Central bank threatens to step into "virtual money" controversy
www.chinaview.cn 2006-11-16 10:35:04

    BEIJING, Nov. 16 (Xinhua) -- China's central bank has threatened to step into a debate on a "virtual currency" issued by an Internet firm and bring it under government supervision.

    The currency is the Q-coin issued by Tencent, a leading Internet community operator, for the users of QQ, an on-line chat room that had 220 million users by March.

    It can be purchased with bank cards, telephone cards or QQ cards at an official price of one yuan (12.5 U.S. cents) and was originally intended to be used in buying on-line services providedby Tencent, including electronic greeting cards, cartoon portraits,chips in on-line QQ games and anti-virus software.

    But many people have begun paying Q-coins when trading among themselves and in buying commodities and services provided by other websites.

    The operators of some Internet forums reportedly receive Q-coins as their wages.

    There have been reports that some people earned thousands of yuan per month by selling Q-coins won in on-line QQ games, where 10,000 points can be changed into one Q-coin.

    The People's Bank of China (PBOC) said it would closely monitor the "virtual money", amid concerns that it may impact China's currency if it was left uncontrolled.

    The bank would put the Q-coin, a kind of popular "virtual money", under supervision if it entered into circulation, sources with the PBOC told Xinhua.

    However, Yu Guofu, a counselor with the Internet Society of China, dismissed the fears, saying the Q-coin was only a commodity,not a real currency that can be converted into the yuan.

    It was worthless for people who were not QQ users, Yu argued.

    Li Chong, a professor of finance with the Beijing Normal University, even denied the Q-coin is "virtual money" because it is "neither a medium of exchange nor a store of value".

    However, legal expert Zhao Fujun argued that speculators who bought large amounts of Q-coins at a low price and resold at a profit had made the "virtual money" circulate like a hard currency.

    Tencent said it would crack down on illegal sales of Q-coins in conjunction with the police, according to a report in the Beijing News.

    Yang Tao, a legal scholar, pointed out that as China's legal tender, the yuan must be offered in payment of any debt and only the central bank could issue money.

    Conversion between the Q-coin and the yuan, if unchecked, would lead to dire economic consequences, warned Yang.

    "Virtual money" could disorder China's financial markets by taking the place of the legal tender as an "on-line medium of exchange", he said.

    As the Q-coin was issued by an enterprise, not the central bank,the supply was not subject to the country's monetary policy and could cause the policy to fail, said Yang.

    However, analysts believe the Q-coin is unlikely to enter into circulation because once it is made convertible with the yuan, Tencent would be exposed to great risks, especially if there is a malicious drawing.

    No company would run the risk just to become a "virtual central bank", said a commentary in the Shanghai Securities News.

    Yu said inflation occurred only when money supply exceeded the value of available goods and services, but "the supply of the Q-coin is based on the amount people purchase, which is unrelated to the country's financial system".

    The sales volume of "virtual money" are estimated at billions of yuan every year in China and growing at an annual average rate of 15 to 20 percent.

Editor: Lu Hui
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