China Has Triggered a Bitcoin Mining Exodus

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Alex Brammer, vice president of business development at US cryptocurrency company Luxor Tech, recounts being bombarded by calls coming from Chinese miners within hours of the May 21 speech. “We were fielding calls from very large miners trying to find collocation space power throughout North America,” he says. “We were having calls and the questions being asked were, ‘Can you house 20,000 machines in 14 days?’ for example. The tone in the industry was just very frantic.”

“Anecdotally, I would say that many, many [miners] will be leaving China, within the next 30 to 60 or 90 days,” Brammer adds.

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Non-Chinese entrepreneurs might be the first to up sticks, Kaboomracks’ Van Kirk says. “We have clients that are hosted in China, but are Western, who are wanting to find capacity outside of China,” he says. “They’re looking for something in the United States or Canada.”

It is not only North America to be sought after as a prospective destination. Parts of northern Europe and Latin America are also being considered; in general, Brammer says, some Chinese individuals want to move their business to a place “that is politically stable, that has strong property rights, that has some type of an existing and somewhat stable regulatory framework.” But the US, which is already the world’s second country for bitcoin mining, might prove to be particularly attractive.

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That is not to say that a move will be simple. Logistically, Brammer says, it is quite a nightmare to move tens of thousands of machines from China to the US, especially amid a global pandemic that has triggered a shortage in shipping containers, and a latent trade war that will require any company seeking to move goods from China to the US to pay a 25 percent tariff. Even once the mining machines are unloaded from the private cargo planes or container ships, setting up a new mining operation in North America is going to take some time. “Some of these [Chinese miners] are coming in and they’re saying, ‘We’d like to buy 500 megawatts of capacity,’ and you’ve got these North American power generation facilities and mining farms that go ‘We just don’t have that,’” says Brammer. He estimates the timeframe for building a large mining farm from scratch at around 12 to 24 months.

Edward Evenson, director of business development at bitcoin mining company Braiins, is more sanguine. He says that most larger miners will just be shipping new machines from manufacturers based out of China, and that they will have the resources to pull that off relatively quickly. “Smaller miners may not have the resources or connections, so they will probably have to sell off their machines,” Evenson says. “But the larger operations will simply move their machines to more stable environments for mining.”

The big question, however, is whether the panicked calls will lead to a true exodus. As a matter of fact, right now most Chinese miners are waiting for the government’s next move. “Chinese miners, who have higher risk tolerance than Western miners in our observation, are largely taking a wait and see approach,” says Ian Wittkopp, vice president of Beijing-based venture capital firm Sino Global Capital. “Most Chinese miners have experienced similar cycles of news in the past. The cost of migrating to a new location can be high, we expect most miners to wait for more regulatory clarity before relocating.”

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This is not the first time China has been waving its fist at bitcoin; but that harsh posturing has never really sunk the country’s thriving bitcoin industry. “Whenever the price of bitcoin shoots up, and there’s a lot of speculative mania around it, the government makes one of these announcements,” Evenson says. “They’ve done it essentially every year or about every other year since 2013.”

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