It’s over: China’s biggest bitcoin exchanges will halt all trading services for local customers

Closing shop.
Closing shop.
Image: Reuters/Benoit Tessier
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The last hope for digital-currency trading in China is dead.

China’s two largest bitcoin exchanges, Huobi and OKCoin, said on Saturday (Sept. 16) that they will halt all trading services for local customers. It’s an about-face from their statements just a day earlier, in which the two companies said they would only halt yuan-based crypto trading by the end of October.

China has been the focus of global bitcoin trading over the past week after news reports emerged that regulators were planning to ban crypto trading on domestic exchanges, following a Sept. 4 notice issued by the Chinese central bank that banned “initial coin offerings.” 

Shanghai-based BTCC, the world’s oldest bitcoin exchange, announced on Sept. 14 that it would shut down all domestic trading services by the end of this month, but Huobi and OKCoin’s earlier announcement said that their service closures would only cover yuan-based crypto trading. That meant Chinese customers could still, for example, trade one crypto asset for another on the two exchanges. That possibility is now gone with Huobi and OKCoin’s latest announcements, which effectively put an end to crypto exchange markets in any form in China.

Huobi and OKCoin didn’t respond to requests for comment on their latest service closures. Both said without elaboration in their most recent statements (Huobi’s here, and OKCoin’s here, both in Chinese) that they would continue to provide “crypto-asset services” in accordance with Chinese regulations.

Executives of Huobi and OKCoin have been barred from leaving Beijing in order to cooperate with an ongoing government investigation into their trading platforms, the newspaper Beijing News reported (link in Chinese) today (Sept. 18), citing unnamed sources. Representatives for Huobi and OKCoin told Quartz that they were not aware of the travel restrictions.

The price of bitcoin has fallen more than 20% since the start of this month amid China’s crackdown on cryptocurrency trading. Bitcoin dropped below $3,000 on Sept. 15 in response to Huobi and OKCoin’s initial statements on their trading suspensions, but stabilized over the weekend.

Both BTCC and OKCoin run separate crypto exchanges for non-Chinese customers that will continue to operate. Now that cryptocurrency trading in China has been shut down, more of the country’s exchanges and traders are moving operations overseas. “Chinese companies will become international in the future,” an exchange operator told Quartz earlier.