Facebook’s announcement that they are set to launch their own cryptocurrency — named Libra — has made headlines across the globe. But while in much of the world the news of cryptocurrencies suddenly going extremely mainstream has been met with surprise, in China the idea of a social network also offering a payment system is decidedly old news.
Payment via WeChat, Tencent’s messenger and social media program-turned-super-app, is now so widely accepted in China that vendors in major cities regularly offer it as one of two payment options at the till (the other being Alibaba’s AliPay) — cash is rarely mentioned. The QR code-based payment system is so ubiquitous that it’s led to a slew of breathless articles on how China has become a cashless society (it hasn’t, at least not yet).
Not only that, but Tencent has had its own virtual currency for 20 years now, with its QQ Coin initially launched in 1999. (The vast majority of WeChat Pay transactions are still done in old-fashioned fiat currency, the Renminbi, albeit digitally.)
So when Facebook announced Libra, many in China shrugged it off as yet another way that the American social media giant (which is blocked in China) was imitating its Chinese counterpart. One user on microblogging platform Weibo dismissed it as “just a better-looking version of QQ Coin”.
Mark Zuckerberg Regrets Not Learning from WeChat Sooner
English-language media outlets also noted the strategic similarities, with The Wall Street Journal stating that, “Facebook’s crypto plan borrows from China”.
So what does Tencent founder Pony Ma make of Libra’s launch? According to 36kr, he commented on WeChat (where else?) yesterday that,
“The technology is already mature, it’s really not difficult. It depends more on whether the regulations allow it.”
And as the WSJ piece goes on to note, it may also depend upon whether Facebook can make a compelling use case for the currency, something which WeChat Pay and AliPay have worked hard to build in China.
For an overview of how WeChat ensnared its 1 billion plus active users, check out our piece below:
Why We Can’t #DeleteWeChat
We highlight our top stories each week in an email newsletter that goes out every Monday - hot, fresh, and straight to your inbox.
Don't worry, we don't spam