Endless Confusion from Bad Policy

Changchun, China — As the North Korean authorities started having the people exchange their old currency for new denominations, people have been venting their discontent in various ways and several rumors have circulated. There is no sign of a let up in the chaos; even the official policy seems to be in flux, changing as public sentiment demands, so the whole country seems to be hovering on a knife edge.

In the three days since the start of the exchange, the authorities have changed the policy a number of times. First they planned to allow each household to exchange 100,000 won; 1,000 won in new denominations. Then they changed it to 150,000 won. Then they changed it again to 100,000 won, plus 50,000 won more per family member in a family of four. That is, a standard household can now exchange a maximum of 300,000 won.

Additionally, the authorities announced an extra new decree whereby one could put the rest of one’s money, which cannot be exchanged into new bills, in the bank.

This near continuous flow of policy amendments has exacerbated public confusion.

Regarding excess monies above the limit for direct exchange, the authorities originally proclaimed that people could exchange it at a 1000:1 rate, but several hours later on the same day, revised it to people being able to deposit 200,000 won in the bank at the 1000:1 rate. However, on the morning of the 3rd, the authorities implied that the state would allow the people to deposit as much as they have, saying, “The whole deposited amount will be dealt with appropriately by the state.”

Naturally, residents do not really believe in what the authorities say because they had a similar experience in 1992; the people deposited 20,000 won, but the banks gave only 4,000 won back the next year.

Meanwhile, in Yangkang Province, one rumor which did the rounds suggested that China would also carry out a redenomination, so the rich were struck with panic since many of them hold their savings in Yuan. Most inside sources were quick to ask The Daily NK if the rumor was true or not.

Within North Korea, news about suicides, violent incidents and arson have also leaked out.

In Masa-dong, Hyesan, Yangkang Province, on November 30, there was apparently a quarrel between a money lender and one of his debtors which developed into a murder case after the latter was killed by the former with a blunt instrument.

The source reported, “The debtor, who had not paid any money back to the lender for a long time, came to pay back the money in old denominations. But, the creditor wanted to get new ones back from him, and the quarrel eventually turned fatal: the creditor smashed a bottle on the debtor’s head, and he died.”

According to another source in North Pyongan Province, one Ms. Jang, a woman in her 40s living in Yeokjeon-dong, Shinuiju who lives by trading cosmetic products, got such a shock from the news of the redenomination that she became delirious and started yelling criticisms of the authorities, so officials from the National Security Agency had to arrest.

Elsewhere, one Hoiryeong resident who has just visited Hamheung reported that, “On the 30th of last month, leaflets and scribbled graffiti were found in the First College of Education in Dongheungsan-district of Hamheung, and there were two cases of arson in the Seongcheon River-district at the same time.”

Arsonists reportedly piled up old bills around a food warehouse and burnt them.

In other news, the largest denomination old bill was the 5,000 won, but the largest new bill which has been seen is 500 won. Even bank clerks report no sign of any of the larger denomination bills such as 2,000 won or 5,000 won.