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Last Updated:[04-02-2010 01:32:06 EDT] Zoom in Zoom out Back to Tradenews

N-Korean Redenomination Boomerangs – Economy Collapses

tradenews Several reports suggest the fizzled out redenomination or currency swap enacted by North Korea to contain inflation has literally brought the country to its knees. Last November’s decree which gave citizens one week to surrender/exchange 100,000 old won (North Korean currency) for 1,000 new won sparked off mad rush for essential goods and fast depleted stocks to ignite hyperinflation thenceforth.

The decree stipulated that any cash in excess of a certain limit would become invalid. This in turn forced citizens to convert the old won to goods including electronic items, kitchenware and so on to avoid losing their lifetime earnings. The Tribune News Service reported the price of rice last month in the North rose tenfold at private markets, and residents hoping to purchase food often had to wait in line for hours in subzero temperatures.

The North Koreans largely saved money in the physical form as they mistrusted state-run banks. Song Jung-su, a former railroad security official who defected from the North in 2006 but who is still in touch with his relatives apprised that the wresting of people’s life savings by the totalitarian government had made many to commit suicide.

The currency change is understood to have designed in a bid to check inflation as well as to re-establish Communist Kim Jong-Il regime’s control over the economy that was slipping from its hand for sometime from now to the increasing free market forces. As the direct fallout of the redenomination debacle, the dictatorial government has shown the door to the Workers' Party finance and planning department chief Pak Nam Gi, the one who spearheaded the currency revamp. It is been rumoured that Pak has been made a whipping boy in an attempt to save the heir apparent to the Kim Il-sung dynasty, Kim Jong-Un, the third son of the current leader.

A diplomatic source is understood to have informed Chosun Ilbo newspaper that if the redenomination had been a success North Korea would have attributed it to the leadership of Jong-Un and used it to justify a third-generation succession. The situation is believed to have made worse by an order which permits shops to be opened only for four hours a day and operated by women above 40, and many have already downed shutters.

The North which is reeling under the pressure of hyperinflation has witnessed sporadic violence where any protest against the state is meted out with death penalties. Such incidences clearly indicate that people do not fear for their lives anymore as many feel they have already lost almost everything. The move which was supposed to curb rising prices backfired as the limited supply of goods in the public distribution system failed to keep up with the demand.

Ever since the formation of the North, it has largely suffered while yielding to be misused by failing states and emerging powers as a deterrent to the constantly intervening Western interests in the regional affairs. The Communist Korea has relied on the overseas essentials aid since the mid-1990s, when the economy crumpled owing to famine and mismanagement, which wiped out 2mn people. The absence of aid from the former and now defunct Soviet Union has also made it worse since then for the Stalinist state.

A state that used most of its revenues to build defense infrastructure is already facing the UN sanctions for its recent nuclear test. Prima facie, its economy looks frail with the country’s latest suicidal redenomination move. It is hoped that both the international community and the North Korean government would come to their senses to save the people of this failing economy.

By Jose Roy

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