DPRK won exchange rates falling after currency reform

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No.10-01-18-1

Following the currency reform undertaken by North Korea at the end of 2009, the Chinese newspaper International Herald Leader (國際先驅導報) reported on January 7 that the Choson Bank of Trade had set the USD:DPRK Won exchange rate at 1:96.9. There have been other reports of the DPRK’s new exchange rate through organizations related to North Korea, but this is the first report of an official exchange rate by an official Chinese media source. The International Herald Leader is the global news paper of the government-run Xinhua news agency.

Good Friends, a South Korea-based organization working for human rights in the North, had reported earlier that the new exchange rate was 1 USD:35 Won. The conflicting reports appear to be a result of a constantly changing exchange rate. North Korean authorities control the exchange rate, announcing changes to the exchange rate system at their whim.

According to the International Herald Leader, the exchange rates for the new DPRK Won are 96.9:1 USD, 138.35:1 Euro and 14.19:1 Chinese Yuan. These new rates are approximately 25-30 percent lower than previous rates, indicating a rise in the value of the DPRK Won.

North Korean security forces released a notice titled ‘Regarding the Strict Punishment of Those Overissuing Foreign Currency Within the Republic’ on December 28, and banned the use of foreign currency across the country beginning January 1. Immediately following the announcement of the measure banning the use of foreign currency, the DPRK Won:PRC Yuan exchange rate rose sharply, indicating a steep drop in the value of the Won.

Until the December 28 announcement banning foreign currency, North Koreans were exchanging Chinese money for the new DPRK Won at a rate of 1:5 (the official rate was 1:1.6). Before the currency reform, the Won:Yuan exchange rate was 600:1. However, after the ban on foreign currency, the value of the new North Korean money quickly fell, with the exchange rate toppling 4-5 times over within just days. According to a Daily NK report, on January 5 of this year, the Won:Yuan exchange rate in Hyesan, Yanggang Province hit 20:1, while in North Hamgyeong Province’s cities and towns of Hoeryeong, Onseong, Musan, and Cheongjin, the Won is being exchanged for Yuan at a rate of 1:15. Therefore, it appears that the Chinese media’s report of a 1:14.19 exchange rate reflects the reality of only some regions of North Korea.


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