e-Yuan: US senators push Google and Apple to boycott it

A bill to ban applications hosted by Google or Apple that allow payment in digital yuan (e-Yuan) has been introduced in the United States Senate.

Technological tensions between the USA and China are not easing, and if the Huawei case perfectly illustrates the respective disagreements and fears of recent years, other projects have been launched.

The latest of these comes from the US Senate, with the tabling of a bill that could result in the banning of apps that allow payments with China’s digital currency, e-CNY.

At the origin of this bill, we find the Republican senators Tom Cotton, Mike Braun and Marco Rubio. According to them, companies that own or control app stores cannot and should not offer or support – implying “hosting” in these stores – apps in the United States that enable transactions, payments in e- Yuan (or e-CNY, the other denomination of Chinese digital currency).

Senators fear that the e-Yuan, a symbol of the development of the Middle Kingdom’s digital wallet, could allow the Chinese government to spy on American citizens and businesses.

For Tom Cotton, the digital yuan could offer Beijing “real-time visibility into all transactions on the network, posing privacy and security issues” for those who join this network.

The e-Yuan, initiated in 2014, was extensively tested during the Beijing Winter Olympics earlier this year, and the government now wants to make it accessible to as many people as possible, even across borders. Last January, Beijing announced that more than 261 million people used a dedicated application to pay with e-CNY, suggesting a strong increase since the fall.

Today, the digital yuan, issued by a central authority, has the same value as a traditional yuan. It can be stored in a digital wallet developed by the authorities.

This e-Yuan is also available in the two main Chinese payment applications: AliPay, from the giant Ant Group, and WeChatPay, from the WeChat messaging juggernaut belonging to the Tencent group. Both apps accept e-CNY payments well.

And that’s the problem for the United States, since the two applications are available today on the Play Store and the App Store, the Google and Apple app stores.

The senators behind the bill do not want US citizens to be interfered with (with accurate data on their financial activity) by potential digital yuan payments.

If the companies concerned (Apple, Google, Ant Group and Tencent) did not react immediately, the Chinese Embassy in Washington compares this bill to a “gratuitous intimidation” of the United States against foreign companies, with regard to of threats to national security which would thus be illusory.

The approach of the mid-term elections nevertheless plunges this bill into uncertainty.

Alexander Boero

Illustration: © moerschy / Pixabay

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