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US Dollars Become Currency of Choice Among Well-Heeled North Koreans

2 min read
Banknotes of the United States dollar

Banknotes of the United States dollar. Photo: PublicDomainPictures (Pixabay).

Wealthy North Koreans and high-ranking regime officials in Pyongyang are quickly exchanging Chinese yuan they have acquired into much-coveted U.S. dollars or euros, because the two Western currencies are giving them a bigger bang for their buck, sources inside the country said.

U.S. dollars, euros, Japanese yen, and Chinese yuan have long lubricated the isolated country’s struggling economy, which has endured further blows from international sanctions imposed in 2017 and earlier this year to punish the regime for nuclear tests and missile launches under its illicit arms program.

The foreign notes offer currency stability and a means for the regime to enhance its coffers in a country whose native bills — North Korean won — are relatively worthless and only used by ordinary citizens for everyday transactions inside the country.

Though Chinese yuan has been the most readily available foreign currency brought in mainly by traders who live in areas bordering China, the use of yuan notes has fallen off considerably among the elite in North Korea’s capital.

“The use of Chinese yuan in Pyongyang has recently dropped,” a source who declined to be named told RFA’s Korean Service. “Most of the wealthy and high-ranking officials prefer U.S. dollars, euros, or Japanese yen. Chinese yuan is hardly seen.”

Chinese yuan began disappearing at the end of last year, though it is not certain whether the implementation of new and harsher sanctions is to blame, he said.

“But people began to avoid using Chinese yuan for any transactions,” the source said.

“A lot of Chinese yuan held by the rich and high-ranking officials in Pyongyang has already been exchanged into U.S. dollars or euros,” he said. “Those who use Chinese yuan are considered to be behind the times.”

The use of U.S. dollars has become common as if the U.S. dollar is North Korea’s own currency, and is especially increasing among high-ranking officials who give American bills as gift money to their families on holidays or other special occasions, the source said.

Full story:

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Copyright © 1998-2018, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.

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