The Worthless Won (North Korean Won)

Insight: North Korean economy surrenders to foreign currency invasion


Faith in the North Korean won crumbled when Kim's father, Kim Jong-il, ordered the sudden revaluation of the currency in November 2009.

The government chopped two zeroes off banknotes and limited the amount of old money that could be exchanged for new cash. The move, seen as an attack on private market activity at the time, spurred a rush to hold hard currency.

It also quickened inflation and according to South Korea's spy agency, sparked rare civil unrest in one of the world's most entrenched authoritarian states after North Koreans realized the won was not a safe store of value.

The government is widely believed to have executed the economic official who oversaw the revaluation. Dollars have circulated in North Korea for decades, partly because of the cash siphoned off from official foreign trade. The rise in the use of yuan is a more recent phenomenon and reflects a surge in trade and smuggling between North Korea and China along their 1,400 km (875 mile) land border, where a lot of the currency changes hands. Official trade with China is worth $6 billion annually.

Black market rates illustrate how far the won has fallen since the revaluation. It has plunged from 30 to one U.S. dollar to about 8,500, according to exchange rates tracked by Daily NK. The current official exchange rate is about 130 won per dollar.
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