The Asia-Pacific (APAC) region is one of the rapidly-developing locations around the world with countries like China, India, Japan, and South Korea leading tech-driven and economic developments in the region. Interestingly, the APAC region had witnessed substantial growth in blockchain-related projects, investments, and adoption.
Blockchain development is a booming field, with new applications being developed all the time. The process involves coding, testing, and debugging smart contracts, which are self-executing contracts that run on the blockchain. Blockchain developers also need to understand the underlying technology of blockchain, such as cryptography and distributed consensus algorithms.
While China imposed severe restrictions on cryptocurrencies and mining activities in 2021, the country is gradually retracing its steps and has acknowledged the importance of blockchain technology. Additionally, India has the highest number of crypto holders after the United States, with over 27 million holders of digital assets. Meanwhile, South Korea and Japan are also investigating the usage of blockchain-based currencies.
Asia-Pacific Region Becoming a Hub of Blockchain Activities
Asia had been gradually becoming a hub of blockchain development because of several factors:
Growing Technological Infrastructure: Many Asia-Pacific countries have invested significantly in their technological infrastructure, providing a solid foundation for blockchain development and adoption.
Government Support: Some Asia-Pacific governments recognized the potential of blockchain technology and actively supported its research, development, and implementation. They created supportive regulatory frameworks and funding initiatives for blockchain startups and projects.
Large and Diverse User Base: Asia-Pacific is home to some of the most populous countries in the world, such as China and India. This large and diverse user base presented extensive opportunities for blockchain projects to gain adoption and scalability.
Entrepreneurial Spirit: Asia-Pacific countries fostered a vibrant entrepreneurial culture, with a high number of tech-savvy individuals and startups exploring innovative applications of blockchain technology.
Financial Services Industry Interest: The financial services sector of many countries in the Asia-Pacific has shown significant interest in blockchain technology, particularly in areas like cross-border payments, remittances, and financial inclusion.
Cryptocurrency Market Activity: Several Asian countries, such as China, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore, have been actively involved in the cryptocurrency market, both in terms of trading and developing blockchain-based financial products.
Tokenization and Smart Contracts: The region saw increasing interest in tokenization of assets and the use of smart contracts for various applications, including supply chain management, gaming, and decentralized finance (DeFi).
Digital Transformation: As various industries across Asia embraced digital transformation, blockchain technology offered solutions for enhancing transparency, security, and efficiency in processes.
Strategic Positioning: Asia’s geographical location has made it a strategic region for international blockchain projects looking to expand into global markets.
Remittances: Blockchain can streamline cross-border remittances, which is of significant interest to countries with many overseas workers.
Additionally, countries like India produce a huge number of software engineers and developers each year which continue to work towards innovation. These engineers have formed blockchain projects like Polygon (MATIC), an Ethereum scaling solution that was selected in Disney’s 2022 Accelerator program, a business development program created to increase the growth of innovative firms and projects around the world.
Pros and Cons for Asia-Pacific Countries
As with any major development, there are both pros and cons associated with Asia becoming a hub of crypto:
Innovation and Adoption: As a hub of crypto, Asia can foster innovation and adoption of blockchain technology, leading to the development of new and exciting use cases across various industries.
Economic Growth: The cryptocurrency and blockchain industries have the potential to drive economic growth in the region. This growth can result from increased investment, job creation, and the emergence of new businesses and startups.
Financial Inclusion: Crypto can improve financial inclusion by providing access to financial services for unbanked and underbanked populations in Asia, who may not have easy access to traditional banking systems.
Cross-Border Transactions: Cryptocurrencies can facilitate faster and cheaper cross-border transactions, enhancing international trade and economic cooperation in the region.
Technological Advancements: Asia’s involvement in crypto can lead to technological advancements and improvements in blockchain infrastructure and protocols.
Investment Opportunities: The growth of the crypto market in Asia can present investment opportunities for both local and international investors, potentially leading to diversification of investment portfolios.
Regulatory Uncertainty: Rapid growth in the crypto industry can pose challenges for regulators, leading to regulatory uncertainty. Inconsistent or unclear regulations may create risks for investors and businesses operating in the sector.
Security and Fraud Concerns: The crypto industry has been a target for hackers and scammers. An increase in crypto activity in Asia may attract malicious actors and lead to security and fraud concerns.
Market Volatility: Cryptocurrencies are known for their price volatility, which can pose risks to investors and may impact financial stability in the region.
Environmental Impact: The energy-intensive nature of some cryptocurrency mining operations can raise concerns about their environmental impact, especially if they rely heavily on fossil fuels.
Lack of Consumer Protection: As the crypto market expands, there may be a lack of adequate consumer protection measures, leaving investors vulnerable to scams and fraud.
Dependency on Global Market: The crypto market is highly interconnected globally. Asia’s dependence on the global crypto market may expose the region to risks associated with market fluctuations and regulatory changes in other parts of the world.
Which Asia-Pacific Countries Will Emerge as Crypto Hubs?
Singapore has been actively working towards becoming a prominent blockchain hub in the Asia-Pacific region. The Monetary Authority of Singapore has been working on projects like:
Project Nexus: A collaboration with the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) Innovation Hub to develop instant cross-border remittance and real-time payment systems linking different countries.
Project Ubin Plus: Focused on achieving an atomic settlement for immediate cross-border settlement by simultaneously exchanging two linked assets in real time.
Project Orchid: Concentrating on programmable money and facilitating the use of money with embedded rules.
Project Guardian: Centered on tokenized assets and exploring ways to represent the ownership of rights over any valuable item as a digital token or asset.
Project Greenprint: Addressing trusted sustainability data using distributed ledger technology for access and verification of climate and sustainability data.
The Hong Kong government has shown enthusiasm for supporting the growth of the cryptocurrency industry in the city. Notably, it has been reaching out to mainland China-based crypto companies, inviting them to establish themselves in Hong Kong. It has also implemented a new regulatory regime, inviting firms to get licensed. Several firms with Chinese founders have announced their bid for licenses in Hong Kong and participated in crypto-related events in the city.
Japan has become an attractive market for blockchain gaming projects and companies, leading to an increasing number of initiatives and talent recruitment. Events like Japan Blockchain Week play a crucial role in promoting the Japanese blockchain industry to the world. Supported by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), this gathering serves as a hub for the global and Japanese blockchain communities, fostering interaction and collaboration.
India has witnessed the adoption of blockchain technology in various sectors, with significant interest from the banking, financial services, and insurance industries. The country’s successful creation of foundational digital infrastructure, such as Aadhaar, UPI, and GSTN, has laid a solid base for experimenting with blockchain technology in different sectors. Additionally, International financial institutions like JPMorgan Chase & Co. are collaborating with Indian banks to introduce blockchain-based platforms for interbank transactions.
Thailand leads the world in the proportion of internet users owning cryptocurrencies, with around 20.1% of Thais aged 16-64 owning cryptocurrencies. This popularity of cryptocurrencies is driving companies to invest in or facilitate the cryptocurrency market, transforming the dynamics of money and finance in the country.
Thailand is taking both supportive and cautious measures regarding blockchain technology and digital assets. New rules have been drafted by the Bank of Thailand to enhance investor protection in the custody of digital assets. The APAC country is actively promoting blockchain technology through events and expos. The “Blockmountain Expo 2023,” held in Chiang Mai, is a significant event dedicated to blockchain and digital assets.
APAC Regulators to Play an Important Role
Taking the example of Singapore, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and other Singaporean authorities, have been engaging in various collaborative blockchain projects and regulatory developments.
While the crypto and DeFi industry faced challenges with the collapse of certain entities, Singapore has remained optimistic about blockchain’s potential outside of speculative cryptocurrency trading. The government, represented by figures like Lawrence Wong (Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister), maintains a position that is open to digital asset innovation but cautious about crypto speculation.
On the other hand, Indian regulators compare cryptocurrencies to gambling, but the country produces many blockchain developers and enthusiasts. Moreover, Australia has been very skeptical of cryptocurrencies, as the National Australia Bank (NAB) claims that 50% of all the scams in the country are related to crypto.
Interestingly, the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, Hong Kong, recently introduced crypto regulations on June 1 and has already received hundreds of applications from crypto firms who want to get registered in the region.
Overall, regulators in the APAC countries will play a major role in the establishment of their countries as the basis of operations for crypto firms. It is very much possible that we might witness many companies establish their offices in APAC nations. Recently, Gemini announced that it will be opening its second international office in Gurgaon, India.
APAC Might Lead the way in CBDC Adoption
The Asia-Pacific (APAC) region is playing a significant role in the exploration and adoption of Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs). While the United States has yet to even discuss the creation of a CBDC, APAC countries like China and India have already developed CBDCs.
Australia: Commonwealth Bank and the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group are participating in the Reserve Bank of Australia’s pilot program to explore the use cases of the eAUD (digital Australian dollar).
China: China has made strides in its CBDC implementation, including the inclusion of e-CNY (digital Chinese yuan) in their currency circulation calculations, representing a portion of cash and reserves held by the central bank.
India: India is actively testing its CBDC, with the largest retail chain, Reliance Retail, accepting payments in digital rupee during its pilot stage. Additionally, India began testing an offline functionality for its CBDC.
Japan: The Bank of Japan is planning to start a pilot program in April to test the technical feasibility of the “digital yen.” Japan is also establishing a CBDC forum to involve private businesses engaged in retail payments or related technologies in discussions about CBDC deployment.
Philippines: The central bank of the Philippines is conducting a pilot project that tests wholesale CBDC with select financial institutions until 2024.
Indonesia: Indonesia recently debuted a wholesale CBDC consultation paper which is the first iteration of a wholesale CBDC in the country. A future retail digital rupiah will be distributed through wholesalers, and the central bank will establish wholesaler qualification standards.
These developments indicate that the APAC region is at the forefront of CBDC adoption and experimentation. As more countries in the region continue to explore and implement CBDCs, the APAC region is likely to lead the way in the adoption of this transformative digital currency technology. It will be crucial for these countries to address technical, economic, and regulatory challenges to ensure the successful implementation of CBDCs in their respective economies.
A Conducive Environment for Crypto Startups and Innovation
As of 2023, the Asia-Pacific region has become a hotbed for crypto startups and innovation, offering a conducive environment for the growth of blockchain and cryptocurrency-related businesses. Several factors contribute to the region’s appeal for crypto entrepreneurs and investors:
Growing Number of Crypto and Blockchain Companies: Southeast Asia, in particular, has seen a significant rise in the number of crypto and blockchain companies headquartered in the region. More than 600 crypto or blockchain companies are currently based in Southeast Asia alone, indicating a thriving ecosystem for crypto-related businesses.
Venture Capital Funding: Southeast Asia has witnessed a surge in venture capital funding for crypto, blockchain, and web3 startups. These startups have attracted almost $1 billion in funding in 2022 alone, with a positive trajectory that is set to surpass the total funding in 2021.
Favorable Demographics and Digital-Savvy Population: Southeast Asia boasts a young and digitally savvy population that is inherently more open to adopting new technologies like blockchain and cryptocurrencies. The region’s developing economies also create financial incentives for people to participate in crypto-related activities.
DeFi and Gaming Boom: Decentralized finance (DeFi) and blockchain games, particularly play-to-earn games, have gained immense popularity in Southeast Asia. The region’s population, including those facing financial challenges, has found alternative income sources through DeFi and blockchain-based games, contributing to the growth of the crypto scene.
Web3 Appeal: Southeast Asia’s vibrant web3 scene has drawn interest from investors worldwide, with many from the United States, China, and Singapore being actively involved in the region’s crypto space.
Financial Inclusivity and Unbanked Population: Large segments of the Southeast Asia population still lack access to formal banking services. This situation provides an opportunity for alternative crypto-related finance, including DeFi, to thrive in the region, addressing the needs of the under-banked and unbanked.
High Crypto Adoption Rates: Singapore, in particular, stands out with nearly 10% of its population owning crypto, ahead of the U.S. at 8.3%. Other countries in the region, such as Vietnam and Thailand, have also shown significant adoption rates in DeFi and crypto.
Diverse Crypto Innovation: Each country in Southeast Asia brings its own edge in crypto innovation, with some excelling in hardcore engineering, others focusing on vibrant financial markets, and some being hubs of international talent.
While the crypto scene in Southeast Asia is thriving and offers immense potential, there are also challenges that come with rapid growth. Regulatory responses to blockchain and crypto are crucial to create a safe environment for fintech innovation while addressing social risks and protecting investors from scams and frauds. Balancing fostering innovation and protecting consumers will be essential for sustaining the region’s positive trajectory in the crypto space.