Caixin
Sep 08, 2020 11:25 AM

社论 | 不必急推数字人民币 Editorial: For China, Getting the Digital Yuan Right Is More Important Than Getting It First (Bilingual)

The People’s Bank of China in Beijing.
The People’s Bank of China in Beijing.

近日,建设银行App上线“数字人民币钱包”,并在部分测试地区开通。虽然在几小时后,这一功能又悄然关闭,此举依然引发广泛关注。数字人民币短暂露脸,显示了中国法定数字货币推进工作的重要进展。自2014年中国人民银行开始研究法定数字货币以来,无论是研发还是测试,每一个动作都牵动着金融市场内外的敏感神经。数字人民币“呼之欲出”、中国或成首个发行法定数字货币国家之类的声音不绝于耳。

In recent days, people in certain pilot areas in China have started testing a banking app called Digital Renminbi Wallet. Although the function was removed within hours, it still drew a lot of public attention, as it marked an important milestone in the development of China’s much-touted state-backed digital currency.

Since the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) began looking into such a currency in 2014, each step, from research and development to testing, has touched sensitive nerves in the financial market and beyond. Some commenters observed that the near-realization of the digital yuan means China might soon become the first nation to issue its own state-backed digital currency.

不过,央行大体持审慎态度。相关负责人数度表示,数字人民币推出没有时间表,且多次强调,数字人民币研发要遵循稳步、安全、可控等原则。总体来看,数字人民币的研发测试思路清晰,步骤稳妥。发行法定数字货币是大势所趋,多国央行早已提上日程,但是,如何稳妥落地却面临诸多考验。研发测试慢不得,推出却又急不得。在中国,更新一版人民币尚需多年,更不用说必将对金融市场和经济运行产生重大影响的数字人民币。除了技术层面的具体制度设计,还有不少课题。比如,它对货币政策的制定和执行有何影响,尚待深入探讨。法定数字货币的法律地位和功能也有待明确,而公众最关心的莫过于数字人民币如何保护个人隐私,保障财产安全。对这些问题,须有前瞻性的思考和布局,并清晰描述基本理路,切实给公众吃下“定心丸”。

Yet the central bank is still preaching caution. The relevant officials have said on several occasions that there is no timetable for the digital yuan’s rollout and repeatedly stressed that research and development of a digital currency must follow the principles of stability, security and controllability.

Generally speaking, the thinking behind developing and testing the digital yuan has been clearly defined at every stage. Its issuance forms part of a broader trend that has seen many countries put state-backed digital currencies on their respective agendas.

However, there are still many challenges to its secure implementation. While research and testing proceed apace, we must not rush into a rollout. In China, where upgrading the physical currency is a years-long process, we must be especially prudent about the digital yuan, which will inevitably have significant impact on the financial markets and the functioning of the economy.

In addition to the specific designs of the technical systems, we also face a number of other issues. For instance, we must discuss more deeply the effects of the digital yuan on the design and implementation of monetary policy. We are yet to clearly define the legal status and function of a state-backed digital currency, and the public is particularly concerned about how to protect personal privacy and safeguard wealth. We must start thinking about these problems now to articulate a path forward and set people’s minds at ease.

中国人民银行是全球较早研发数字货币的央行之一。央行研发的数字人民币不同于比特币等虚拟数字货币,是以国家信用为基础的数字化货币,功用和法律地位与纸币并无本质区别,主要用途在于替代部分现金,即注重M0替代。与既有金融体系相适应,数字人民币采用双层运营体系,第一层央行将数字人民币兑换给商业银行等指定运营机构,第二层再由这些机构面向公众。当然,数字人民币的发行和运行的具体细节不同于现有人民币。目前,数字人民币正在多地内部封闭试点测试。这条推进路径是稳妥可行的。

The PBOC is one of the world’s first central banks to research and develop a digital currency. The project is different from virtual currencies like bitcoin in that it takes national credit as a foundation and has practically the same role and legal status as paper money. Its main use lies in replacing material forms of cash.

Within the existing financial system, the digital yuan will operate on two levels: The central bank will first convert it for designated institutions like commercial banks, and those institutions will then filter the money down to the public. Of course, the specific details of the issuance and operation of the digital yuan are different from conventional money. Carrying out internal trials in many parts of China are a safe and rational way to ensure its development.

然而,人们依然对隐私如何得到保护心怀疑虑。据悉,数字人民币的设计遵循“前台自愿、后台实名”原则,重在可控匿名。数字人民币的交易和去向在每个环节都留有痕迹,可被追踪。显然,这种追踪的权力不应掌握在商家以及银行手里,而应该按照法律严格授权于监管者,不仅其他政府部门不得滥用,监管者也不得滥用。公众的担心挥之不去,原因即在于他们无法确认,这种实名与可追踪到底会在多大强度上被执行,适用范围会有多大,有无严格的约束机制;与此相关,数字人民币是否会遭到网络攻击,个人信息是否会被泄露,财产安全性如何保障,等等,都应该在研发测试过程中予以格外重视。

However, people still have their misgivings about how to protect privacy. It is well known that the design of the digital yuan follows the principle of “whatever you like at the front end, real-name at the back end” — that is, a controllable form of anonymity. Transactions and money flows are traceable at every link in the chain.

Evidently, the power to trace these currency flows should not stay in the hands of businesses and banks, but must be strictly vested in authorized regulators. Neither other government departments nor the regulators themselves should be able to abuse it.

The reason for the public’s persistent concerns lie in the fact they have no way of confirming how strongly the real-name system and tracing mechanisms will be implemented in practice, how many people they will apply to, and how strict the binding mechanisms will be.

Similarly, much attention during the research and testing process has been placed on whether the digital yuan is vulnerable to online attacks, whether personal information can be leaked, and whether it is possible to safeguard personal property.

通过测试,发现问题寻求最优解,并不断优化,从技术上力争万无一失是一方面,更重要的是形成有约束力的规范,才能够让社会各界彻底打消疑虑。换言之,隐私保护是一个技术问题,更是法治建设和国家治理问题。私人财产不可侵犯,已成为中国的宪法原则;财富运用的隐私要严格保护,这是央行确定的基调。不过,央行相关负责人也多次强调,要在保护隐私和打击违法犯罪行为之间找到平衡点。这表明,央行早已将隐私保护纳入数字人民币的研发试验视野,寻找平衡点也合情合理。但是,迄今为止,相关探讨还有待深入,这又恰恰成为公众不安的一个原因。随着数字人民币工程不断推进,相关信息亦应及时披露。数字人民币的使用者需要一个普及过程,毕竟数字货币能否如愿流通,根本上取决于它是否拥有充分的社会信任。

We must strive to resolve the issues discovered during testing and continually optimize the platform. Aiming to ensure the technology is perfectly safe is one thing, but it’s even more important to form legally binding norms and standards if we’re going to totally assuage the public’s doubts.

In other words, privacy protection is not just a technical issue, but also touches on China’s rule of law and national governance. The principle of private property rights is already enshrined in the Chinese constitution. As the PBOC has stressed, we must also uphold strict protections for those who use their private wealth.

However, many central bank officials have also emphasized that we must strike a balance between protecting privacy and cracking down on illegal and criminal activity. This shows that the PBOC has already incorporated privacy protection into its vision for testing the digital yuan.

It is right to seek equilibrium, but so far the discussions on this subject have not gone far enough, leading to exactly the kind of public anxiety we hope to avoid. As the digital yuan project further develops, we must release relevant information in a timely manner. Users of the digital yuan need to learn more about the currency. In the end, whether the digital yuan can flow as freely as intended will hinge on whether the public has sufficient trust in it.

凡属重大改革都要于法有据,而数字人民币应避免法律尴尬。《中国人民银行法》规定,央行的职责之一是“发行人民币,管理人民币流通”。而《人民币管理条例》第二条则进一步明确,人民币是指中国人民银行依法发行的货币,包括纸币和硬币。就是说,数字人民币的法律身份迄今是空缺的。更重要的是,虽然数字人民币会与传统货币并行不悖,遵循同样的管理原则,但是,数字人民币毕竟有其自身特性,无论发行、流通,还是交易,均应有更为明晰的法律规范。尤其是要对数字人民币的法律地位和功能,给予准确清晰的界定。另外,数字人民币对金融监管也提出了更高要求,要有相应的制度设计。数字人民币的实体建设已获得重视,投入巨大,而实体与规范又是不可分割的,不能两张皮。最理想的结果是瓜熟蒂落,水到渠成,二者同步推进,同时推出,而不是先试错,再修法。数字人民币不同于一般的改革事项,任何疏忽都会损害其信用,而信用是一种法定货币的生命。

All significant reforms must be grounded in law, but we must avoid legal awkwardness when it comes to the digital yuan. The Law of the People’s Bank of China stipulates that the central bank has a responsibility to issue the yuan, also called the renminbi, and manage its circulation. Article 2 of the Renminbi Management Regulations are clearer, stating that the renminbi refers to currency legally issued by the PBOC, including notes and coins.

All this means that there is a legal hole in China surrounding the use of a digital version of the yuan. More significantly, although the digital yuan and the traditional currency are not mutually exclusive and abide by the same regulatory principles, the digital yuan has its own specific properties that require clearer legal norms for issuances, circulation and transactions.

In particular, we must provide clear and specific limits on the legal status and functions of the digital yuan. In addition, we need a corresponding system designed for the higher standards placed on the digital yuan as it pertains to financial regulation. The establishment of the digital yuan has garnered much attention and investment, but we can’t let it become divorced from the regulatory frameworks constraining it.

The ideal result is that the digital yuan and its legal support structures mature in tandem and are implemented at the same time. This is better than trying the new currency out before amending the law. The digital yuan is not like other reforms: Any form of negligence will damage its credit, and credit is the lifeblood of legal currencies.

推出数字人民币是一个庞大复杂的系统工程,急不得,须有全局的统筹规划,除了实体层面的硬件,也要同样重视隐私保护、监管规范等软件。法定货币的特性决定了,安全可靠永远是第一位的,便利是第二位的。不急于在推出速度上在全球拿金牌,数字人民币才能行稳致远。

Launching the digital yuan is a huge and complex systemic project that cannot be rushed. We must make ample overall preparations. Apart from the physical hardware, we must also pay similar attention to “software” like privacy protection and regulatory norms. Once the special properties of a legal currency are determined, safety and reliability must always rank ahead of convenience. We must resist rushing the launch to garner the plaudits of releasing the world’s first state-backed digital currency. Only then can we be sure that the digital yuan will be stable enough to go the distance.

The Chinese version of this article was published in Caixin Weekly on September 7, 2020, and is only for Caixin Global's app users to read. Unlock more bilingual articles, download Caixin app.

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