China is set to expand its digital currency testing program to large cities, including Beijing

China’s commerce ministry has officially said that it would expand the digital currency testing program to large cities, including the capital Beijing.

In a statement released Friday, the ministry said the digital yuan pilot program would cover most of Chinese cities and regions such as Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Yangtze River Delta and Guangdong, as well as the neighbouring cities of Hong Kong and Macau.

"Carry out digital RMB pilot projects in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River Delta, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, and the pilot regions in the central and western regions where conditions permit," said the ministry. It added that the program is being led by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), the country’s central bank.

It is not clear when these pilot programs would begin, but the policy design of the digital currency is expected to be completed by the end of this year, said the ministry.

Earlier this year, the PBOC launched a pilot program for the "digital currency/electronic payment" (DC/EP) in four cities: Shenzhen, Suzhou, Chengdu and Xiong’an New Area. Most recently, China’s ride-hailing giant Didi also partnered with the central bank’s Digital Currency Research Institute to carry out research and test the application of the digital currency.

The PBOC has been researching and developing the digital currency since 2014, but its official launch date remains unknown. In Friday’s statement, the commerce ministry said the government’s technological efforts are aimed at upgrading China’s economy.