There’s an unsettled debate about whether bitcoin is a currency or payment protocol — a crucial legal distinction that has made regulators especially wary, says Bill Maurer, director of the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion at the University of California, Irvine. China, for instance, has barred its financial institutions from carrying out bitcoin transactions. African countries have also been hesitant, due to concerns about money laundering, but they’ve stopped short of a full embrace.

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