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China enlists Huawei, Tencent, Ant Financial in national blockchain committee to set standards

The initiative marks a major step forward to achieve mainstream adoption of blockchain technology across China’s industries.

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China has formed a national blockchain committee, which enlists the support of some of the country’s largest hi-tech companies to draw up standards for use of the technology across industries.

This group includes telecommunications equipment maker Huawei Technologies, video games and social media powerhouse Tencent Holdings, Chinese online search market leader Baidu, fintech company Ant Financial Services and e-commerce giant JD.com, according to a statement released earlier this week by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

The so-called National Blockchain and Distributed Accounting Technology Standardisation Technical Committee will gather more than 70 researchers and experts from the MIIT, local governments, state think tanks, universities, supercomputing centres and the hi-tech companies, the statement said.

It also said MIIT vice-minister Chen Zhaoxiong will serve as chairman of the committee, but gave no details on how the group is expected to function.

Bitcoin, the proof-of-concept of blockhain technology.

Baidu had no comment on the blockchain committee’s formation. Huawei, Tencent, JD.com, Ant Financial and the MIIT did not immediately respond to separate inquiries for comment. Ant Financial is an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding, which is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.

The MIIT-led initiative marks a major step forward to help achieve mainstream adoption of blockchain technology, which President Xi Jinping endorsed on October 24 last year as vital for China to strengthen its digital economy.

In his speech last October, Xi called for more blockchain-related research and development. He also highlighted the technology’s use in a range of applications, from credit checks, health care and anti-counterfeiting to food security and charities.

Blockchain, the digital ledger technology behind cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, allows participants to create, disseminate and store information in a shared database in an efficient and secure manner. It records and stores every transaction or exchange of data that occurs in the network, essentially eliminating the need for a central authority and providing greater transparency for regulatory reporting.

The initial interest in blockchain had largely been in financial services, especially in digital currency, payment processing, and market trading and settlement.

The MIIT’s announcement is likely to bolster recent blockchain-related programmes in the world’s second largest economy.

China’s Blockchain-based Service Network, a platform under the State Information Centre, is set to launch on April 25, with the goal of helping more companies deploy applications based on the technology faster and cheaper, according to state media.

On Thursday, Ant Financial launched its own blockchain platform called OpenChain. It is designed to help small enterprises use the company’s blockchain-powered smart contracts and apps.

“Applications of blockchain technology have ballooned over the past years,” said Jin Ge, general manager of Ant Financial’s blockchain platform. He indicated that the company aims to help one million small- and medium-sized enterprises as well as developers create more use cases for blockchain in the next three years through its platform.

Blockchain had become more widely adopted by China’s major tech firms as early as 2016. Tencent, for example used blockchain for gaming and charitable projects, while Alibaba used the technology to help keep track of medical prescriptions, charitable donations and cross-border remittances. With Xi throwing his weight behind the technology last year, blockchain received an extra push across businesses and the government.

This article was originally published in the South China Morning Post.