SEOUL (Reuters) – With a tech-savvy population quick to adopt the latest gadgets and a young generation facing dim prospects in the conventional workplace, South Korea has been a fertile ground for virtual currencies.
But the country’s swift embrace of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has been met with an equally swift backlash by regulators, who have gone so far as to propose outright bans on trading.
With markets around the world watching, South Korea has become a fault line between a generation that sees cryptocurrencies as a way to a better life, and government officials who have likened the market to gambling and warned that it encourages illicit behavior.
On Thursday the justice minister, Park Sang-ki, sent global bitcoin prices temporarily plummeting and virtual coin markets into turmoil when he said regulators were preparing legislation to halt cryptocurrency trading.
As of Friday, a petition on the website of the presidential Blue House had drawn more than 120,000 signatures opposing the move. Heavy internet traffic briefly crashed the site.
The online uprising against the government’s plans puts President Moon Jae-in a tough spot, and his office was quick to say a ban is just one proposal under consideration.
“The latest idea to ban it all seems to have come out of a fear that when the bubble bursts and things go wrong, it will be all on the government,” said Yun Chang-hyun, an economics professor at University of Seoul.
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