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Something Strange Is Happening With North Korea’s Currency

  • Won strengthening since 2020 after years of steadiness
  • Currency gaining even as country hit by sanctions, pandemic
Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang on Sept. 29.
Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang on Sept. 29.Photographer: Kim Won Jin/AFP/Getty Images

In normal economies, currencies weaken in times of difficulty, but something counter-intuitive is happening in North Korea: the won is surging just as things are getting worse.

Kim Jong Un’s country has been hit by the toughest sanctions in its history, massive flood damage and an unprecedented pandemic that cut off most of its trade. The economy posted its sharpest drop in more than two decades last year, while its people are facing one of the worst food shortages in more than 10 years.