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Hong Kong treads fine line on regulating retail crypto trade

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HONG KONG: Retail investors in Hong Kong may soon be able to buy popular cryptocurrencies like bitcoin at government-licensed exchanges, thanks to new rules meant to bolster the city's standing as a digital asset hub.Global crypto markets have yet to recover from a string of high-profile failures in recent months, including the spectacular downfall of trading platform FTX and crypto-friendly US banks Signature and Silvergate.But the so-called "crypto winter" has not deterred Hong Kong authorities from embracing the sector, a pivot that began last October and culminated with new laws for crypto exchanges starting Jun 1.Officials are also hoping the shift will be a boon for the city's economy, which continues to struggle in the wake of the pandemic, social unrest and the impact on business confidence from a Beijing-imposed national security law.Crucially, observers say it will cement Hong Kong as a key route for mainland Chinese investors looking to trade crypto, which is outlawed in the country.Regulators are hoping to woo firms with favourable business conditions, but must balance that against the need for investor protections - a well-developed area in traditional finance but less so in the virtual-asset space."There is an explicit acknowledgement that these products are becoming more and more part of our economy," Giuliano Castellano, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, told AFP.The city has had a voluntary licensing system for crypto trading platforms since 2019, but licensees could only service professional clients with portfolios of at least HK$8 million (US$1 million).Without licensed local options, Hong Kong's retail crypto traders are relegated to offshore websites such as Binance and Coinbase, or a

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