank digital currency, the Digital Yuan, has been integrated with Tencent's flagship messaging app WeChat, and appears as a payment option when users employ the super-app shop.

WeChat boasts over 1.2 billion monthly active users, is ubiquitous in China, and is popular outside the Middle Kingdom too.

For now, only users in Chinese cities where the Digital Yuan is already being trialed can choose to pay with the currency. But that pool of cities is expanding steadily – this week the People's Bank of China announced eleven cities have been added to trials. The collective population of those cities exceeds 80 million – a total that would rank as the world's 20th-most populous nation.

Making the Digital Yuan available to so many people is an obvious sign that China wants the digital currency to be widely used.

Integrating it with WeChat is even more significant. Cash is passé in China, and payment with apps accounts for an overwhelming majority of transactions.

Alibaba and Tencent dominate such payments, but Beijing is not entirely happy that the web giants have come to play such a central part in Chinese life. There's currently no sign that Beijing has designs on restricting their payment services, but adding the Digital Yuan as an option means that the People's Bank of China will gain a place in the tools most Chinese use for their everyday shopping.

The Bank will also gain a foothold overseas, because many people around the world use WeChat. The Chinese diaspora is sufficiently engaged with the app that it's used as an election campaigning tool outside China.

If integration with WeChat one day sees the Digital Yuan used outside the Middle Kingdom, Beijing will be very pleased. It hopes the currency could rival the US Dollar's ubiquity in international trade.

Central Bank digital currencies like the Digital Yuan are designed to replace cash and to offer the convenience of digital payments while preserving the anonymity inherent in exchanging coins or bills. However, US senators have warned the Digital Yuan allows Beijing to surveil users – an allegation that, if true, makes the currency rather less appealing. ®

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