Pat Toomey Joins List Of Senators Concerned Over Athlete Use Of Digital Yuan At The Beijing Olympics

While millions around the globe tuned in to watch the Olympic opening ceremony this Friday, U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) had a different aspect of the games on his mind: the international debut of the digital yuan (e-CNY). 

In a February 3rd letter to Secretary of State Blinken and Treasury Secretary Yellen, Senator Toomey expressed his concern over the rollout of the digital yuan, which alongside cash and Visa is one of only three forms of payment accepted at this year’s Olympic Village. While 261 million Chinese users have registered for digital yuan wallets since the currency’s 2019 launch, this marks the first time digital yuan transactions will be available to non-Chinese citizens .  

Citing e-CNY’s “potential to subvert U.S. sanctions,” and “enhance China’s surveillance capabilities,” Senator Toomey requested both departments “closely examine Beijing’s CBDC rollout during the Olympic Games.” CBDC refers to a Central Bank Digital Currency—of which the digital yuan is by far the most significant to date. 

Senator Toomey’s letter comes six months after U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) expressed a similar concern to the U.S. Olympic Committee—asking the committee to ban China’s use of the digital yuan among American athletes. According to their letter, digital yuan “may be used to surveil Chinese citizens and those visiting China on an unprecedented scale,” allowing the government “to know the exact details of what someone purchased and where.”

Indeed, while China’s stated objective for e-CNY is to meet “the public’s demand for cash in the era of digital economy”, nonpartisan observers such as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace have speculated that enhanced CCP control and monitoring over financial transactions could be the primary motivation for the advancement of the currency. The Chinese government notably banned all cryptocurrencies last September, and launched a state-controlled Blockchain-based Service Network (BSN) which has the explicit intention to “become the only global infrastructure network autonomously innovated by Chinese entities.”

Senator Toomey’s desire to observe e-CNY at the Olympics also appears to be driven by a desire to place the United States at the forefront of the digital currency revolution. In his letter, Toomey stressed the “first-mover” advantage China gains by rolling out its CBDC now, and states his desire to help America remain a leader in “digital currencies, and digital innovation.” Toomey has previously voiced support for the U.S.’s own CBDC, which the Federal Reserve has considered but not yet made formal plans to implement.

While Toomey’s concerns appear to be substantiated, actual e-CNY adoption at the Beijing Olympics remains limited. Most foreign athletes are reportedly still using their Visa cards.