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Hyperledger boss Behlendorf expects China to lead on blockchain

Asia / 07-02-18 / by
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Brian Behlendorf, the executive director of blockchain consortium Hyperledger, says China will be a leading force in developing blockchain for trade finance.

Speaking to GTR in Hong Kong at the end of a whirlwind tour of Asia, Behlendorf points to the fact that there are more Hyperledger developers in Beijing than any other city. Already, Chinese banks and companies are moving projects into the production phase.

He describes a bank in China “which has got hundreds of billions of Renminbi (Rmb) in an asset ledger”, which is doing thousands of transactions on the blockchain every day, but which has yet to go public with it. Other nations risk being left behind if they don’t rise to the challenge of digitisation.

“Banking is no longer just about bankers and MBAs and people with law degrees. Even law firms these days are starting to have developers on staff to help them understand technical concepts but also help them read smart contract code. So the challenge for Hong Kong is, can they develop the software development skills? Otherwise maybe somewhere like Bangalore becomes the next fintech hub,” he says.

Hyperledger has been active in China for a number of years and has signed up Citic Bank, China Merchants Bank and China Minsheng Bank as members. One quarter of its members are based in Mainland China, but there are challenges in operating in a country with such draconian restrictions on both the web and on money leaving its shores.

Who’s in control?

Behlendorf says that when entering China, “it was important to have local resources and to use things like WeChat, not just to have a lightweight community layer, but also do technical development”. The company is keen not to appear as an American entity, rather a global one.

But engaging with Chinese software can come with a price: the Chinese government is accused of monitoring WeChat, which parent company TenCent denies, while US businesses have accused China of billions of dollars worth of intellectual property theft.

The Hyperledger boss claims that the fact that they are developing in the public domain dilutes the risk of this: they are willing to be monitored, and the software is open source.

“All our technical work is conducted openly, meaning on our public mailing lists, in our public issue tracker, on our public chat server, etc. ‘Control’ over that development process is not based on a vendor or even a particular developer – it’s based on a consensus process the individual developers use as maintainers on a project. Those maintainers are employed by different firms, whether by IBM or Huawei or startups, but they share a collective goal of getting enterprise software developed and shipped. When it’s done right, that process and the resulting decisions and actions are based on objective criteria around code quality, demand for features, different priorities, etc.,” he explains.

There are, however, fears that the government is trying to stifle the kind of fintech that seeks to democratise the financial sector, while embracing those that allow it to exert more control over its citizens (in January, plans were announced for a US$2.12bn artificial intelligence [AI] development park in Beijing, with China urging companies including those in the military sector to participate in the technology’s development).

Meanwhile, China has outlawed initial coin offerings (ICOs), has slapped a ban on cryptocurrency trading, and has used its “great firewall of China” to block bitcoin websites.

On the other side of the coin, China tends to get things done, and quickly. Behlendorf says “the regulators there, like the political leaders, are former engineers… they understand scale better than regulators in other parts of the world”, citing this as evidence that they will be among the leaders in this space.

He also claims that China and other parts of Asia have been successful in decoupling bitcoin from blockchain. While governments in the likes of South Korea, Indonesia and Singapore try to tighten the regulatory noose on cryptocurrencies, they are more amenable to projects on the blockchain than their counterparts in the West.

“It’s clear that there’s a lot of talent here. There’s a lot of money here for blockchain projects. Recent moves by regulators have steered that money away from ICOs and crypto towards enterprise applications. My stance is: I don’t invest in crypto or ICOs. I think a lot of smart money in the West is starting to recognise that. But there’s a lot of dumb money out there too. It’s hard to compete for talent – any reasonably smart developer who knows what ERC20 stands for can write a whitepaper and if they’re lucky, get away with US$20mn in tokens, without owing anybody anything. That’s a very hard thing to compete against for talent. In Asia, there’s a bit of that as well. I think though that people are more serious about how to apply this [blockchain] to real enterprises,” he says.

Asian progress

Elsewhere in Asia, he has been impressed with the work of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) on Project Ubin, an initiative with rival consortium R3, which explored the potential of DLT for clearing and settlement of payments and securities. Perhaps tellingly, he was unfamiliar with the work done by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority in the blockchain area.

Among the trade finance banks, progress on creating usable blockchain solutions has been slow. A plethora of successful proofs of concepts have gone no further, but Behlendorf says that moves from the various regional regulators to recognise the value of the technology will give banks more license to explore – and to be more vocal with their findings.

The we.trade project, a blockchain-based trade finance platform for lending to SMEs in Europe and the IBM-Maersk tie-up, which will see the launch of a blockchain-powered digital platform for use by the entire global shipping ecosystem, are cited as the more interesting developments in an industry, which has been left for dust by commercialised projects on the physical supply chain.

Everledger is running a blockchain solution that tracks diamonds through the supply chain and, even in pilot stage, has already uncovered millions of dollars in fraud. Provenance, meanwhile, is using blockchain and the internet of things to track tuna, ensuring that fishermen aren’t overfishing and that what they catch is exactly what they claim it to be.

However, Behlendorf says that the physical and financial supply chain are symbiotic and expects the developments in each to bleed into the other.

“It’s a little easier to explain to somebody, for those outside of trade finance it might seem a little opaque. So when you can explain to people: here’s this tainted meat that was found in a marketplace and to be able to track and trace that back in a trustworthy way, there’s a tangibility, that makes it more compelling to explain. But it wouldn’t make any difference if there wasn’t any money behind it. It’s trade finance that provides the economic rationale to do a lot of these things: it happens to be aligned with the health benefits and the social impact of keeping blood diamonds out of the supply chain, but if the money wasn’t there, I don’t think there’d be an ability to do it,” he says.

*This post was updated to include a comment from Brian Behlendorf about Hyperledger’s use of WeChat in product development 

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Privacy Policy

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Please see paragraph 5 below for more information on cookies and similar technologies and a link to a page where you can turn them on or off.

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Some of your personal data collected under paragraphs 1 and 2 above may be used by us to contact you by e-mail, telephone and/or post for sending information or promotional material on our products and/or services and/or those of our other group companies.
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4.      Profiling

We may analyse your personal information to create a profile of your interests and preferences so that we can contact you with information relevant to you.

5.      Cookies and similar technologies

All our Sites use cookies and similar technical tools to collect information about your access to the Site and the services we provide.

What is a cookie?

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Why do we use cookies?

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We may use cookies to:

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E-mail tracking is a method for monitoring the e-mail delivery to those subscribers who have opted-in to receive marketing e-mails from GTR, including GTR Africa, GTR Asia, GTR Americas, GTR Europe, GTR Mena, GTR eNews, Third party e-mails and GTR Ventures.

Why do we track e-mails?

So that we can better understand our users’ needs, we track responses, subscription behaviour and engagement to our e-mails – for example, to see which links are the most popular in newsletters. They enable us to understand the consumers journey through metrics including open rate, click-through rate, bounces and unsubscribes. Any other purposes for which Exporta Publishing & Events Ltd wishes to use your personal data will be notified to you and your personal data will not be used for any such purpose without obtaining your prior consent.

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You can give your consent to opt-out of all or any particular uses of your data as indicated above by:

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To turn cookies and similar technologies on and off, see the information in paragraph 5 above. Any questions regarding consents and opt-outs should be sent by e-mail to privacy@gtreview.com or by writing to Data Protection Officer at, Exporta Publishing & Events Ltd, 4 Hillgate Place, London, SW12 9ER, United Kingdom. Alternatively, you can telephone our London headquarters at +44 (0) 20 8673 9666.

8.      Disclosures

Information collected at one Site may be shared between Exporta Publishing & Events Ltd and other group companies for the purposes listed above.

We may transfer, sell or assign any of the information described in this policy to third parties as a result of a sale, merger, consolidation, change of control, transfer of assets or reorganisation of our business.

9.      Public forums, message boards and blogs

Some of our Sites may have a message board, blogs or other facilities for user generated content available and users can participate in these facilities. Any information that is disclosed in these areas becomes public information and you should always be careful when deciding to disclose your personal information.

10.  Data outside the EEA

Services on the Internet are accessible globally so collection and transmission of personal data is not always limited to one country. Exporta Publishing & Events Ltd may transfer your personal data, for the above-listed purposes to other third parties, which may be located outside the European Economic Area and/or with a different level of personal data protection. However, when conducting transfers, we take all necessary steps to ensure that your data is treated reasonably, securely and in accordance with this Privacy Statement.

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Confidentiality and Security of Your Personal Data

We are committed to keeping the data you provide us secure and will take reasonable precautions to protect your personal data from loss, misuse or alteration.

However, the transmission of information via the internet is not completely secure. Although we will do our best to protect your personal data, we cannot guarantee the security of your data transmitted to our Site; any transmission is at your own risk. Once we have received your information, we will use strict procedures and security features described above to try to prevent unauthorised access.

We have implemented information security policies, rules and technical measures to protect the personal data that we have under our control from:

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All our employees, contractors and data processors (i.e. those who process your personal data on our behalf, for the purposes listed above), who have access to, and are associated with the processing of your personal data, are obliged to keep the information confidential and not use it for any other purpose than to carry out the services they are performing for us.

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Everyone who works for or with Exporta Publishing & Events Ltd has some responsibility for ensuring data is collected, stored and handled appropriately. Each team handling personal data must ensure that it is handled and processed in line with this policy and data protection principles. However, the following people have key areas of responsibility. The board of directors is ultimately responsible for ensuring that Exporta Publishing & Events Ltd meets its legal obligations.

Name of Data Controller


The Data Controller is Exporta Publishing & Events Ltd. Exporta Publishing & Events Ltd is subject to the UK Data Protection Act 1998 and is registered in the UK with the Information Commissioner`s Office.

How to access, update and erase your personal information

If you wish to know whether we are keeping personal data about you, or if you have an enquiry about our privacy policy or your personal data held by us, in relation to any of the Sites, you can contact the Data Protection Officer via:

  • By writing to this address: Data Protection Officer, Exporta Publishing & Events Ltd, 4 Hillgate Place, London, SW12 9ER, UK
  • Telephone: +44 (0) 20 8673 9666
  • E-mail: privacy@gtreview.com

Upon request, we will provide you with a readable copy of the personal data which we keep about you. We may require proof of your identity and may charge a small fee (not exceeding the statutory maximum fee that can be charged) to cover administration and postage.

Exporta Publishing & Events Ltd allows you to challenge the data that we hold about you and, where appropriate in accordance with applicable laws, you may have your personal information:

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  • completed

Disclosing data for other reasons

In certain circumstances, the Data Protection Act allows personal data to be disclosed to law enforcement agencies without the consent of the data subject. Under these circumstances, Exporta Publishing & Events Ltd, will disclose requested data. However, the Data Controller will ensure the request is legitimate, seeking assistance from the board and from the company’s legal advisors where necessary.

Changes to this Privacy Statement

We will occasionally update this Privacy Statement to reflect new legislation or industry practice, group company changes and customer feedback. We encourage you to review this Privacy Statement periodically to be informed of how we are protecting your personal data.

Providing information

Exporta Publishing & Events Ltd aims to ensure that individuals are aware that their data is being processed, and that they understand.

  • How the data is being used
  • How to exercise their rights

To this end, the company has a privacy statement, setting out how data relating to individuals is used by the company. This is available on request and available on the company’s website.

Review of this policy

We keep this Policy under regular review. This Privacy Statement was last updated in April 2018.