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A man walks past an electric board showing exchange rates of various cryptocurrencies at Bithumb cryptocurrencies exchange in Seoul, South Korea, January 11, 2018.
Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji
A chilling threat.
PETITION

“Don’t take away our happiness:” South Koreans ask the government to stop its crypto crackdown

By Zheping Huang

South Korea’s decision to tighten its control over cryptocurrency trading has triggered a public uproar in the bitcoin-obsessed country.

A petition demanding the government to stop regulating cryptocurrencies garnered more than 200,000 signatures by Tuesday (Jan. 16) after being filed to South Korea’s presidential office two weeks ago. That would force the government to give an official response, which could lead to (paywall) the opening of an investigation.

“Korean people can dream a happy dream that we’ve never been able to in South Korea, thanks to cryptocurrencies. I might be able to buy a house in a country where it’s very hard to buy a house. I might be able to live a life doing something I want to do. I might be able to take a breath,” reads the petition (link in Korean), which was posted online by an anonymous person on Dec. 28.

“Please don’t take away our happiness and dreams that we could have for the first time living in South Korea.” 

The petition comes amid weeks of government attempts to crack down on crypto trades, floating ideas ranging from taxation to an outright ban on domestic exchanges. As confusion and anger rein in the market, the South Korean government has toned down its earlier remarks to say an imminent shutdown of all exchanges are not likely. On Tuesday afternoon, prime minister Lee Nak-yon told local press that such a ban will only be carried out after the pass of new legislation.

The petition might have resonated well with South Korean crypto investors as it touches upon the growing concerns of the country’s sluggish economy—featuring the highest youth unemployment in almost two decades. The petitioner writes:

When I voted for the Moon Jae-in government, I was filled with the anticipation that finally I would be able to live like a human being. However, nothing has changed. Nothing has been improved. The economic downturn we feel is still the same. In winter, we opt for electronic blankets to save on our heating bills. In summer, we are worried about air-conditioning bills.

South Korea accounts for an estimated 20% of global bitcoin trades. Many Koreans have placed large parts of their life savings in cryptoassets because the country lacks high-yield investment vehicles (paywall) for retail investors. A recent survey suggested that three out of 10 salaried workers in the country have invested in cryptocurrencies. 

Bitcoin’s price tumbled in recent weeks amid South Korea’s and China’s crackdowns on cryptocurrencies. It currently stands at $12,267, according to CoinDesk’s price index, down 10% from a day earlier.

Hailey Jo contributed to this article.