China’s Digital Yuan to Complement WeChat and Alipay

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In Brief
  • The People's Bank of China's digital currency research head has revealed that the digital yuan is designed to work with and not compete against WeChat and Alipay.

  • The two wallet apps, which control 94% of China's digital payments market may be able to offer the digital yuan and build financial products based on it

  • The digital yuan is already being trialed by over 47,000 people in Shenzhen as China seeks to maintain its digital payments dominance.

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Mu Changchun, head of the research institute for digital currency at the People’s Bank of China (PBoC), has revealed that the newly launched digital yuan will function in tandem, rather than in competition with established digital payment services like Alipay and WeChat.

The South China Morning Post reports that Changchun clarified this on Oct 25 while speaking in Shanghai at the China Finance 40 Forum’s Bund Summit.

According to him, China’s Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP) operates in a different space to WeChat and Alipay because they are digital wallets, while the digital yuan is money that can be used with such wallets.

Collaboration Instead of Competition

Figures from the consultancy iResearch show that WeChat and Alipay jointly control roughly 94% of China’s vast 3rd party payments market as of Q2 2020. Acknowledging the inefficiency of the digital yuan going up against these behemoths, Changchun said:

“They don’t belong to the same dimension. WeChat and Alipay are wallets, while the digital yuan is the money in the wallet.”

While that statement infers that the digital yuan will be integrated with these 3rd party payment services, the current reality is a bit different. SCMP reports that Wang Leilei, FinTech consultant at Kapronasia, revealed that the digital yuan for now is only available through an app that can be used in place of WeChat or Alipay’s mobile wallets.

According to Wang, the digital yuan’s pilot scheme participants in Shenzhen were required to download an app to receive the DCEP tokens. In her words:

“If the digital money is to be allocated through the app, some people may switch to the app, while others may transfer it to WeChat or Alipay. It depends on consumers and the use case.”

China’s CBDC Experiment Goes Full Steam Ahead

BeinCrypto recently reported that China recently launched a trial run for the digital yuan in the tech-heavy urban cluster of Shenzhen, giving out 10 million yuan (~$1.5 million) to 47,500 people, selected randomly from over 1.9 million residents who indicated their interest in taking part.

Speaking at the Shanghai conference, Changchun revealed that the Chinese central bank is prioritizing its centralized supervision of the digital yuan to “resist the erosion of crypto assets and global stablecoins.”

Despite China’s documented antipathy toward cryptocurrencies, Changchun earlier hinted that the PBoC might consider blockchain technology as one of its tools for managing the digital yuan.


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David is a journalist, writer and broadcaster whose work has appeared on CNN, The Africa Report, The New Yorker Magazine and The Washington Post. His work as a satirist on 'The Other News,' Nigeria's answer to The Daily Show has featured in the New Yorker Magazine and in the Netflix documentary 'Larry Charles' Dangerous World of Comedy.' In 2018, he was nominated by the US State Department for the 2019 Edward Murrow program for journalists under the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP). He tweets at @DavidHundeyin

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