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China's central bank is nearly ready to issue its own sovereign digital currency, according to a senior official.
Mu Changchun, deputy director of the People's Bank of China's payments department, said the institution's virtual currency was "almost ready" for release, according to Reuters. Mu's comments were also reported by Bloomberg.
Researchers at the bank have been working on the currency for five years. The PBOC hasn't been alone in exploring the possibility of issuing digital currency as an alternative to cash; Sweden's Riksbank is another central bank looking into the idea.
According to reports, China's central bank would launch its digital token through a two-tier system, under which both the PBOC and commercial banks are legitimate issuers. The PBOC said it wouldn't rely on blockchain exclusively, and would instead maintain a more neutral stance on which technology it decides to use.
Blockchain, otherwise known as distributed ledger technology, is the framework that underpins cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.
"Personally, I'm still struggling to understand the advantage of this over the current system," Mati Greenspan, senior market analyst at trading platform eToro, said in a note Monday. "Something tells me that this is a completely different animal from what we know as cryptocurrencies."
The news comes as global central bankers take a skeptical view on Facebook's plans to create a cryptocurrency alongside a consortium of major companies including Visa and Uber. Called Libra, the currency hasn't gone unnoticed by the PBOC, which said last month that it should come under central bank oversight.