According to the Thursday’s reports of The Wall Street Journal’s Steven Russolillo and Chuin-Wei Yap, bitcoin owners can still trade their coins through WeChat, the largest messaging app in China, which underpins Shenzhen-based Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s $400 billion market valuation having over 963 million users.
Today it’s not a secret that Chinese authorities plan to shut down all channels for exchanging the cryptocurrency (not only commercial ones), and that many domestic exchanges have already halted trading or announced their intention to do so. They include BTC-China, Shanghai’s largest exchange, which announced it would halt trading by the end of September, other two largest exchanges OkCoin and Huobi, which are to stop all trading services for local customers in November, and some over-the-counter platforms, which already suspended services this week.
This, together with increased surveillance of apps like WeChat, sows the seeds of doubts regarding how long bitcoin investors in China will be able to use WeChat as a work-around solution.
To fully understand the context, WeChat has to adhere to Chinese government rules, which censoring sensitive topics, filtering images, deleting private and public accounts without user consent and storing information sent via its platforms for at least six months on its servers.
The situation is additionally heated up by the new regulation, according to which creators of messaging groups are responsible for the behavior of its members.
“If you are a group chat leader you have two choices, either you are going to super actively monitor the group, because your livelihood is at stake, or you’re going to delete the group,” – said Lokman Tsui, an assistant professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “It’s a chilling effect.”
According to reports in official Chinese media, 40 people from one WeChat group have already been disciplined for spreading petition letters while arresting a man who complained about police raids.
In this context it’s quite unsurprising that WeChat is starting to lose its amateurs, who move to Telegram and other services beyond the Chinese government’s reach.
On Telegram Chinese bitcoin enthusiasts discuss everything from transferring of their digital tokens to overseas, to initial coin offerings remaining unchallenged.
While there are no figures on how many people have left WeChat, at least 30 groups have appeared on Telegram, already having attracted more than 1,000 mostly Chinese-speaking users.
FYI, apart from ban of ICOs and shut-down of domestic crypto exchanges, China is also cracking down on VPNs, which route traffic through servers outside the country, to eliminate access to foreign news sites and services. This makes such giants as Apple Inc. remove many VPNs from China to comply with local rules.
Still, the fact that every few months here and there comes the news that China has banned bitcoin, and that these bans have always been much less serious than advertised, certainly allows to remain optimistic about the token’s future in The Celestial Empire.