Co-founder of BTCC — formerly the largest Chinese crypto exchange — Bobby Lee shares his thoughts on the uncertain future of crypto in China.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Recently at BlockShow Europe 2018, Cointelegraph got the chance to speak to Bobby Lee — co-founder of Chinese crypto exchange BTCC and a board member at the Bitcoin Foundation — about what he’s been up to in the crypto space since BTCC shut down last fall.
Molly Jane: In the past few months, Chinese crypto regulations have steadily been increasing, from the ICO ban in the fall of last year, the January ban of “exchange-like services,” and the February ban of foreign exchanges. With your experience working in China in mind, do you think that, in the future, China will ever be more open and welcoming to the crypto community?
Bobby Lee: It’s possible. I’ve said it before and sometimes people would take it the wrong way. I think China has room to change their policies. It could happen within a few months, it could take a few years, it could take decades. China is a mystery when it comes to regulation and policies because of the former government being that kind of government. It’s not very transparent in terms of what they want to do with crypto.
Nothing is permanent in China.
Even the one-child policy, it eventually got overturned after many decades. So, [the] Bitcoin ban, the ban of exchanges, the lack of licensing, the lack of regulation [...] I think that’s here to stay for the short term, but it’s hard to say if that will get lifted any time soon.
MJ: Do you see any countries that are doing it right in terms of crypto regulation?
BL: None of the big countries. Or none of the big, popular, famous countries are doing it right, yet. I think it’s a very tough terrain to navigate, if you will. Some of the small countries who are more risk-prone, they are doing it right. They are doing it by a laissez-faire approach. They are welcoming companies to set up a jurisdiction in their country, and to set up entities and licensing it all. Some are doing it more aggressively than others. That’s just how things are. Because different countries will choose different paths, whether they will take a strong adoption approach or whether they will take a more reserved wait-and-see approach. I think China is of the wait-and-see approach.
MJ: Could you tell me a bit about what has happened to BTCC since the increased crypto regulations in China?
BL: BTCC got acquired. An investment group in Hong Kong acquired the company late last year and closed it earlier this year. There’s a new management in place. I’ve stayed on as an advisor to the company, so I’m just helping them out on some strategic projects. In terms of their actual day-to day stuff, I don’t have that visibility to share.
MJ: What are you doing now instead?
BL: This is my gap year, taking some time off, speaking at conferences. I’m going to play some poker at the World Series this year in Las Vegas, and then I want to start [writing] a book about Bitcoin.
MJ: What inspired you to want to write a book about Bitcoin (BTC)?
BL: I think this year I finally have more time on my hands. I’ve always wanted to potentially write a book, be an author. And given all the knowledge about Bitcoin and crypto that I’ve accumulated over the last few years, I have a certain insider’s perspective on the cryptocurrency. And having a lot of experience speaking at conferences, talking to people, answering their questions, I have a unique perspective on what kind of questions they ask. I want to put that all together into a book. Basically, it’ll be for the general audience, an initiative, if you will, to explain the impact of Bitcoin, why it is meaningful to our society and what the future is.
You can watch the interview here:
MJ: What’s the question you get asked the most at conferences?
BL: In cryptocurrency conferences, people ask me what’s my price prediction, what assets I hold, and what crypto coins I hold. They ask why Bitcoin is valuable when governments don’t endorse it. That’s a sort of the negative perspective. The non-believers think that for crypto to have a future, governments have to endorse it or support it.
MJ: Speaking of that, you’ve said in some interviews that one of the reasons why Bitcoin is not a bubble is because it has inherent utility. Could you expand more on that?
BL: Again, the utility is only [in] the eye of a beholder who finds it useful. But Bitcoin is very, very useful as a form of payment for people who are separated by distance or by time. Meaning that, if people want to send large or small amounts of money when they are geographically apart — usually long distances across time zones, across countries and jurisdictions — Bitcoin is a very efficient way to send value across, as long as both people value Bitcoin and understand that its market price varies.
Bitcoin is also useful for sending through time. If you think about it, Bitcoin investors — people like myself, and possibly you and others, who invest in Bitcoin — what we’re really doing is we’re saying,
“Let me put $1000 into this Bitcoin machine, and I will send it to my future 10 years later.”
Or five years later. Or two years later, right? It doesn’t work for the short term because this thing is volatile. If I send it to me a week later, I will open up and sell Bitcoin, it may not achieve $1000. But certainly five years, 10 years – now we’re talking, where it can be worth a lot. That’s the investment, sort of, a through-time aspect of Bitcoin.
MJ: You said once in an interview that you wouldn’t touch any altcoins, but did add that you could change your mind in the future. Do you still consider yourself a Bitcoin purist?
BL: I’ve said that many times, both in recent times and over the years, I’m a Bitcoin maximalist, I’d say. I think that’s what they call it. Maybe a purist. The only four coins I have and hold are Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash (BCH), Litecoin (LTC) and Ethereum (ETH). Those are the only things I hold. Everything else I consider an altcoin and, of course, the tokens themselves. I don’t touch decentralized tokens issued by companies and groups.
MJ: Last question. Very recently there was a celebration of Bitcoin Pizza Day. My question is, what’s your favorite kind of pizza?
BL: My favorite pizza is pepperoni. Pepperoni and cheese.
MJ: And have you ever used Bitcoin to buy a pizza?
BL: I haven’t. What we did do at BTCC was [to ask] how many Bitcoins you spend to buy pizza for the whole office. And at one point it was over five Bitcoins, last year it was like three or two Bitcoins. And this year, certainly less than one Bitcoin. It’s been amazing to see that. Coming from, what is it, 10,000 Bitcoin, now down to just less than one Bitcoin to feed the whole office.
MJ: Thank you so much for speaking with us!
BL: Thank you!