A politically-motivated currency experiment

Early in June, I am expecting to go the Pyongyang, North Korea, and on to Seoul, South Korea, with a European parliament Interparliamentary Delegation.  Ahead of that trip, our delegation had the pleasure of hosting a high-powered South Korean delegation in Brussels on Tuesday.  It included South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-Hwan, and the South Korean Ambassador to Brussels H.E. Park Joon-Woo, plus a half dozen of their colleagues.

We had lunch in the parliament’s Members’ Salons (we ate monk-fish — I remarked to Mr. Lee, sitting next to me, that I was sorry we had no Kimchee to go with it for our guests), and were privileged to hear a briefing on a range of issues from Minister Yu, including the EU/Korea free trade agreement, regional stability, and human rights issues.

On the parliament side, we had members inter alia from the UK, Germany, Luxembourg and Slovakia (who remarked that there is a Kia factory making Kia cars in SlovaKia — geddit?).  I was struck yet again that amidst this mixture of speakers of various European languages plus Korean, the whole of the business over lunch took place without translation, and in English.  We Brits should never forget how lucky we are that our birthright includes the Lingua Franca of the whole world.

One issue arose that might have wider relevance.  It seems that as a response to North Korea’s deepening economic problems, the régime decided on a bold move — a radical reform of the currency.  This was intended to be a breakthrough and a spur to growth.  In fact it was a disastrous failure, leading to great hardship and social unrest.

Hang on.  A political reform of the currency, failing to deliver the hoped-for benefits, and leading to hardship and social unrest?  Does that remind us of anything?  I wouldn’t mention it in Athens.

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