Experts at home and abroad believe that mutually agreed, peaceful reunification of the two Koreas would be the best scenario to bring about what President Park Geun-hye has touted as a potential economic "bonanza."
The Chosun Ilbo and the Ilmin International Relations Institute at Korea University questioned 135 North Korea experts -- 86 from overseas and 49 from South Korea.
The foreign experts come from the U.S., China, Japan, Russia and Europe and are either specialists in North Korean affairs or security or former government officials.
Asked about the prospects of reunification within the next 10 years, 80 percent of the experts said this could only come about as a result of regime collapse in the North.
Only a small handful said even mutually agreed reunification could happen in the short term, and a roughly equal number said short-term reunification would be the result of armed conflict.
Most experts said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's drive to develop nuclear weapons will result in a substantial nuclear arsenal for the North for use as a bargaining chip in international negotiations. Only a few believe Kim will give up part of the nuclear weapons program, and none that he will completely jettison it in return for economic assistance.
All 12 Chinese experts expect the North to either bolster its nuclear arsenal or maintain it at the current level.
◆ Short-Term Risks
Almost half the experts predict that Kim will consolidate his grip on power within the next three to five years, but about one-third predict he will face increasing internal instability. But the chances of a coup d'état or regime collapse are seen as slim.
Among foreign experts, opinion on this point is more evenly divided than in South Korea.
Asked to guess how much longer the Kim Jong-un regime will last, over one-third said five to 10 years, and one-third 10 to 20 years.
Consequently about half expect reunification to happen in the next 10 to 20 years, and one-fifth between five to 10 years from now.
Most say that an internal power struggle in the North would be the most likely agent to trigger a regime collapse in the North. Only one-third see economic failure as a more likely cause, and very few a public uprising.
◆ Reforms to Continue
The majority of experts believe that the North Korean regime will press ahead with reforms at the same timid rate, while one-fifth expect them to speed up. Yet there is little confidence that the reforms will help improve the North Korean economy.
Lee Dong-sun at Korea University said, "This shows that North Korea will continue pursuing limited reforms, but will not speed up the pace of change."
Almost half of the experts feel it is China rather than the U.S. that holds the key to improving the North Korean economy, while some believe Washington's and Beijing's policies will have an equal impact.
About equal numbers forecast that North Korea's economic dependency on China will remain the same or get worse.