Photo/IllutrationChinese yuan bills (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

SEOUL--The Chinese yuan apparently has growing currency in North Korea and is commonly used in daily transactions such as paying taxi fares and restaurant bills.

That's according to hundreds of North Koreans who defected and were surveyed by Lee Jong-kyu, a fellow at South Korea's leading think tank, the Korea Development Institute.

The situation is a far cry from the 1990s, when only 4.9 percent of defectors said foreign currencies, including the U.S. dollar, were commonly used in daily transactions.

Lee's study targeted around 1,000 defectors. The results, released Feb. 28, found that 44.3 percent of defectors between 2011 and 2015 said foreign currencies were often used for transactions. However, 52.5 percent of defectors after 2013 said the yuan is chiefly used nowadays.

The survey highlighted the fact that China's currency is increasingly in circulation in North Korea, which helps explain why the reclusive country's commodity prices and exchange rates have remained relatively stable.

The Pyongyang regime's decision to revalue its won currency in November 2009 eroded public trust in the monetary system by 2013 as it wiped out the savings of many North Koreans, sparking incidents of unrest and a thriving black market.

North Korea's official exchange rate is pegged at 108 won to the dollar. But on the black market, $1 (107 yen) fetches about 8,000 won.

Since 2013, the U.S. dollar has continuously traded at around 8,000 won. There are suspicions that Pyongyong has reduced the volume of won in circulation amid the influx of foreign currencies in daily transactions.

According to a researcher who visited North Korea, restaurant and taxi tabs are commonly paid for in foreign currencies.

“In the short term, the exchange rate and commodity prices are stable. But looking at the medium and long term, North Korea's economic independence could be lost,” said Lee.