Today’s post will be shorter than our usual weekly offering. This is partially due to the amount of cooking I signed myself up to do for the Lunar New Year. (It’s the Year of the Tiger. I’m a Tiger. It’s a special year.) But I am also keeping this post short to not “get ahead of our skis”, because the upcoming Beijing Olympics will catalyze many big events that we will be watching (winter sports pun totally intended).
I’m a hockey fan, so sports-wise I will no doubt be watching some hockey games, even though NHL players will not be participating this time. There are also two non-sports-related developments I will be paying close attention to: e-CNY’s non-Chinese user adoption and the Xi-Putin meeting.
e-CNY Foreigner Adoption
When I shared my perspective on the top tech trends of 2022 with Protocol China, I singled out the adoption of e-CNY, China’s Central Bank Digital Currency, as entering a pivotal year. By all measures, e-CNY adoption is already off to a fast start, doubling its user base to more than 260 million in the last two months. Its pilot app launched on both iOS and Android systems. JD, Tencent’s WeBank, AliPay’s MyBank, and most recently Meituan have all come onboard with integrations. Domestic growth is a foregone conclusion.
What will be more interesting to watch is if the e-CNY gets any uptake during the Winter Olympics by non-Chinese users, like athletes and staff from visiting countries’ teams. Foreign visitors can technically install and use the e-CNY. There are four tiers of the e-CNY wallet and one of the tiers only needs a phone number to register – neither a Chinese bank account nor a valid ID is required.
In Part III of our e-CNY deep-dive series, we explored the e-CNY’s global ambition as one of its long-term strategic values. As I wrote in that post, the Beijing Winter Olympics is the end of the beginning of e-CNY’s own Long March beyond its border.
Will foreign visitors use the e-CNY wallet, both as a new product and a geopolitical reality? We will find out soon enough.
Xi-Putin Meeting IRL
When the Winter Olympics open on February 4th, a rare, in-person bilateral meeting between Chinese President Xi and Russian President Putin will be more closely watched than the opening ceremony. The geopolitical backdrop is, of course, Ukraine, as well as the diplomatic boycott of the Olympics by the US and other western countries.
Contrary to some media commentary mistakenly deeming this China-Russia alliance as “unlikely” a decade ago, a multipolar world is something both countries’ leaders have wanted for decades. When then Chinese president Jiang Zemin and his Russian counterpart Boris Yeltsin met in 1997, the two leaders promised each other to build a “multipolar world” not dominated by the US, an episode well-chronicled in the book “We Shall Be Masters” by Chris Miller of Tufts.
Jiang and Yeltsin just didn’t have the power and money to pull it off. In 1997, Russia’s total GDP was $404 billion, and per capita GDP was $2700, while China’s total GDP was $960 billion and per capita GDP was a meager $780! Things have certainly changed since then, especially for China, whose total GDP is now around $18 trillion, while Russia’s hovers around $1.7 trillion.
2022 is very different from 1997, but the two countries' multipolar worldview has stayed consistent. With Xi proclaiming Putin as his “best friend”, this meeting may set off a series of world events towards that multipolarity.
We won’t know until it happens. Until then, I hope everyone has a good Lunar New Year. The Year of the Tiger will no doubt be an interesting one to live through.