WeChat, China’s hugely popular messaging and social media app, has announced plans to integrate with LINE, a similar app based in Japan. The partnership will unilaterally allow WeChat users to pay for goods and services over the Line platform.
Tencent, a Chinese multinational holding conglomerate, released WeChat in 2011. (Tencent has garnered a whopping zero out of 100 score from Amnesty International’s report on companies’ use of encryption to protect user data.)
WeChat Pay was introduced during the 2014 Lunar New Year, allowing users to send digital hongbao packets to friends and family. Users sent 20 million packets that year. In 2016, over 3 billion were sent.
The service has been wholeheartedly integrated into Chinese life. An estimated 900 million different accounts use WeChat Pay every month for private transfers, online goods and services shopping, and bill payments. Its messaging services have mostly replaced email for personal and business communications, the payment system largely renders credit cards obsolete, and its social media feeds and user “Moments” are one of China’s most popularly used media sharing platforms. It offers a stuffed animal, MonMon, for small children to send and receive WeChat voice messages from their parents. WeChat Pay can link to bank accounts in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and South Africa.
Line was released in 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami disrupted telecommunications across Japan. Within two years 300 million users had installed the text, voice, and video communication app. Today almost half of the Japanese population, an estimated 78 million, uses Line. It is also one of the most popular messaging apps in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia, with an estimated 164 million active users in those four countries. As of 2016, it had released over 320,000 sets of stickers.
Line introduced Line Pay in December 2014. Like WeChat Pay, it facilitates user to user as well as user to merchant payments. In 2016, it released a free card that could be used for in-store purchases. It also allows the use of Line Taxi, a popular ride-hailing service in Japan.
One app, two countries
The cooperation between the two is intended to simplify payments for Chinese tourists or visitors in Japan. WeChat users will be able to buy goods and services in Japan without exchanging cash, or setting up a Line Pay account of their own. Line, which offers end to end encryption, is banned by the Chinese government.