China's central bank vows to punish 'cash discrimination', as payments go digital

The People's Bank of China (PBOC) called for wider acceptance of cash in economic activities, urging that all entities and individuals should not discriminate or carry out any inconvenient measures to exclude cash payment and create "gaps of digitization".

The central bank also vowed to punish those who refuse to accept cash payments, according to its Tuesday statement (in Chinese). 

Online payments via bar-codes have gained huge popularity in China in recent years. Third-party payment apps such as Alibaba-backed Ant Group's Alipay and Tencent Holding's Tenpay have brought great convenience to many people's life, but that's not the case for everyone.

Elderly people, especially in the relatively underdeveloped areas, still have no or limited access to the digital life empowered by technology and innovation. Most of them also experience difficulties in adapting to the new trends compare to younger people.

Even as some basic public services such as medical treatment, water, electricity and gas fees have gradually migrated online, it means inconvenience for senior citizens.

Last month, the story of an elderly in Yichang, central China's Hubei Province, drew wide attention and triggered discussions. According to a video clip that went viral online, an old lady visiting a village collection point to pay her medical insurance was refused since the on-site staff did not accept cash payments.

"Either ask your relatives (to help) or pay on the mobile phone," said one of the staff.  

In the wake of a broadening gap in access to digital services, the PBOC said in the statement that some merchants and institutions have become reluctant to accept cash due to reasons such as cost control or user experience, with the trend accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Renminbi cash is the most basic means of payment. Entities or individuals cannot refuse to accept it," the central bank said, adding that the central bank will investigate and punish firms or individuals that refuse to accept cash or adopt discriminatory measures against cash payments.

"The innovation of consumption and payment methods should be conducive to ... protect people's livelihood and enhance the public's sense of happiness," the PBOC said.

"Non-bank payment institutions must not promote the concept of cashless or discriminatory means of cash payment in any forms," it added.

(Cover via CFP)

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