North Korea issues new foreign currency vouchers
- Published: Oct 12, 2021, 8 AM
North Korea recently issued new foreign currency vouchers, devices used mainly by visitors and the country’s elite to make purchases in foreign currencies at stores where the North Korean won is not accepted, but hard currencies are.
The news was reported on Sept. 28 by Daily NK, a South Korean online newspaper focusing on North Korea, with what it claims are sources in North Korea and defectors. The new vouchers are dated “Juche 110,” or 2021.
Foreign exchange vouchers have a long but not always glorious history. They were first issued by North Korea’s central bank in 1979, and North Koreans could use them at foreign currency shops in the 1980s and 1990s. However, when the country issued too many of them, inflation followed and foreign exchange shops could not exchange them for cash at banks. Circulation fell and their value crashed. They were abolished on July 1, 2002.
The most interesting part of the story of the new vouchers is that while they have been issued, there has not been much of an effort to put them into circulation. The paper claims, “It appears the country’s leadership is closely managing the release of the vouchers out of concern of both their economic impact and effectiveness.”
When Daily NK tried to confirm the issuance through sources in various parts of North Korea, it found that very few people are aware of them. Ordinary Pyongyang residents, who use dollars to purchase clothes and electronics in markets, did not know the vouchers had been issued. It seems that only a limited number of upper-level people know about them, or have actually seen them.
Authorities have provided no information about how they can be acquired, and foreign currency shops have not been banned from using dollars — both prerequisites for the vouchers to succeed. In fact, as of Sept. 28, foreign currency stores in Pyongyang were still accepting dollars.
Neither have written directives publicizing the issuance of the vouchers been seen anywhere.
An unnamed source told Daily NK, “Even if [the authorities] issue and circulate the vouchers, there won’t be many people using them. All North Koreans believe they should hold on to dollars or (Chinese) yuan, even if the nation falls to ruin.”
Another source in North Korea said “When they drag out failed policies from the past, it means things are pretty desperate. Given that they’ve issued the vouchers but are not putting them into [full] circulation, the party seems to be worrying a lot about this, too.”
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