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China will block access to 124 websites operated by offshore cryptocurrency exchanges that provide trading services to citizens in the country, the Shanghai Securities News reported on Thursday. Photo: Bloomberg

China to block more than 120 offshore cryptocurrency exchanges as crackdown escalates

China is poised to block more than 120 foreign cryptocurrency exchanges as part of the government’s broader crackdown on activities related to digital money, according to state media.

Authorities will block access in China to 124 websites operated by offshore cryptocurrency exchanges that provide trading services to citizens on the mainland, the Shanghai Securities News, a newspaper affiliated with the country’s financial and markets regulators, reported on Thursday.

It said authorities will also continue to monitor and shut down domestic websites related to cryptocurrency trades and initial coin offerings (ICOs), and ban payment services from accepting cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin. The newspaper cited people close to the Leading Group of Internet Financial Risks Remediation, which was set up by China’s cabinet in 2016 and headed by Pan Gongsheng, a deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China – the country’s central bank.

Multiple calls made by the South China Morning Post to the central bank went unanswered.

The report marks the latest effort by Beijing to intensity the clampdown on cryptocurrency activities because of concerns about financial instability.

Censors recently shut down at least eight blockchain and cryptocurrency-focused online media outlets, some of which raised several million dollars in venture capital. These entities found their official public accounts on WeChat blocked on Tuesday evening, owing to violations against new regulations from China’s top internet watchdog.

Separately, Beijing’s central Chaoyang district issued a notice on August 17 banning hotels, office buildings and shopping malls in the area from hosting events promoting cryptocurrencies. The document was leaked online this week, and confirmed by the Post with the local authority.

Last September, Chinese regulators banned ICOs, describing them as an unauthorised illegal fundraising activity. During the same month, Chinese regulators also ordered Chinese cryptocurrency exchanges to cease trading.

ICOs are a form of crowdsourced fundraising by which companies exchange their newly created cryptocurrencies – called tokens – for payments in an existing currency, usually an established cryptocurrency such as ethereum or bitcoin. ICO investors profit when their tokens gain in value at a faster rate than the currency they used to pay for them.

The government crackdown prompted Chinese cryptocurrency exchange operators and ICO projects to move their operations in friendlier jurisdictions, such as Singapore.

In February, state media first reported that China will soon block all websites related to cryptocurrency trading and ICOs – including overseas platforms. Popular cryptocurrency exchanges, including Bitfinex, Bitnance, Huobi and OKEx, have since been blocked on the mainland.

Since the crackdown began last September, a total of 88 cryptocurrency exchanges and 85 ICO projects have been shut down in China, and the yuan-bitcoin trading pair has dropped from 90 per cent to less than 5 per cent of the world’s total bitcoin trades, according to Shanghai Securities News.

Pan, the central bank deputy governor, said in Beijing last December that China made the right decision to clamp down on cryptocurrency exchanges.

“If things were still the way they were at the beginning of the year, over 80 per cent of the world’s bitcoin trading and ICO financing would take place in China – what would things look like today?” he said. “It’s really quite scary.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: China to block offshore crypto access