The Biden administration is stepping up scrutiny of China’s plans for a digital yuan, with some officials concerned the move could kick off a long-term bid to topple the dollar as the world’s dominant reserve currency, according to people familiar with the matter.
Now that China’s digital-currency efforts are gathering momentum, officials at the Treasury, State Department, Pentagon and National Security Council are bolstering their efforts to understand the potential implications, the people said.
American officials are less worried about an immediate challenge to the current structure of the global financial system, but are eager to understand how the digital yuan will be distributed, and whether it could also be used to work around U.S. sanctions, the people said on the condition of anonymity.
A Treasury spokeswoman declined to comment. A National Security Council spokeswoman did not reply to a request for comment.
The People’s Bank of China has rolled out trial issuance of a digital yuan in cities across the country, putting it on track to be the first major central bank to issue a virtual currency. A broader roll-out is expected for the Winter Olympics in Beijing next February, giving the effort international exposure.
Many key details of the digital yuan are still in flux, including specifics on how it would be distributed. China’s recent establishment of a joint venture with SWIFT, the messaging nexus through which most cross-border settlements pass through today, suggests it is possible a digital yuan could work within the current financial architecture rather than outside of it.
U.S. officials are reassured that China’s intentions aren’t to use the digital yuan to evade American sanctions, according to people familiar with the matter. The dollar’s current dominance in cross-border transactions gives the U.S. Treasury the power to cut off much of a business or even a country’s access to the global financial system.