Hong Kong’s pursuit of becoming a prominent Web3 gaming hub in Asia and its commitment to blockchain technology and cryptocurrency have faced both enthusiasm and challenges. This extensive summary delves into the city’s journey in embracing Web3 technology and digital assets. For years, Hong Kong has aspired to establish itself as a pioneer in the Web3 space. In early 2022, the city’s financial sector made significant strides, despite enduring hardships such as mass protests, the implementation of the National Security Law, and COVID-19 lockdowns. During this time, there was a palpable surge in interest in cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology, and the Web3 revolution, characterized by virtual reality, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and decentralized financial tokens like Bitcoin and Ethereum.
However, the initial hype around cryptocurrencies and Web3 began to wane after 18 months, partly due to numerous interest rate hikes and high-profile failures in the industry, notably involving FTX and Three Arrows Capital. Concurrently, both U.S. and Chinese authorities intensified their scrutiny, with Coinbase and Binance facing SEC charges for various securities-related offenses in June 2023. Beijing had already imposed restrictions on cryptocurrencies in 2013 and reinforced its crackdown in 2021. Nevertheless, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and USDT continued to be traded on global exchanges, retaining their substantial value.
Despite these challenges, Hong Kong remained committed to its vision. In October 2022, the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) released a strategy statement outlining its determination to establish itself as a vibrant hub for virtual assets, even as the initial excitement around cryptocurrencies and Web3 waned. Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary, Paul Chan, emphasized the city’s belief in the potential of the digital economy and Web3. Importantly, the U.S. SEC clarified that it did not consider Bitcoin, Ethereum, or USDT as securities. On August 4, Hashkey and OSL became the first cryptocurrency exchanges in Hong Kong to offer retail trading services. Previously, Bitcoin trading in Hong Kong had predominantly occurred in unregulated markets.
Experts, such as Assistant Professor Brian Wong of Hong Kong University, noted that the city’s leaders aimed to foster financial innovation and assert Hong Kong’s distinct position on the global stage amid geopolitical competition.
Hong Kong’s historical role as a financial bridge between China and the rest of the world, coupled with its stable legal system, has given it a competitive edge in the fintech and Web3 sectors. However, given the city’s economic reliance on China and the U.S., it remains uncertain whether Hong Kong’s Web3 endeavors are a bold move towards becoming “Asia’s freewheeling financial hub” or a continuation of existing policies.
There are concerns about the long-term sustainability of Hong Kong’s Web3 aspirations. Some, like digital currency researcher Hugh Harsono, believe that while Hong Kong’s future as a fintech hub appears promising in the short term, uncertainties surrounding its legal standing with China and potential tightening of regulations in either China or the U.S. could pose risks to the sector.
Notably, despite restrictions on cryptocurrency trading, China ranked tenth in global crypto adoption in 2022, suggesting that Chinese users accessed crypto services via VPNs. This could indicate that Hong Kong may prefer to establish regulations for digital assets rather than an outright ban, potentially benefiting from hosting cryptocurrency exchanges if China and the U.S. abandon the sector.
In addition to cryptocurrencies, Web3 encompasses various digital assets beyond digital currency. Industry insiders, like Jonathan Mui, co-founder of Moongate (an NFT-based ticketing company), are optimistic about Hong Kong’s potential in the Web3 space. They believe that businesses like Moongate, offering virtual goods and services, could become catalysts for the city’s economic growth.
While the success of Hong Kong’s Web3 plans remains uncertain, the government appears determined to take calculated risks rather than risk being left behind in this rapidly evolving technological landscape.