Chinese citizens are still investing in Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency market despite the government’s heavy crackdown. In September 2017, Chinese cryptocurrency exchanges BTCC China, Huobi and OKCoin were ordered by the government to shut down their businesses. At one point, executives of the three cryptocurrency exchanges were prevented from leaving the country, due to a government investigation into local cryptocurrency exchanges.
Three months later, in December of 2017, China’s three largest cryptocurrency exchanges relocated their businesses to Hong Kong. BTCC China, Huobi and OKCoin rebranded to BTCC, Huobi Pro and OKEx, respectively. They intended to address the rapidly growing demand from Hong Kong-based investors. Shortly after their move, the three trading platforms started to see daily volumes from Chinese investors grow exponentially. Somehow, Chinese investors were managing to circumvent Chinese trading restrictions by using Hong Kong-based exchanges. How was this possible?
In Hong Kong, it is relatively easy for investors to set up businesses. With less than $1,000, businesses can be legally created, which allows the opening of business bank accounts at Hong Kong-based financial institutions. Beginning in December 2017, many Chinese investors moved their funds from their Chinese bank accounts to Hong Kong bank accounts and started to trade cryptocurrencies more actively, effectively bypassing China’s restrictions.
But, unlike China, Hong Kong has a substantially lower supply to meet the growing demand. While China is home to major miners like Bitmain, Hong Kong does not produce much Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. As such, premiums in the Hong Kong cryptocurrency market increased, surpassing even that of the South Korean market. On January 18, when the global average price of Bitcoin was around $11,500, Bitcoin was being traded at above $13,000 on Huobi Pro.
Krystal Hu, a Hong Kong-based finance journalist, noted that traders outside of China have also started to take advantage of the arbitrage opportunity presented by the Hong Kong market. For instance, on January 18, the price of Bitcoin on Coinbase was $11,800. Purchasing Bitcoin from Coinbase and selling it on any Hong Kong-based market would have generated $1,200 in profit.