The day after his conviction, I was at Hong Kong FinTech Week 2023, a new annual conference hosted by the local government. Unlike people in the US, where the SBF trial is just one more episode in the prolonged crypto winter, those in Hong Kong were feeling much more optimistic about all things Web3.
The city’s top official, Chief Executive John Lee, was there to discuss how the city could reinvent itself as a technology hub and capitalize on the big bets it has made over the past year on blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Yat Siu, founder of Animoca Brands, a homegrown Web3 startup that was clearly the star of the two-day event, told the audience on Friday, “This is the closing of a dark chapter of the industry … now we can start moving forward.”
I attended panel after panel where people discussed the future of tokenized assets, central-bank digital currencies, and even NFTs—beaming with hopes that’d be hard to find in the US. It felt as if I’d jumped into a time machine; the executives of international crypto heavyweights like Crypto.com and Bored Ape Yacht Club attended the conference in person, while the CEO of Coinbase videoed in for a fireside chat. (I have to say I’m glad I didn’t go to the BAYC party, a side event happening at the same time, which apparently left many attendees with “severe eye burn.” Ouch.)
For these execs, Hong Kong is a rare place where the government is welcoming them. Following major crypto failures last year like the collapse of FTX and Terra, and reports about the worthlessness of NFTs, many governments and observers have grown wary of the industry. But for Hong Kong, this new digital frontier seems like an opportunity to rewire its economy.
The city used to punch above its weight in finance and trade, but its importance in these sectors has been falling. And as tech industries have powered exponential growth in places like Shenzhen (which is right across the border in mainland China), Hong Kong has missed out on much of that boom. Crypto, though, could offer a relatively easy pivot.
During the FinTech Week last year, the local government released its own NFTs and a tokenized bond. Since then, leaders of global Web3 projects have visited Hong Kong and explored investing there, says Gary Liu, founder of two Hong Kong–based Web3 startups, Terminal3 and Artifacts Lab. “While everyone else is in a bear market, Hong Kong is rising up,” he says.
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