Saturday, April 20, 2024

Chinese digital finance goes global, enabling tourists to travel abroad with ‘one wallet’

Chinese tourists visit the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo: VCG

Days before the official kickoff of the eight-day Spring Festival holidays, many Chinese tourists have already flocked to popular overseas destinations. Not only has the expanded visa-free policies fueled the early boom of cross-border tourism, but China’s flourishing mobile payment platforms have also enhanced holiday experiences all over the world.
Cindy Liu, a Beijing resident with a passion for island tours, arrived in Phuket, Thailand, on Wednesday. As a frequent traveler to Thailand, she told the Global Times that “convenience” is a significant factor in her choice of travel destinations. 

The convenience to handle many expenses through domestic payment platforms is a major advantage. For instance, booking hotels, hailing taxis, shopping at supermarkets and duty-free shops, and even dining at many small restaurants can all be done using Alipay or WeChat Pay, she said.

“This is especially important for Chinese people who are already accustomed to digital payments,” Liu said, adding that she prioritizes using digital payments during her travels, keeping exchanged cash as a backup. As a result, she doesn’t need to carry too much cash with her.

Besides of Thailand, Chinese payment platforms have already expanded their presence in numerous countries and regions, connecting thousands of merchants and individuals. Chinese digital finance “going overseas,” including payment platforms, not only provides convenience for outbound tourists but also facilitates Chinese enterprises in their overseas expansion, while empowering the growth of global digital finance, experts said.

Building upon its first-mover advantage, China’s digital finance industry has accelerated its overseas expansion in recent years, achieving remarkable milestones. The progress made in cross-border payments and digital currency fields is particularly impressive, Wang Peng, an associate researcher at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Taking Ant Group as an example, the company had already begun its foray into international digital technology as early as around 2016. On the investment front, it collaborated with the Thai payment company Ascend Money in 2016, and invested in GCash, the largest electronic wallet in the Philippines in 2017. On the payment side, Ant Group’s Alipay+ is now capable of supporting payments through mainstream electronic wallets in various locations, including South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore, according to media reports.

During a joint press conference in July 2023, Tanes Petsuwan, a deputy governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand, said that they had entered into a strategic partnership with Alipay. Not only will this partnership provide Chinese tourists with a smoother consumption and payment experience, but it will also help small and medium-sized enterprises in Thailand learn about digital business operations.

More than 5 million merchants worldwide are integrated with Alipay, and Chinese tourists can enjoy one-stop taxi-hailing services in more than 2,000 cities worldwide, a manager from Ant Group said at the same press conference.

In addition to payment platforms, China’s digital yuan has also been speeding up its international expansion in recent years. In December 2023, China and Singapore initiated a cross-border pilot program to allow tourists from both countries to use the Chinese digital yuan for tourism expenses in the two countries.

In the application of emerging technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence, Chinese digital financial companies have demonstrated strong capacity for innovation, injecting new momentum into the development of global digital finance, Wang said.

From January 2018 to October 2022, more than 50 countries and regions filed 190,000 patents related to financial technology. Among them, China accounts for 107,000 patent applications, ranking first, according to a report released by the Central University of Finance and Economics in December 2023.

During the tone-setting central financial work conference held in Beijing in October 2023, Chinese leaders vowed to accelerate the building of a nation with a strong financial sector. The meeting stressed to make significant efforts in the areas of technology finance, green finance, inclusive finance, pension finance and digital finance. 

China’s digital finance sector holds vast potential for international expansion, Wang said, adding that with the advancement the Belt and Road Initiative, economic and trade cooperation between China and partner countries continues to deepen, providing Chinese digital financial enterprises with more opportunities to thrive in the global market.

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