As published on scmp.com, Wednesday 17 May, 2023.
A unit of Greenland Holdings, the largest developer in Shanghai, which is 46.4 per cent owned by the Shanghai municipal government, is planning to apply for a licence to trade virtual assets in Hong Kong, according to a senior executive.
Greenland is the first state-owned enterprise to express an interest in entering Hong Kong’s digital trading industry, an indication that the Hong Kong government’s efforts to promote the city as a trading hub for virtual assets have gained attention.
“By applying for a virtual asset operator’s licence in Hong Kong, it will further diversify our business and expand our international footprint,” said James Geng Jing, CEO of Greenland Financial Technology Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of Greenland Holdings.
Geng cited Hong Kong’s position as an international city that is part of China as a reason for the move.
“We want to expand our digital financial business in Hong Kong as our gateway to the world,” he said in an exclusive interview with the Post during a visit to Hong Kong last week. “As Hong Kong is launching a new regulatory regime for virtual asset trading platforms, it is the perfect timing for Greenland to enter into this business in Hong Kong.”
In February, the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC), Hong Kong’s securities watchdog, proposed new rules for retail participation in cryptocurrency trading, saying that retail investors will be allowed to buy tokens with large market capitalisations, such as bitcoin and ether, on licensed virtual-asset platforms.
Under the rules that will go into effect on June 1, all centralised trading platforms for virtual assets operating in Hong Kong or marketing their services to Hong Kong investors will need to be licensed by the regulator.
Greenland Financial Technology will set up a new company to focus on virtual asset trading, and the new unit will submit an application to the SFC, Geng said. If approved, he would like to see the new firm trading cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and products related to carbon emissions.
“However, all plans would be subject to the approval by the SFC, as we will strictly comply with all Hong Kong regulations,” Geng said.
Greenland follows cryptocurrency exchanges Huobi Global and OKX, both founded in mainland China, which separately announced in February their intent to apply for licences in Hong Kong under new requirements.
Greenland Holdings, founded in 1992 and headquartered in Shanghai, is a global Fortune 500 company for 11 consecutive years and ranked 125th last year, with assets of US$231.28 billion and revenue of US$84.45 billion.
In addition to property development, it has expanded into finance, retail, hotels, and digital businesses in recent years. Greenland has conducted a range of digital business in mainland China, including blockchain, data management, and carbon-emission trading, Geng said.
Greenland already has two licences from the SFC, obtained in 2016, to conduct business in securities advisory and asset management.
This will be Greenland’s second attempt to expand into digital business in Hong Kong. In 2018, the group was among 29 applicants that raced for the first batch of virtual bank licences issued by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, but it was not among the eight approved players.
In Singapore, Greenland led a consortium that won a digital bank licence in 2020.
“After getting experience providing digital banking in Singapore, along with our expansion in digital business in the mainland in the past five years, we are confident that we are ready to step into Hong Kong now,” Geng said. “While many virtual asset operators are new start-ups, Greenland is a state-owned enterprise with 30 years of experience.”
Geng said he supports the SFC exercising proper regulation of virtual-asset trading to prevent Hong Kong from seeing a repeat of the collapse of cryptocurrency exchange FTX last year or the failure of regional banks such as Silicon Valley Bank in March this year.
“Having sound regulation and investor protection is the key for Hong Kong to develop as a virtual asset trading hub,” he said. “The collapse of FTX in fact gave a good lesson for us to learn how to prevent Hong Kong from making the same mistake.”