LONDON, Jan 23 (Reuters) - One of the world's biggest cryptocurrency exchanges said on Tuesday it did not fear a regulatory clampdown would squeeze the market, and instead was targeting millions of new customers in Europe with a fresh expansion.
Japan-based exchange bitFlyer, which matches buyers and sellers of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, is launching a European exchange to seize on demand following a surge in activity last year. Investors, particularly in eastern Asia, have piled into a market craze regulators worldwide are warning is a risky bubble.
Authorities in South Korea have threatened to ban cryptocurrency trading, while the G20 group of rich countries will soon debate how to regulate digital coins following an explosive rise in their prices.
Cryptocurrency backers say the underlying technology is highly valuable and has the potential to transform the way money is handled.
Yuzo Kano, bitFlyer's co-founder and CEO, said that his exchange welcomed regulatory interest, including in Europe, but he did not believe threats to ban would hold up.
"They know you shouldn't ban cryptocurrencies because you will push them underground," he told Reuters on the sidelines of London Blockchain Week.
Kano, who counts Japanese banks Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation and MUFG among his investors, said trading bitcoin was not akin to gambling but was "high-risk," especially with leverage.
Prices of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies tumbled again on Tuesday amid fresh worries of a regulatory clampdown, before staging a recovery.
Bitcoin, the biggest of the hundreds of virtual currencies now traded across the globe, is down from a peak of almost $20,000 in December and stood at close to $11,200 on Tuesday.
Chinese authorities have also stepped up efforts to limit cryptocurrency trading. The head of an exchange whose Chinese operations were shut last year said on Tuesday the country's crackdown efforts would be "unending."
But he doubted whether global regulators could mount a coordinated challenge that had the capacity to undermine bitcoin's rise.
"They'll attack it from the exchange side, from the trading side, from the OTC (over the counter) side, from the mining and mining pool side - they'll try all these things over the next three to five years," Bobby Lee, co-founder of BTCC, told Reuters.
Lee said his company was no longer serving the Chinese market despite having offices in Shanghai and an exchange out of Hong Kong. His exchange has struggled since the China closure, and Lee acknowledged that without more volumes, it would be hard to continue.
When asked if he would shut it down, Lee said: "I can't comment on that yet, but I'll let you read the writing on the wall." (Reporting by Tommy Wilkes, Editing by William Maclean)