It has absolutely nothing to do with North Korea. If Koreans want to keep money safe, they can, for example, buy US stocks and bonds. They can buy US Treasuries. Bitcoin they buy out of greed and fear of missing out. Korea is the land of the trend, of bangdwagonning.
I feel bad for all of the people who are going to be burned.
I saw an ad on YouTube, in Korean:
VOICE: How easy is it to make money in Bitcoin?
[Shot of a finger pressing a button. The price goes skyward. Finger presses again to sell, showing screen of juicy profit.]
VOICE: That's how easy it is.
I literally hear random people in coffeeshops and the subway talking about their BTC schemes. I met someone at a coffeeshop and a group of four well-dressed guys at the next table were talking about their bitcoin scheme.
I went back about a week later. A different group at the very same table were chatting about their bitcoin thing. "We know it's not very original, but we're thinking of making a new bitcoin exchange... with a twist... so we're thinking about what the twist should be!"
Go to the unrelated programming meetup, it's half about bitcoin. A few guys are working together. Their project? Something bitcoin. They weren't sure what. But gotta be bitcoin. "I'm gonna make a new cryptocurrency business based on Bitcoin! We're gonna be big boys on the blockchain! Oh, what's Ethereum? I've never heard of it."
When I go online my browser windows are festooned with various bitcoin ads in Korean.
Although quite different, this has a very similar smell to the real estate boom in Los Angeles, when every waiter and wannabe actor and person between jobs was talking about buying their million dollar shack.
That's to say, it smells like doom.
I wouldn't consider US securities to be a safe bet, especially considering risks from US's current political uncertainty. US might even cancel their debt, so US Treasuries might even be considered riskier than bitcoin.
In any case, Koreans can access safe haven assets from around the globe; they don't need bitcoin for that.
In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if, after the rage of a shakeout, bitcoin were at some point banned in South Korea. Online gambling is banned (there are public service announcement ads in the subway against it, showing gamble-a-holics in handcuffs). They might just have to classify bitcoin as gambling. Once there is a large enough group of people angry at losing their money to bitcoin mania, it could happen.
Every asset has some degree of risk. And even something that might be considered somewhat risky might even reduce the risk of a portfolio through diversification if its risk doesn't correlate significatnly with the other assets.
Btw the gov't here has outlawed bitcoin derivatives including futures, and classifies bitcoin as a speculative asset, not a currency or means of exchange. I can easily imagine bitcoin being banned here, if there is a collapse and people get burned.
At the same time the gov't is supportive of new technologies and seeders interested in blockchains.