Attending UBM’s Bitcoin Global Summit 2014 in Hong Kong was kind of surreal. Most of the attendees were mainland Chinese. Most of the speakers were mainland Chinese and spoke in Mandarin (Putonghua). One of the few English speakers, Blockchain.info’s Roger Ver, was surprised when he asked local Hong Kongers, who mostly speak Cantonese, to raise their hands and much less than half the crowd did so. It was really a mainland China Bitcoin Summit rather than a “Global” one.
The attendees listed to China’s digital currency luminaries speak while outside and across the harbor yet another large clash occurred between pro-democracy demonstrators and police would happen only hours later in Mongkok.
The irony of it all struck me. In one of the panel discussions, Ver remarked:
Hong Kong is a very special place. The government stays out of business. The rest of the world should follow Hong Kong – being one of the freest places in the world for business. Hong Kong has one of the richest economies in the world.
It is therefore ideal for the decentralized model of bitcoin. Some Hong Kong people will beg to differ on whether they are free. From the perspective of many mainland Chinese though, the Hong Kong people are relatively better off. As Viewbtc.com co-founder Eric Gu noted, “Hong Kong is a very lucky place.”
Ver, an avid investor in bitcoin companies, outlined bitcoin’s strengths, namely that it is hard to counterfeit and it is scarce, divisible, homogeneous, durable, easy to transport, and easy to store.
We are seeing significant growth across the bitcoin ecosystem. People have to understand that supply is limited but the amount of people using it is increasing.
Ver clearly believes that the value of bitcoin will go up, “Bitcoin could go up a thousand times. Certainly 100 times is in the realm of possibility.”
Hong Kong’s laissez faire capitalism is ideal for the decentralized nature of crypto-currency. David Chung, the CTO of the Hong Kong Cyberport Management Company, which provided the Cyberport venue for the event, noted
Hong Kong is the 2nd largest capital market in the world. We [in the Cyberport] already have 40 companies in the Fintech field. Hong Kong is a very good place to develop Internet financing.
Zhao Changpeng, the CTO of Beijing-based exchange OKCoin, also praised Hong Kong,
Hong Kong is a very important place as an Asian finance center. If we can contribute to development of bitcoin Hong Kong, it has strategic significance.
This all as the Beijing government remains uncomfortable with the decentralized nature of bitcoin, banning banks in China from having any connection with the crypto-currency.
Nonetheless, this is an opportunity for Hong Kong. The special administrative region could become a capital of the bitcoin currency and technology development. That is undoubtedly why so many mainlanders came down to Hong Kong for this event.
Hong Kong certainly has a growing virtual currency sector. Bitcoin companies like exchange ANX, ATM maker Bitcoinnect, Bitcoin Group HK, mining firm ZeusHash, are all growing. OKCoin has an office in Hong Kong. BitFX last week opened a retail store for bitcoins. In May, Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-Shing led a US$30 million investment in BitPay.