Republicans Warn Against Digital Currency at 2022 Beijing Olympics, Citing Spying Concerns

A group of Republican lawmakers wants American athletes to be barred from using China's new digital currency during the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Senators Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming sent a letter to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USCOP) on Monday urging them to forbid U.S. competitors from using digital yuan.

"The digital yuan is entirely controlled by the [People's Bank of China], and can be tracked and traced by the central bank," the letter read.

The group warned of "many problematic privacy implications" from the integration of the new currency into the global market.

"While the Chinese Communist Party insists their efforts are aimed at digitizing bank notes and coins, Olympic athletes should be aware that the digital yuan may be used to surveil Chinese citizens and those visiting China on an unprecedented scale, with the hopes that they will maintain digital yuan wallets on their smartphones and continue to use it upon return," the senators wrote.

The letter was addressed to USCOP's board chair, Susanne Lyons.

Republicans Warn Against Digital Currency at Games
A group of Republican lawmakers wants American athletes to be barred from using China’s new digital currency during the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing. In this photo, employees work at the athletes' village for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in Zhangjiakou in northern China's Hebei province on July 14, 2021. Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images

The People's Bank of China has been developing a digital version of the yuan, known as e-CNY, since 2014. A timetable for the official launch of the so-called Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP) hasn't been announced.

But the bank said last week that $5.3 billion had already been spent through millions of transactions over the last two years as part of ongoing test runs of the digital yuan.

Fan Yifei, the deputy governor of the People's Bank of China, said in June that the 2022 Winter Olympics would be the next key trial run of DCEP. The Beijing Games are slated to take place next year from February 4 to February 20.

The bank also said last week that foreign travelers will be able to use the government-developed digital currency without a local bank account.

"Foreign residents temporarily traveling in China can open an e-CNY wallet to meet daily payment needs without opening a domestic bank account," the bank published in a research paper.

The Republican senators said security concerns surrounding DCEP are "especially pronounced" given the government's use of new technologies against the Uyghurs and the people of Hong Kong.

"These concerns are not hypothetical," the senators wrote. "Rather, digital payment platforms such as WeChat, are already being used to surveil, threaten, and arrest Chinese citizens."

"I'm very concerned that communist China's digital yuan lacks the basic privacy protections that should be considered fundamentally important for any central bank digital currency," Lummis told Newsweek. "The Chinese Communist Party has a long history of human rights abuses, particularly against those with whom they disagree politically, and their digital yuan is the latest attempt to increase their surveillance and control over both China's citizens and users everywhere. We cannot allow America's athletes to be used as a trojan horse to increase the CCP's ability to spy on the United States."

Newsweek reached out to the USCOP for comment on the letter but didn't receive a response before publication.

Update (7/19/2021, 2:30 p.m. Eastern): This story has been updated with comment from Senator Lummis.