Even official money is quasi-private in Hong Kong, with people interchangeably using the IOUs of its three note-issuing banks. But as central banks around the world plan to take cash digital, can this arrangement hold up? Or will the city’s 7.5 million residents have to deal in a brand new currency, a direct liability of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority?

The answer may be of global interest as governments everywhere are under pressure to adapt to the new technology.

Stablecoins, pegged 1:1 to the dollar or the euro, are emerging as a haven of value for those who trade volatile cryptocurrencies. Synthetic private cash might go mainstream when social-media giants put the power of their networks behind stablecoins. For instance, Meta Platforms Inc. (formerly Facebook Inc.) is backing Diem, a yet-to-be-launched token that can be sent instantaneously to anyone, anywhere with an entry-level smartphone and a data connection.