THE EMERGENCE OF CHINA'S STATEBACKED BLOCKCHAIN PLATFORMThe Risks and Geopolitical Implications ofChina's State-Backed Blockchain PlatformBy: Sreya Vaidyanathan Andrew DavenportA report by RWR Advisory GroupCopyright 2021
THE EMERGENCE OF CHINA'S STATE-BACKED BLOCKCHAIN PLATFORMexecutive summaryJUNE 2021p. 2China Pursues Global Blockchain Solution as Path toStandardization and Interoperability Along the DSRPermissioned vs. Permissionless BlockchainChina Launches the Blockchain-Based Service Network (BSN)State Control Over BSNBSN's Anticipated Global FootprintBSN China vs. BSN InternationalChina Enlists Cryptocurrency Trader to Push BSN to BRI CountriesBSN a Framework for Expansion of China’s Digital CurrencyBlockchain as a Facilitator of Chinese “Smart City” SolutionsOverviewp. 8Introduction to Blockchainp. 10China's Communisty Party Prioritizes Blockchainp. 11China's State-backed Blockchain Ecosystemp. 13State Control and Strategic Ambitions of BSNTechnical Overview of BSNBSN’s Competitive Offering Could Help Export the PlatformThe Potential Data Security Risks Associated with BSNp. 18BSN China vs. BSN InternationalBSN Integration into the Digital Silk Roadp. 21DSN and State-Backed Digital CurrenciesBSN and Global Supply Chain InteroperabilityBSN and the "Smart City" PotentialConclusionp. 26
THE EMERGENCE OF CHINA’S STATE-BACKED BLOCKCHAIN PLATFORMJUNE 2021EXECUTIVE SUMMARYChina Pursues Global Blockchain Solution as Path to Standardizationand Interoperability Along the Digital Silk RoadA new point of focus is emerging within the framework of the Digital Silk Road (DSR), which isan effort by Beijing to ensure Chinese companies are front-and-center in the standardizationand interoperability of global digital infrastructure (not just the equipping and construction ofthe infrastructure itself).1 Beijing perceives its success in this endeavor as crucial not only toensuring its long-term economic competitiveness in the global technology sector, but also topersuading foreign countries to adopt its norms for governing the internet and digital spacemore broadly. One important way that China is seeking to achieve this objective is through astate-backed blockchain system that Beijing is seeking to expand, both at home and abroad.2, 3If leveraged effectively, the adoption of Chinese blockchain infrastructure along the DSR couldforeseeably allow China to integrate – and hold influence over – many of the core cross-sectordigital solutions being implemented by Chinese companies around the world from financialtechnology (fintech) to smart logistics to new supply chain management strategies.The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) objective to proliferate blockchain infrastructure toforeign countries along the DSR (and beyond) thus raises national security and strategicconsiderations for the United States and its allies (as well as the target countries themselves).Indeed, Chinese blockchain solutions represent another dimension of how Beijing intends toenhance its leadership and influence over the global digital economy, facilitated by state-ownedor state-controlled enterprises operating abroad that are increasingly raising concerns abouttheir susceptibility to being used by the CCP for espionage or other strategic purposes.4, 5, er/3 http://www.xinhuanet.com/2017-12/22/c 1122155113.htm4 china-europe-rail-trade/145220/5 l-integration-with-chinas-belt-road-initiative/6 achother/121010 WISCONSIN AVENUE, NWSUITE 250WASHINGTON, DC 20007WWW.RWRADVISORY.COM2
THE EMERGENCE OF CHINA’S STATE-BACKED BLOCKCHAIN PLATFORMJUNE 2021Permissioned vs. Permissionless Blockchain: Beijing’s Pursuit of Digital ControlBlockchain is an emerging technology that many expect will gradually and fundamentallychange the economic and social exchanges of modern digital ecosystems.7 The technology isexpected to protect the privacy and integrity of transactions from surveillance andmanipulation by external actors, including institutional intermediaries controlling the flow ofdata (e.g., intrusive central authorities or administrators).8 Proponents of blockchain havetended to view this decentralization feature as a key element of the future digital economy thatwill alleviate some of the vulnerabilities that data on the internet is susceptible to today. Indeed,blockchain’s advocates regard the technology as a countermeasure – a solution – toinstitutionalized control of the digital ecosystem. 9It is, however, important to distinguish that there are two different formats of blockchainplatforms: permissionless and permissioned. Permissionless blockchain platforms (also knownas public blockchains) are open, fully decentralized, and transparent systems that anyone canaccess and operate with anonymity. Permissioned blockchain networks, on the other hand, areless decentralized, operating instead as closed private networks controlled by one or morestakeholders. Permissioned networks require participants to acquire privileged access from thechain’s main operator(s). While the anonymity of participants can be preserved onpermissioned platforms, network operators typically have access to the identity of all users.Permissioned blockchains are increasingly preferred by organizations and entities that thedecentralized technology was originally thought to circumvent. They are predominantly usedby enterprises and organizations that seek certain benefits of blockchain, such as efficiency andscalability of processes and systems, but without entirely giving up on centralization andcontrol over the platform’s users. Permissioned chains, where elements such as transparency,privacy, and immutability are diluted, are thus more susceptible to authoritarian manipulationand control. These systems are also preferred by the CCP, which sees great value in blockchaintechnology, including as a means of reinforcing its central control and strategic interests.10This has been demonstrated by the increasing prominence of blockchain in the CCP’s nationalagenda, including in China’s 13th Five Year Plan (2016-2020)11 and, more recently, in the draft ofthe 14th Five Year Plan (2021-2025), which was introduced in March 2021.12 In 2019, blockchain9 0 http://www.xinhuanet.com/politics/2018-05/28/c 1122901308.htm11 nt 5153411.htm12 tion-in-chinas-5-year-policy-plan ;https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g 61a368c0-ece4-441f-81b2-87827491058e781010 WISCONSIN AVENUE, NWSUITE 250WASHINGTON, DC 20007WWW.RWRADVISORY.COM3
THE EMERGENCE OF CHINA’S STATE-BACKED BLOCKCHAIN PLATFORMJUNE 2021featured prominently in President Xi Jinping’s agenda for China’s digital economy. Under Xi’sguidance, the CPC Central Committee published a study in April 2019 on the integratedapplications of blockchain technology in industrial transformation. Most recently, on June 7,2021, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and the CyberspaceAdministration of China (CAC) issued detailed guidance on Beijing’s plans to leverageblockchain for industrial applications and become a global leader in this space by 2025.13China Launches the Blockchain-Based Service Network (BSN)In April 2020, a consortium of Chinese government institutions and state-backed companieslaunched the government-controlled Blockchain-based Service Network (BSN). The BSNplatform is described as a state-controlled, public “Internet of Blockchains”14 network and ispurported to become the foundational infrastructure for massive, cross-sector blockchain-baseddata interconnectivity, both domestically and internationally (including along the DSR).15 Theglobal version was launched in August 2020.By its own description, BSN seeks to emulate the basic “plumbing” of the modern internet thatunderpins digital economic and social activities worldwide. Many surmise that the statecontrolled blockchain network – not only in its deployment domestically but alsointernationally – seeks to become a “new internet” that challenges the conventional standards ofthe digital economy.16 During the 2020 Hong Kong Fintech Week, BSN’s Secretary General TanMin, indicated that the new blockchain network will allow Beijing “independent intellectualproperty rights and China [will] control the rights to internet access.”BSN represents an effort by Beijing to build one of the first blockchain-based networks that iscost-effective and interoperable on a global scale. In short, Beijing is not just creating oneblockchain; it is building a framework for all emerging blockchains to operate on and is doingso in a manner that is designed to entice new customers with attractive terms.State Control Over BSNThe domestic and international versions of China’s blockchain network are entirely statecontrolled by a consortium of state-owned and affiliated companies collectively called 021/art ockchains.com/bsn-blockchain/15 k/16 ction/1-1.html13141010 WISCONSIN AVENUE, NWSUITE 250WASHINGTON, DC 20007WWW.RWRADVISORY.COM4
THE EMERGENCE OF CHINA’S STATE-BACKED BLOCKCHAIN PLATFORMJUNE 2021Blockchain Service Network Development Association. These companies include China’s StateInformation Center, the central planning agency that also designs the country’s vast internetsurveillance system; China Mobile; China UnionPay Corporation; the lesser-known ChinaMobile Financial Technology; and the BSN’s core software designer, Red Data Technology.17Ultimately, the BSN’s ties to Chinese government institutions and state-owned and statecontrolled enterprises as well as the strategic ambitions of the CCP raise several questions aboutthe data security and national security implications associated with the BSN’s domestic andinternational platforms.BSN’s Anticipated Global FootprintIn the coming years, BSN is seeking to expand its platform’s overseas infrastructuresubstantially. In January 2021,18 the BSN announced a five-year growth plan that includesspecific steps toward the platform’s internationalization: 1) establishing 50 new public citynodes internationally that will cover “most” developing and developed countries with highlevels of projected economic growth; and 2) the allocation of 10 BSN International ports in 10countries that will facilitate regional integration of the network.19Whereas the internet is a network forged by a cluster of data centers and servers governed bythe TCP/IP internet protocol, the BSN is a cloud-based network, instead interconnected by acluster of “public city nodes” (PCN) that are geographically dispersed virtual centers controlledby local cloud and data center operators. As of mid-2020, BSN had established approximately128 PCNs in China and 7 PCNs in overseas locations, including in Paris, Sydney, Sao Paulo,Singapore, Tokyo, Johannesburg, and California.20 In the near future, China anticipatesexpanding the network to over 200 domestic and international PCNs that will effectively createa blockchain-based – and Beijing-controlled – virtual protocol 21 between China and its tradingpartners.22The geostrategic implications of this new ecosystem are evident in BSN’s value propositionoffered to commercial enterprises and government institutions. The network provides costreduction, interoperability, and a lower technical barrier of entry for smaller players to get intoblockchain. These features of the platform, which could give BSN a competitive advantage wdocId /bsnbase/bsn-2021-outlook-e2e6841db51b19 lockchain-services-network-bsn-d7852354caca20 lockchain-services-network-bsn-d7852354caca21 8/26/chinas-checkmate/?sh 33e62d72449922 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v k9Gtq-j 3U&list PL6UAM-eeqgp w6sp13pAf9SSmkaembV09&index 317181010 WISCONSIN AVENUE, NWSUITE 250WASHINGTON, DC 20007WWW.RWRADVISORY.COM5
THE EMERGENCE OF CHINA’S STATE-BACKED BLOCKCHAIN PLATFORMJUNE 2021its competitors, are likely to help China export the concept to foreign countries, including thosealong the already-established DSR. The Chinese government is acutely aware of the value ofBSN’s “first mover’s” advantage in this space and appears to be moving forward aggressively.If the platform gains enough traction among China’s international partners to become amainstay for different elements of trade and commerce between China and BRI countries (aswell as other participating countries), the BSN could be utilized by the CCP to advance China’sstrategic economic and financial leverage.BSN China vs. BSN InternationalBSN China, the domestic version of the network, is solely a permissioned network,23 meaningthat all operating blockchains on the platform are subject to monitoring by network operators(presumably the Chinese state-owned companies of the BSN Development Association).24 BSNInternational, the international version of the network, also supports permissioned networks,but it has taken steps to become more decentralized to assure the global users of the networkthat suitable data and privacy protections are in place. Red Date and BSN’s other state-ownedoperators are making a concerted effort to differentiate between the domestic and internationalversions of the platform, emphasizing the latter’s more decentralized qualities – hoping that theinternational community will buy that there is a difference between the two – and choose totrust BSN International accordingly.Despite the efforts of Chinese network operators to distinguish the international and domesticversions of the BSN, the reality that BSN International is state-controlled and interoperable withBSN China raises suspicion about the platform’s data security and exposure to CCP surveillanceand monitoring. Security experts continue to question BSN International regarding thepotential exposure of foreign data to Chinese government-backed network operators. Securityexperts also highlight that if the Chinese government owns the encryption standard of thenetwork, then there is “no guarantee” that back doors do not exist through which BSNoperators could access the data of developers.25Based on the BSN’s five-year plan issued in January 2021,26 Beijing is positioning BSNInternational to become a critical conduit to achieve interoperability and cross-functionality ofdisparate elements of the Belt and Road Initiative. The platform is angling to become the bsn-localized-chains25 globally26 1db51b23241010 WISCONSIN AVENUE, NWSUITE 250WASHINGTON, DC 20007WWW.RWRADVISORY.COM6
THE EMERGENCE OF CHINA’S STATE-BACKED BLOCKCHAIN PLATFORMJUNE 2021and perhaps most ubiquitous global blockchain-based digital infrastructure, with diverseimplications for trade, logistics, and supply chains.China Enlists Cryptocurrency Trader to Push BSN to Belt and Road CountriesIn December 2019, Huobi Group, a leading Chinese cryptocurrency exchange (based inSingapore), launched the Hainan Free Trade Port International Cooperation Forum on DigitalEconomy and Blockchain. The forum was a global gathering of ministerial-level governmentofficials from several BRI members, including Russia, Malaysia, Thailand, Gibraltar, andArgentina (among others), aimed at driving cooperation and expansion of blockchaintechnology along the Belt and Road Initiative.During the forum, Huobi was enlisted by the Chinese government to develop blockchainfinancial infrastructure in a few locations, including Uzbekistan, Indonesia, and Gibraltar.Huobi has ties to the Chinese government (e.g., it has trained party officials on blockchaintechnology and participated in an in-house CCP committee, which is a first for a cryptocurrencyfirm) that have elevated the company’s role within Beijing’s national strategy for blockchain.27With the launch of the forum, Huobi has emerged at the forefront of China’s state-sanctionedblockchain ecosystem and as a global catalyst for BSN’s expansion.28, 29BSN a Framework for Strategic Global Expansion of China’s Digital CurrencyBSN may also become a framework to expand the interoperability of China’s digital currencywith other government-backed digital currencies currently under development around theworld. In the second half of 2021, BSN is planning to launch the beta version of the UniversalDigital Payment Network (UDPN), a standardized blockchain payment method that wouldconnect Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC) around the world.30 CBDCs are digital tokensthat represent the fiat currency of a country or region and are typically issued by theirrespective central banks.31Beijing views mass adoption of digital currencies as a strategic opportunity through which todiminish the current global dominance of U.S. dollar-denominated banking and opment-of-bsn301054339.html29 html30 ml31 digital-currency-cbdc.asp27281010 WISCONSIN AVENUE, NWSUITE 250WASHINGTON, DC 20007WWW.RWRADVISORY.COM7
THE EMERGENCE OF CHINA’S STATE-BACKED BLOCKCHAIN PLATFORMJUNE 2021systems and reduce the exposure of China’s global transactional data to the United States. 32, 33 Aglobal transition to digital currency may also allow China to operate a new global transactionsystem based on its emerging digital infrastructure. When describing UDPN, BSN claims thatthe new payment network will “completely change” current payment and currency circulationmethods.34It is likely that overseas markets, such as those in Southeast Asia and Africa, where Chinesecompanies already dominate information and communication technology (ICT) sectors, willbecome critical markets for the UDPN if these economies develop their own state-backed digitalcurrencies.35, 36Blockchain as a Facilitator of Chinese “Smart City” SolutionsUnder the BRI, Chinese companies have forged several robust export markets of hardware andsoftware systems that contribute to the “smart city” functionality of various urban centersaround the world. Blockchain services are purportedly capable of increasing the efficiency andinteroperability of these systems. It is foreseeable that China-backed blockchain integrationwould facilitate such capabilities in “smart city” locations that already feature Chinese-madeequipment, software, and technical operations.OVERVIEWChina’s Digital Silk Road (DSR), a component of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), hasprimarily been defined since its introduction in 2015 as an effort to proliferate Chinesetechnology solutions (i.e., hardware, software and technical expertise) to overseas markets. Asit has evolved, however, a new point of focus is emerging within the framework of the DSR, whichis an effort by Beijing to ensure Chinese companies are front-and-center in the standardizationand interoperability of global digital infrastructure (not just the equipping and construction of theinfrastructure ankidUSL1N2KA0MS34 payment-network-udpn/35 al-currency-race36 sionchina/32331010 WISCONSIN AVENUE, NWSUITE 250WASHINGTON, DC 20007WWW.RWRADVISORY.COM8
THE EMERGENCE OF CHINA’S STATE-BACKED BLOCKCHAIN PLATFORMJUNE 2021China perceives its success in this endeavor as crucial not only to ensuring its long-termeconomic competitiveness in the global technology sector, but also to persuading foreigncountries to adopt its norms for governing the internet and digital space more broadly. Indeed,the DSR is ultimately underpinned by the vision of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for a Sinocentric “common destiny in cyberspace,”37 alluding to the expansion of Chinese standards andnorms in the global digital order. One important way that China is seeking to achieve theseobjectives is by promoting a Chinese-managed global blockchain system, both domesticallyand internationally.38The 2018-2020 Belt and Road Action Plan issued by the CCP speaks to China’s efforts toproliferate its “national standards” globally, through the BRI’s many sector-based initiatives,including core competencies in emerging technology, such as 5G and the “internet of things”(IoT). The plan also emphasizes China’s desire to set the standards of global finance to build a“stable and fair” international financial system.39 In recent years, Beijing’s efforts to builddependencies on its technology solutions in overseas markets have been largely successful, withits low-cost, state-subsidized – but technically capable – solutions often winning major bids.This report focuses on what is likely to be a transformational next phase in China’s DSRstrategy: the aggressive integration of Chinese blockchain-based services among countries thathave become part of Beijing’s DSR. If leveraged effectively, the adoption of Chinese blockchaininfrastructure along the DSR could allow Beijing to unify and control many of the core crosssector digital solutions being implemented by Chinese companies from financial technology(fintech) to smart logistics to new supply chain management.China’s explanation for why this is a mutually beneficial idea for target countries will be thatthe full potential of the DSR solutions being provided are currently being held back byfragmented systems that are inefficient and lack interoperability. The CCP’s DSR strategy forpushing blockchain infrastructure on foreign countries, however, raises serious national securityand strategic considerations for the United States and its allies (as well as the target countriesthemselves). Chinese blockchain solutions, as a component of its DSR initiative, representanother dimension of Beijing’s intent to enhance its leadership and control over the global digitaleconomy, facilitated by state-owned or state-controlled enterprises operating abroad that raiseconcerns about their susceptibility to being utilized by the CCP for intelligence, espionage orsome other strategic tal-order/39 http://www.xinhuanet.com/2017-12/22/c 1122155113.htm37381010 WISCONSIN AVENUE, NWSUITE 250WASHINGTON, DC 20007WWW.RWRADVISORY.COM9
THE EMERGENCE OF CHINA’S STATE-BACKED BLOCKCHAIN PLATFORMJUNE 2021INTRODUCTION TO BLOCKCHAINBlockchain is an emerging foundational technology that is expected to gradually andfundamentally change the economic and social systems of the present-day digital ecosystem.Blockchain is a distributed virtual ledger underpinned by cryptographic protocols andconsensus algorithms that records virtual exchanges between parties in an efficient, permanent,and transparent manner. In short, blockchain is a digital database that facilitates theauthentication and “immutable” storage of data (i.e., stored in a manner that it cannot bechanged or altered) in a decentralized format.Most blockchain transactions occur through a peer-to-peer democratized verification processthat preserves the authenticity and integrity of transactional data (e.g., payments, contracts,licensing, identification, messaging, etc.). The technology is supposed to protect the privacyand integrity of transactions from manipulation by external actors and institutional intermediariescontrolling the flow of data (i.e., from intrusive central authorities or administrators).40The increasing appeal of blockchain-based systems is rooted in their decentralized verificationprocess. In the conventional internet model, authentication of online interactions is typicallycoordinated by a central authority, such as a bank, law firm, software company, or governmentbody. By contrast, under a decentralized blockchain ledgering format, authentication of data isconducted in a peer-to-peer exchange between the individual participants of the blockchain.This is intended to mitigate the need for conventional third-party intermediaries. These peersanonymously and transparently verify “blocks” of data carrying uniquely identified records ofonline interactions (e.g., contracts, payments, logistics, etc.) that can encompass everything fromlocal government services to transactions and logistics.Proponents of blockchain have tended to view this decentralization feature as a key element ofthe future digital economy that will alleviate some of the vulnerabilities that data on the internetis susceptible to today. Indeed, blockchain’s advocates regard the technology as acountermeasure – a solution – to institutionalized control of the digital ecosystem.41It should be noted, however, that there are two different formats to blockchain networks:permissionless and permissioned. Permissionless blockchain platforms (also known as publicblockchains) are open, fully decentralized, and transparent systems that anyone can access andoperate with anonymity. On the other hand, permissioned blockchain networks are lessdecentralized, operating instead as closed networks controlled by one or more genders-freedom1010 WISCONSIN AVENUE, NWSUITE 250WASHINGTON, DC 20007WWW.RWRADVISORY.COM10
THE EMERGENCE OF CHINA’S STATE-BACKED BLOCKCHAIN PLATFORMJUNE 2021(referred to as a “consortium chain” when operated by more than one operator) . Permissionedchains require participants to acquire privileged access from the chain’s main operator(s). Whileanonymity can be preserved among participants on permissioned platforms, network operatorstypically have access to the identity of all users.42Indeed, those that view blockchain as a countermeasure to central authority in the digitalecosystem are most likely referring to permissionless or public blockchains, which areiterations of the technology where anyone can anonymously access and contribute to thedecentralized data verification structure.The very organizations and enterprises that blockchain technology was thought to circumventnow favor the applications of “permissioned” blockchain networks. Permissioned blockchaintechnology offers organizations efficiency and scalability of processes and systems whilemaintaining centralization and control over the platform’s users. Permissioned blockchains,where elements such as transparency, privacy, and immutability are diluted, are thusadvantageous for authoritarian manipulation and control. Permissioned networks arepreferred by the CCP over more decentralized public formats of blockchain.The distinction between permissioned and permissionless blockchains is important whenanalyzing the CCP’s possible implementation of blockchain technology. Indeed, the CCP’sintentions for engaging with this nascent technological field are viewed as yet another way tocentralize control over persons, both domestically and internationally . As such, this report seeksto improve awareness and understanding of the CCP’s blockchain centralization strategy, itsemerging role in the DSR and the related national security implications.CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTYPRIORITIZES BLOCKCHAINThe conventional characterization of blockchain as a decentralized network appears to runcontrary to the CCP’s decidedly centralized authoritarian internet model, which is based on theubiquitous data-driven surveillance and control of its citizenry. The recent actions of theChinese government to deter permissionless blockchain-based activities related tocryptocurrency trading43 are an example of the CCP’s opposition to blockchain platforms thatfacilitate decentralized financial activities that circumvent party v/law/help/cryptocurrency/china.php1010 WISCONSIN AVENUE, NWSUITE 250WASHINGTON, DC 20007WWW.RWRADVISORY.COM11
THE EMERGENCE OF CHINA’S STATE-BACKED BLOCKCHAIN PLATFORMJUNE 2021Still, the CCP sees the future strategic potential for blockchain technology; blockchain-basedsystems can be leveraged to reinforce Beijing’s central control and the preservation of its coreand strategic interests – if deployed properly.44China’s interest in blockchain is demonstrated by the increasing emphasis of the technology inthe CCP’s national agenda. On June 7, 2021, China’s Ministry of Indust
THE EMERGENCE OF CHINA'S STATE-BACKED BLOCKCHAIN PLATFORM JUNE 2021 Overview Introduction to Blockchain China's Communisty Party Prioritizes Blockchain p. 2 p. 8 p. 10 p. 11 China's State-backed Blockchain Ecosystem p. 13 The Potential Data Security Risks Associated with BSN p. 18 Permissioned vs. Permissionless Blockchain
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