As we have previously written, there is, concomitantly, the strong likelihood of the mother of all humanitarian interventions in the event of a regime collapse. This is a country of 24.3 million people, many of whom subsist in utter poverty on the brink of starvation, and the responsibility for their welfare presently rests with the regime in Pyongyang. But if central authority disintegrates, the population will instantly become the responsibility of the so-called international community, which in this case means the militaries of the United States, South Korea and China.
In a fast-moving crisis, regional power balances for years and decades to come can be decided upon by crucial decisions made over hours or days. Such decisions may determine whether regime collapse leads to a veritable Beijing-run protectorate in the northern half of the peninsula or the eventual unification of the two Koreas. A reunified Greater Korea would perforce be run from Seoul, as South Korea’s population of 48.5 million is twice the size of North Korea’s, and its economy by some estimates is 37 times as large. And remember, Beijing is Seoul’s largest trading partner. That means that even in the case of a Communist collapse in the North, China’s very economic heft and geographical proximity will allow it to find a way to take advantage of any new political reality. Conversely, Japan, particularly because of the bad memories associated with the 1910-1945 occupation, may find it hard to have as close relations with a new Korean super-state as China.
Nevertheless, a unified Korea would be very nervous about ending up overly dependent upon China, given its size, proximity and history of periodic domination over the peninsula. It is likely that a Greater Korean state would, with the help of the United States and maybe Russia, seek to balance China and Japan against each other.