Why China Is Cracking Down on Bitcoin Mining and What It Could Mean for Other Countries | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED X-Frame-Options: DENY X-Frame-Options: SAMEORIGIN

Why China Is Cracking Down on Bitcoin Mining and What It Could Mean for Other Countries

The annual spring rains bring many changes to southwestern China’s Sichuan province. Downpours transform the mottled landscape into lush emerald, while azaleas bloom and migrating cranes and storks begin the long journey back north. The rainfall also brings trucks stacked with computers to hydropower dams, where entrepreneurs can tap cheap electricity for mining bitcoin—the arcane process that accumulates the cryptocurrency using huge amounts of computing power to solve equations.

“We’re like bees chasing flowers,” Tang Wanlong, chairman of bitcoin mining company Sichuan Duo Technology Co. Ltd, told TIME from his penthouse office in Sichuan province capital Chengdu last month.

China hosts around 75% of the world’s bitcoin mining capacity—or “hashrate”—due to its established technology supply chains and extremely cheap electricity. Cryptocurrency mining requires huge amounts of computing power, making energy consumption a major overhead for the industry. This means that in the summer, when rains are plentiful, miners flock to Sichuan’s hydropower stations, which have a glut of supply and are based in far-flung locations that make it hard for them to plug into the national grid. Local governments will often offer power for pennies—or even free—to attract jobs and get a painless boost to their gross domestic product figures. “The water is just going to flow away, so rather than waste it, we use it to make a contribution to China,” says Tang.

China’s government, it turns out, disagrees. In late May, China’s State Council signaled a crackdown on cryptocurrency mining, causing bitcoin’s price to plummet by 30% and casting a pall across the entire industry, which collectively lost over $1 trillion in value. Chinese Vice Premier Liu He told a group of finance officials that the government would “clamp down on bitcoin mining and trading activity” to ensure financial stability. While individual miners and traders may be able to slip through the cracks, larger commercial miners will likely be considering alternative mining hubs with less rigorous regulatory regimes, analysts say.

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