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Singapore Plans Blockchain Push to Boost ASEAN Financial Inclusion

The Singapore government is looking to boost blockchain development in an effort to improve financial inclusion for Southeast Asian countries.

In opening remarks for a meeting with finance ministers from Southeast Asian countries on Friday, Heng Swee Keat, Singapore’s minister for finance, highlighted the government’s plans to foster innovations such as blockchain to improve access to finance in the region.

“In particular, we will support digital innovations like fintech. For example, the underlying distributed ledger technology presents us with many opportunities for cheap and secure transactions. This can promote financial inclusion for underserved and underbanked segments in ASEAN,” the minister said.

Although Heng did not disclose precise details on any blockchain initiatives, his comments come at a time when governments in Southeast Asia have been stepping up efforts to develop and adopt blockchain tech in the financial sector.

As reported late last month, Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has launched a blockchain competition with government funds to boost blockchain innovation in the region.

Meanwhile, the neighboring nation of Malaysia is also moving to utlize blockchain technology to advance banking services across the region.

In a speech in March, the deputy governor of Malaysia’s central bank indicated that nine banks in the country have already begun working with the central bank in developing blockchain powered applications for trade finance.

Similarly, Thailand’s Siam Commercial Bank is building out a Ripple-based blockchain remittance platform for cross border payments.

ASEAN flags image via Shutterstock

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India's Finance Minister Strikes Stern Tone on Cryptos in Budget Speech

Arun Jaitley, India’s finance minister, said Thursday that the government does not view cryptocurrencies as a form of legal tender, echoing comments he made late last year.

According to a transcript published by LiveMint, Jaitley – giving an annual budget speech – reiterated the policy view and said that the government would take measures against the tech’s use for illegitimate purposes. He also referred to prohibiting their use “as part of the payment system.

He was quoted as (per the transcript):

“The Government does not consider cryptocurrencies legal tender or coin and will take all measures to eliminate use of these crypto-assets in financing illegitimate activities or as part of the payment system.”

In early December, Jaitley said the Indian government was working on recommendations to regulate cryptocurrencies but had acknowledged that there are currently no rules surrounding digital currencies. The government has set up a committee with the central bank and various government departments to study possible regulations.

“The government’s position is clear, we don’t recognize this as legal currency as of now,” he said at the time.

In contrast to his comments on cryptocurrencies, Jaitley mentioned blockchain technology in a more positive light during Thursday’s speech, noting its use in recording transactions or data without requiring an intermediate platform.

“The Government will explore [the] use of blockchain technology proactively for ushering in [a] digital economy,” he said, per the transcript.

The comments have raised fears that India is moving to ban cryptocurrencies outright, though it remains to be seen what specific measures the government will introduce following Jaitley’s comments.

Image Credit: WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM/swiss-image.ch/Photo Jolanda Flubacher (from Flickr.com)

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