Chinese citizens are only allowed to buy up to $50,000 of foreign currency a year at a financial institution. In the past, wealthy citizens have circumvented the limit through foreign investments in real estate and other assets. But the government has cracked down on these methods, according to a report by Chainalysis, a blockchain forensics firm.
“Cryptocurrency could be picking up some of the slack though,” the report said. “Over the last twelve months, with China’s economy suffering due to trade wars and devaluation of the yuan at different points, we’ve seen over $50 billion worth of cryptocurrency move from China-based addresses to overseas addresses,” Chainalysis said.
Cryptocurrency holders are using controversial stablecoin Tether to move their money. A stablecoin is a digital currency that is usually backed by another asset or group of assets in efforts to stabilize its value and limit volatility. Tether claims to be pegged to the U.S. dollar.
Stablecoins are useful for transferring large amounts of cryptocurrency because, in theory, the value of the cryptocurrency a person is moving should not see wild swings.
“In total, over $18 billion worth of Tether has moved from East Asia addresses to those based in other regions over the last 12 months. Again, it’s highly unlikely that all of this is capital flight,” Chainalysis said in its report.
But the report also found significant spikes in Tether movement on certain news events. Firstly, in October, Chinese President Xi Jinping threw his backing behind blockchain, the technology that underpins many digital coins.
Secondly, after a massive sell-off in mid-March, the price of bitcoin began to recover.
“Equities in both the U.S. and China were still losing value at this time, as was the yuan itself. It’s possible that the economic tumult may have prompted some capital flight from China, though much of the Tether movement could have been East Asia-based cryptocurrency traders moving their holdings to international exchanges in order to trade at a time when cryptocurrency price volatility was high,” Chainalysis said.