Hong Kong to Legalize Retail Crypto Trade as Mainland Ban Persists

A planned mandatory licensing program in Hong Kong for crypto platforms set to be enforced in March of next year will allow retail trading, Bloomberg reported on October 27.

Regulators are seeking to allow listings of bigger tokens but won’t endorse specific ones like Bitcoin or Ether, individuals familiar with the matter said, adding that details and the precise timetable have yet to be finalized as a public consultation is conducted first.

Hong Kong is therefore joining the race to become a global hub for virtual assets, following cities such as London, New York and Singapore. Paul Chan Mo-po, the current Financial Secretary of Hong Kong, said on October 16 that the Hong Kong government will release a policy declaration on the development of virtual assets during the Hong Kong FinTech Week to be held at the end of this month, covering the vision and strategy, the regulatory system and the attitude of opening investors to virtual assets.

“The policy declaration will clearly demonstrate to the global industry our vision of promoting Hong Kong as an international virtual asset center,” Chan said. Hong Kong is expected to become the regional virtual asset center in East Asia and the connecting point for the Greater Bay Area to integrate the local virtual asset industry with the world.

Support for emerging technologies such as Web3 and the metaverse will be one of the highlights of this year’s Hong Kong FinTech Week, which will be held from October 31 to November 4. Limited-edition proof of attendance protocol tokens will be distributed to participants in the form of NFTs.

Hong Kong has already introduced a series of measures related to the virtual asset industry, including setting up a licensing system for virtual asset service providers, considering the regulation of stablecoins for payment purposes, and providing guidance to traditional financial institutions on the provision of virtual asset-related services to clients.

Web3-related technologies are also entering the field of education in Hong Kong. Since October, Hong Kong Polytechnic University has offered a Master of Science in Blockchain Technology and Master of Science in Metaverse Technology, with admission starting in September 2023. The former emphasizes the basic and latest technologies that support fintech infrastructure and applications, while the latter focuses on building metaverse applications around technologies such as VR/AR, game, and machine learning. The move is part of Hong Kong’s long-term preparation for growth as a global hub for virtual assets.

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For now, virtual assets remain a niche sector in Hong Kong. According to a survey conducted by The Investor and Financial Education Council from April to May this year, only 4% of respondents had held virtual assets in the previous 12 months. The survey also showed that young people are more interested in virtual assets, with 23% of working youths surveyed saying they intend to invest in virtual assets in the next 12 months.

Competition between countries in this field is heating up. According to the 2022 Global Blockchain Talent Report – Web3 Direction, released by crypto exchange OKX and LinkedIn, as of June this year, the United States, India, China, the United Kingdom and Singapore are the world’s top five blockchain talent accumulators.