The Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), Russia's foremost national policy think tank, forecast in a special report that North Korea will be absorbed by South Korea between 2021 to 2030, entering a de facto stage of reunification. The IMEMO report, which projects global trends until 2030, was published in September.
The report says that the transfer of power from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to his third son Jong-un will lead to a power struggle between "bureaucrats" with foreign business connections and "military and security officials" with no outside links. This will result in the creation of an interim government in North Korea under the control of the international community, leading to steps to disarm the North and modernize its economy. As a consequence, according to IMEMO, the North Korean economy will be gradually absorbed by South Korea. In the process, around one million supporters of the former North Korean regime could flee either to Russia or to China, it adds.
There have been many scenarios forecasting the collapse of North Korea, most of them from the perspective of western countries. The IMEMO report carries added weight since it was created by the leading state-run think tank in Russia, which is an ally of North Korea and is very familiar with its inner workings.
The report makes two particularly interesting points. One is that reunification under South Korea would end up helping Russia's national interests because it would ensure a stable economic partner. The other point is that, although most experts believe that the North Korean economy will be absorbed into the South Korean economy through a process led by the South, others warn that South Korea and China may compete for control over North Korea, where Seoul could end up as the loser.
There is no way that China, which is more familiar with North Korea's inner workings than Russia, is unaware that the life span of the North's regime is running out. But the reason Beijing continues to support the North Korean regime is that it believes that the North serves as a valuable buffer zone in Northeast Asia, where the interests of China and the U.S. clash.
North Korea's drive to pursue nuclear weapons and missiles as a means of prolonging the lifespan of the regime could lead to an unwanted confrontation between Washington and Beijing. There is no reason why China's attitude to a peaceful and unified Korean Peninsula should be different to Russia's. The focus of South Korea's diplomacy with China should be to convince Beijing of this reality.