If 2017 was the year of the ICO, it seems as if 2018 is destined to become the year of regulatory reckoning.
Things have already begun to heat up as countries around the world grapple with cryptocurrencies and try to determine how they are going to treat them. Some are welcoming, others are cautious. And some countries are downright antagonistic.
Japan isn’t particularly liberal toward digital currency regulation; it’s merely winning the race to attract the best from Asia’s cryptocurrency industry, as China and South Korea have been creating hostile/uncertain environments. Whether or not Japan will allow for a cryptocurrency-themed J-pop band, the Japanese government has certainly been more welcoming of cryptocurrencies than its Asian neighbors.
Recent events may have tempered Japanese enthusiasm for cryptocurrencies, however. The hack of a Japanese exchange on January 26, 2018, resulting in the loss of $530 million worth of NEM coins, has prompted a backlash from the community and closer oversight from the Financial Services Agency (FSA).
China has been taking ever-increasing actions to clamp down on all things cryptocurrency. Starting off by banning ICOs, China ordered a bank account freeze associated with exchanges, kicked out bitcoin miners, and instituted a nationwide ban on internet and mobile access to all things related to cryptocurrency trading.
The People’s Republic of China appears to be the most stringent cryptocurrency regulator of the major economies regarding cryptocurrencies. This is an odd about-face given that, in 2017, Chinese bitcoin miners made up over 50 percent of the worldwide mining population and that cryptocurrency adoption in China increased at a rate higher than any other country.
Though strict, the regulatory actions of the People’s Republic of China, under the stewardship of Xi Jinping, makes contextual sense as the country has recently been focused on stemming capital outflows and stomping out corruption.
Where to begin with South Korean regulation?
The country boasted a significant cryptocurrency presence in the past and was initially thought of as the country of refuge from the crackdowns occurring in China late last year. However, discord surfaced in January 2018 amongst top Korean officials on future regulatory actions for the digital currency industry, with declarations, clarifications, misinformation and ultimately some limited implementation.
The uncertainty and potential negative regulatory impacts have now been cited as the cause for marketwide sell-offs on Red Tuesday as well as on January 30, 2018, when Korean officials began enforcing a January 23, 2018, rule disallowing anonymous accounts from trading cryptocurrencies.
To add external regulatory drama to the political dissonance demonstrated by a government less than a year out from ousting their former president, regulatory prospects for South Koreans have also been hindered by New York State’s Department of Financial Services (DFS), as they reportedly requested customer information on accounts associated with cryptocurrency trading among six commercial Korean banks with branches in New York on January 26, 2018.
Until recently, the finance and banking center of Asia has been relatively lax compared to many of its Asian counterparts on cryptocurrency regulation.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), like many financial regulators, warned of risks of speculating in the cryptocurrency markets during the December 2017 peak in bitcoin prices. And Singapore’s International Commercial Court heard a trial that same month over a bitcoin trading dispute, seemingly to legitimize the economic stakes in dispute.
On January 9, 2018, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that “the country’s laws do not make any distinction between transactions conducted using fiat currency, cryptocurrency or other novel ways of transmitting value.”
MAS fintech chief Sopnendu Mohanty on January 24, 2018, stated that he does not foresee a Lehman Brothers-like financial meltdown with Bitcoin at this point in time, adding that there is “a great indication that regulators are getting serious about this whole cryptocurrency market.”
Mohanty also stated regulators would need to apply consumer protections for digital currencies like bitcoin for it to continue to grow. While there has been no statement yet from the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the $530 million hack that attacked Japanese exchange Coincheck on January 26, 2018, targeted Singaporean-based NEM coins.
India, once viewed as a burgeoning, friendly environment for cryptocurrencies, has been clamping down on cryptocurrencies in 2018. India’s tough stance stems from similar concerns that other, more stringent regulatory regimes have cited: money laundering, illegal activity proliferation, sponsorship of terrorism, tax evasion, etc.
While the cash-reliant country is facing stern regulations, participants of the local cryptocurrency industry do not believe India can “ban” cryptocurrencies through regulations in the same way China has.
In the wake of the August 2017 financial scandal surrounding the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the Australian government sought to follow in Japan’s footsteps by strengthening its anti-money laundering laws and regulating digital currencies. This differed slightly from the view in 2015 that the Aussie government would seek a “hands-off” approach to cryptocurrencies.
Still, the lack of more concise regulation has purportedly had a negative impact on the country as the end of 2017 saw Australian cryptocurrency brokers halt Australian dollar deposits. December 2017 also saw an issuance from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) which hinted at the way potential future regulation could go.
The ATO guidance stated:
Transacting with bitcoin is akin to a barter arrangement, with similar tax consequences. Our view is that bitcoin is neither money nor a foreign currency, and the supply of bitcoin is not a financial supply for goods and services tax (GST) purposes. Bitcoin is, however, an asset for capital gains tax (CGT) purposes.
Australia, however, has supporters of digital currencies in government, as August 2017 saw senators from both major parties (Labor and Coalition) stepping forward to call on the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to accept cryptocurrencies as an official form of currency.
Therefore, the future of further cryptocurrency regulation remains uncertain but potentially industry-friendly in the land down under.