China now accounts for nearly a third of the daily bitcoin transactions in the world. The virtual currency’s popularity in China has contributed to its shooting over $300 in value, but investors shouldn’t be rash in buying bitcoins, experts said.
At the end of September, the number of bitcoins traded every day in the Chinese market was 17,500, up 24 percent from three months before and accounting for 30 percent of the world’s total transaction, a report from Genesis Block, a New York-based digital currency research group, said recently.
The virtual currency has been gaining traction in China, but the latest surge in demand is widely seen as connected to the acceptance of bitcoins by Baidu Jiasule, a firewall service for websites co-developed by Baidu Inc (Nasdaq:BIDU), China’s predominant search engine. By the end of October, on BTC China, the largest Chinese bitcoin trading platform, the price of a bitcoin has grown to around 1,270 yuan from 800 yuan early that month, Caixin, a Chinese financial news outlet, reported on Thursday. Baidu’s prominence led many to speculate that other Chinese companies could follow suit and accept bitcoins as payment.
“This is an extremely important moment,” one investor said, if it leads to the acceptance of bitcoins in wider ranges of online payments.
Critics, however, caution that investors should not read too much into this. For one, the move from Jiasule was made by Beijing Knownsec Information Technology Co. Ltd., Baidu’s co-developer for Jiasule, and does not speak to the position of the search engine giant.
In addition, it could be a marketing ploy Internet companies employ to advertise new products, said Liu Xiao, an analyst with public policy think tank Anbound Consulting. Given that every payment for Jiasule only amounts to a small fraction of a bitcoin, the real impact on the market is negligible.
“Every time the bitcoin market boomed, it was driven by a stunt and not backed by real transactions,” Liu said, according to Caixin.
Even so, the Chinese market has become an important driving force behind the virtual currency’s increasingly wide use and may top all other similar currencies in terms of transaction volume, the Genesis Block report said.
There are nearly 20 bitcoin trading platforms in China, and investors say they are more prone to hacker attacks than platforms in developed countries. Chinese investors also face potential regulatory issues, since China has no law addressing the trade of bitcoins and their connection with the yuan and with the real economy.
Sophie is a graduate of Northwestern University. She covers the emerging markets in Southeast Asia, with a particular interest in foreign investment in the region....