A new electronic card payment system for use by holders of domestic currency has been introduced to North Korea, adding to an existing system solely designed to serve those with foreign currency.
A source from Pyongyang revealed the news to Daily NK on the 9th, saying “The authorities are distributing a North Korean Won version of that foreign currency-only payment card that has been in use for a while now.” However, the source noted, “A whole lot of people are worried that it might mean they want to ban the use of foreign currency.”
“Of course people with real money will be able to keep using the foreign currency card, but they can’t help but feel there is pressure being put on foreign currency usage when the authorities are encouraging domestic currency card payments,” the source added.
As with the existing system for foreign currency, the card system works as a debit card rather than a credit card, allowing people to spend the money available in their bank account. It is assumed that in due course the authorities will begin to deliver wages through the system.
However, the source went on, “You can only use the thing in larger stores, restaurants and places like that, so it’s going to be pretty useless when people prefer to buy things cheaper and more comfortably in the market.”
“Cadres, traders and people with foreign currency earning enterprises all prefer foreign currency, and are pretty unimpressed with the new system,” the source also said. “Nobody has any faith in the authorities so nobody will put their money in the bank; thus it’s pretty unlikely to succeed.”
Asked why the Kim regime wants to introduce the card system at a time when the vast majority of people feel negatively about North Korean banks, and a significant proportion live on very small amounts of money anyway, the source declared that it is simply because he wants to bring in westernized systems to emphasize his role as a youthful, advanced leader with a keen interest in reform, even if he is not such a leader.
Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun first published news of the production of a North Korean Won payment card on November 6th. In an article citing an official involved in Sino-North Korean trade, the newspaper said that the new debit cards were distributed in October and were being put into use this month.