Huawei has announced that its new range of smartphones will support hardware wallets for the digital yuan.
In a post uploaded to its Weibo page, the tech giant claimed that the Mate 40 is the first device to support China’s upcoming digital currency.
The company said it aims to provide a “safe and convenient payment experience.” It claimed users will benefit from “controllable anonymity” and will be able to complete transactions offline if they need to.
If the somewhat Orwellian concept of controllable anonymity sounds familiar, it’s worth noting that similar language was used by the People’s Bank of China in November 2019.
Although a central bank executive said Beijing was primarily concerned with ensuring that the digital yuan isn’t used for money laundering, terrorist financing, and online gambling, some interpreted this as a hint that the government is hoping to keep an eye on consumers’ transactions. This CBDC could be a lot easier to surveil than paper money is.
“‘Controllable’ and ‘anonymous’ are fundamentally opposed,” Zcash Foundation communications manager Sonya Mann told Modern Consensus last year. She added:
“[I]f someone is anonymous, that means you don’t know who they are at all. No identity, no contact info. So how are you going to go about controlling someone anonymous, someone you can’t identify and therefore cannot reach? It’s an oxymoronic concept.”
Douglas “Chowbungaman” Tuman, an advocate of privacy coin Monero and host of the Monero Talk podcast, agreed, saying:
“There should be zero expectation of privacy. Especially when that state is China, and they suggest anonymity can be turned on and off as they deem necessary. China is clearly looking to build a surveillance coin.”
Working with the surveillance state is—the U.S. government alleges—familiar territory for Huawei, which remains subject to punishing sanctions from Washington, where the company is considered a risk to national security.
Bowing to American pressure, several countries around the world have excluded Huawei from being involved in lucrative contracts to build its 5G infrastructure.
Back on Tuesday, the People’s Bank of China had said that the digital yuan will be supported by the country’s two dominant mobile payment systems—WeChat Pay and Alipay—which together control 94% of the market. Mu Changchun, the head of the research institute for digital currency at the PBoC, had said:
“They don’t belong to the same dimension. WeChat and Alipay are wallets, while the digital yuan is the money in the wallet.”
This is a considerable U-turn. In June, the central bank had asked the State Council, which oversees antitrust issues, to investigate both of the companies.
Announcements surrounding the digital yuan continue to come in thick and fast. The CBDC has already been put through its paces in Beijing, Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen, Suzhou, Chengdu and Xiong’an.
Shenzhen recently performed an airdrop of the digital yuan, handing out the equivalent of $1.5 million in the CBDC to 50,000 lucky lottery winners.
The Mate 40 smartphone has been largely praised by tech critics, but it’s highly unlikely that consumers in the Western world will be able to get their hands on the device.