China is expanding the testing of digital yuan currency to prepare for any further restrictions on its companies by the US.
So far, US President Donald Trump has effectively banned Huawei in the US and from doing business with US suppliers globally.
Huawei is the leading Chinese telecommunications equipment provider, supplying 5G systems to many countries abroad, and it offers a successful line of smartphones.
Other companies in the Trump administration’s sights include TikTok and WeChat, and its measures have already forced some large Chinese businesses to close.
That is quite apart from the numerous other measures that the US has introduced and is considering implementing in the run-up to trade talks with China, which may or may not take place.
One of the key areas America is looking at is rare earth minerals, which are used in almost all electronics technologies, hoping to break its dependence on Chinese suppliers.
The Chinese government has so far avoided tit-for-tat measures, but the macro effect of introducing a digital currency may help.
However, for the digital yuan to be adopted globally China has to make it interoperable with internationally with existing payment systems and national central banks.
One of China’s main worries is that the US may consider cutting it off from not only doing business with American companies but preventing it from using the US dollar as a currency.
For example, the US could prevent China from using the SWIFT international payments system, something that some analysts say would cause huge worldwide economic disruption and undermine global financial stability.
SWIFT stands for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, which is a network used by all banks to exchange information about cross-border financial transactions.
Banning China and Hong Kong from SWIFT would be “highy complicated and impractical”, says Wang Yongli, a former vice-president at Bank of China and a former beard member at SWIFT.
Wang says: “The United States has huge economic, trade and financial interests in Hong Kong.
“Kicking Hong Kong out of SWIFT would not only harm Chinese financial institutions in the city, but would severely affect all international institutions in Hong Kong, including American institutions.”
Rarely if ever has America used such an instrument, but China is trying to prepare for it, according to analysts quoted by the South China Morning Post.
Jing Sima, a China strategist at BCA Research, says: “Under the threat of US sanctions, the near-term goal is to minimise disruptions to China’s trade and investment activities, by promoting the use of the yuan beyond its borders.”
China’s central bank is overseeing the testing and development of the country’s digital currency, but has not made any announcements about timetables for full launch.