China-backed crypto guru wants to unify the world’s blockchains

By Zheping Huang

The blockchain world today is thousands of disparate platforms that can’t talk to each other. So a little-known startup hatched one of the most ambitious plans yet to bridge all the divides — and it’s got the backing of the Chinese government.

Beijing-based Red Date Technology is at the heart of China’s first state-backed blockchain initiative, envisioned as a one-stop hub for developers to build decentralized applications (dapps) for everything from money transactions to drug-delivery tracing. Think of it as the crypto-world equivalent of a cloud service like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure that hooks up and supports a multitude of software and platforms. Since its April roll-out, the Blockchain-based Service Network (or BSN) has attracted more than 6,000 enterprise, government and individual users primarily from China.

Red Date, backed by the nation’s top economic planner, is the mastermind of the undertaking. The startup’s goal is to push out BSN globally, allowing anyone to create blockchain-based apps without having to then publish offerings on siloed platforms one by one, Chief Executive Officer He Yifan said.

“The internet took off only after it became cheap for everyone to build websites,” He said in a video interview. “Our mission is to put everything blockchain-related onto BSN’s platform.”

Connecting fragmented blockchains is key to moving the technology underpinning cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin beyond just trades and speculation. Projects like Cosmos and Polkadot are competing to establish industry standards, much like the http protocol for the web. BSN, however, simply aspires to be the glue that joins various networks and protocols.

It’s all about doing it fast and cheap, He says. BSN will support its first batch of six public blockchains including Ethereum, EOS and NEO in August, and it’s looking to integrate more than 100 public chains within a year, He said. By leveraging BSN’s tools and data storage services, developers will be able to slash 90% off the cost of creating and running a dapp, he estimates.

“It’s physically bringing the cloud resources needed online to power global blockchains,” said Matthew Graham, CEO of Beijing-based crypto consultancy Sino Global Capital. “BSN is the first and only project to bring this to blockchain in an agnostic way.”

A former private-equity investor, the 44-year-old He founded Red Date in 2014 with his own money as a tech supplier to Chinese smart-city projects. That was when he established relationships with national champions China Mobile and UnionPay, as well as the State Information Center, a think tank under the country’s top economic planning agency. The four entities created BSN in 2018, and the three firms have since spent around 200 million yuan ($30 million) to build out the technology, He said.

The initial idea — which the likes of Baidu Inc. and crypto exchange Huobi support — was to provide tools to develop software on tokenless, permissioned blockchains, without worrying about the complicated infrastructure. Some of the most-popular real-world applications enabled by BSN involve government documentation and supply-chain management, He said, without naming them.

Beijing is in a love-hate relationship with blockchain: It wants to use the technology to serve the real economy, but has banned exchange trading and crowdfunding facilitated by crypto tokens like Bitcoin and Ether. Within the country’s borders, developers won’t be able to use BSN to access public networks like Ethereum and NEO, which incentivize users via their digital tokens.

This, along with distrust of Chinese-made technology amid escalating geopolitical tensions, is a major obstacle to BSN’s global ambitions. But BSN will set up an offshore branch to integrate with public chains, He said. Red Date, through its Hong Kong offices, will choose at least seven partners without Chinese affiliations to co-manage a new foundation dubbed BSN International, he said, adding details have yet to be finalized.

BSN will charge dapp creators fees based on their use of cloud storage space, which are deployed in global cities and purchased from companies like Amazon Web Services, He said. He estimates it will take three to five years to make the project profitable. He says Red Date won’t take funding from China’s government or state enterprises, preferring to remain independent — even though it works hand-in-glove with a government think tank and two powerful Beijing-backed corporations.

”Whatever your concern is, you can check our source code,” He said.

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