Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
Daily NK reports that the currency change under way in the DPRK was announced at 14:00 by the radio broadcasts directly piped into the homes of North Korean citizens. Street markets have remained shuttered since 11:00 as of Monday, 30 November. Daily NK also reports that on 1 December the currency decision was announced in special call meetings of county and town KWP and People’s Committees and that county branches of the DPRK Central Bank had commenced the new currency exchange of old Won for new. In the closest we may get to an official announcement, Xinhua reported the DPRK’s currency revaluation.
Daily NK recalls the previous revaluation of North Korean currency in 1992 with some fascinating analysis and anecdotes contrasting the currency switch in 1992 to the one that occurred this week. DNK suspects the DPRK Leadership is turning tricks in revaluing the won. The ROK press has begun editorializing about the revaluation in different degrees. Dong-A Ilbo, while making amends to Daily NK, concludes that “the strong resistance against the revaluation by the North Korean people might have put the Communist regime in a fix.” Korea Times opines that the DPRK “seems to be gambling economically and politically with the redenomination.” Korea Herald concludes “the currency redenomination rather looks like a move back to tighter control.” Chosun Ilbo brings up the DPRK’s upcoming possible return to the Six-Party Talks: “there is a strong possibility that North Korea will take a more accommodating stance in talks with Seoul and Washington.”
Chosun Ilbo also carried a report containing excellent analysis combining the economics of the revaluation with the brutal power play at work here. To parallel its labor mobilization campaigns, the DPRK Leadership has engaged in a battle campaign of its own against the public markets over which it previously had a kind of gedogen. In July of this year the SPA Presidium set up a Ministry of Foodstuff and Daily Necessity, perhaps a harbinger of the current realities in the DPRK and an indication of North Korean tightening its belt.
All the while, the North Korean press remains mute about the currency revaluation. But KCNA’s bulletin about the 100 Day Battle Campaign can’t be an accident.
Xinhua was certainly polite in their English press release on the NK currency revaluation, but the stories in mainstream PRC media were more critical, with headlines of markets having been thrown “into great chaos” [大混乱]。
I also wonder if there is any merit to the idea that there is such a thing as a “new elite” that has clawed its way into mercantile relevance, an elite which Kim Jong-Il fears and attempted to hamstring with the new policy. Aren’t the wealthiest North Koreans already connected with the regime? It’s hard to imagine anything approximating the CCP’s dilemma in China where new-money capitalists are now in the Party. People keep looking for the new North Korean Deng Xiaoping when maybe they should be leapfrogging straight to Jiang Zemin.
There is most likely a population of North Korean citizens who have made a decent living in the markets and may not have the requisite politico-familial credentials. There has been a certain degree of pay-to-play in the DPRK in the last few years. I don’t think this constitutes a group that presents a legitimate opposition or a group of new elites.
I’d ascribe half or most of the revaluation to reasserting social control in the DPRK. The senior leadership can’t imprison or execute everyone, and previous audits and inspections had failed. So, this is a broad stroke of policy. External observers of totalitarianism project a lot of motives and interests on the leadership, when it may come down to a simple exercise of absolute power.
Waiting for a DPRK Deng Xiaoping is probably like waiting for godot.