China and Russia have different interests.
Relations between Russia and China — apparently amiable now — could come under strain due to the Korean situation. China would not likely view a “positive impact on Russia’s standing in the Asia-Pacific region” as in her best interests. Although China has occasionally seemed frustrated with North Korea, they retain a symbiotic relationship. China’s acceptance of reunification, as summarized by President Hu, envisions neither collapse of the North nor reunification under Seoul.
Chinese President Hu Jintao has said that “independent and peaceful reunification” of the two Koreas is “in the fundamental interest” of both sides.
Asked whether China believes “that reunification of the Korean peninsula will bring more stability than maintaining the status quo?” Hu said, “As a close neighbor and friend of [both Koreas], China hopes that the North and the South will improve relations and achieve reconciliation and cooperation through dialogue and consultation and eventually realize independent and peaceful reunification, and we support their efforts in this regard. This is in the fundamental interests of both the North and the South and conducive to peace and stability on the peninsula.”
The Chinese leadership has expressed support for reunification independent of the military and political influence of the U.S. and led by the two Koreas themselves several times. But it has been widely believed to prefer the status quo for strategic reasons. (Emphasis added)
With unification on the terms desired by China, it could have more influence over the entire peninsula, including the South, than now.
Reunification and the South
Reunification is decreasingly popular with young South Koreans.
The change is clear both from anecdotal evidence and public opinion polls. In a recent survey conducted by the Peace Research Institute, respondents were asked whether they see North Korea as the same state and North Koreans as their ethnic brethren.
In regard to the first question, 44.1% chose the following response: “In the past North Korea was the same state, but now I am beginning to feel it as a different state.” In regard to ethnic solidarity, a majority (52.9%) said that they still perceive North Koreans as their ethnic brethren, but the second most popular (30.2%) response was: “In the past they were our ethnic brethren, but now I am beginning to feel that they are foreigners.” And an additional 9% said: “North Koreans are as foreign as Chinese.”
Just 15 or 20 years ago, such replies would have been virtually unthinkable. Every good, patriotic Korean, regardless of his/her views on other subjects, was supposed to be an ardent believer in the glory of unification.
Absorbing the North could cost about $3 trillion and be far more difficult than was the reunification of Germany. Meanwhile, North Korean defectors continue to dribble into South Korea, twenty-one on October 30. Although the trip by sea is very dangerous, a total of 21,294 defectors are reported to have arrived by various means as of April of this year. They provide much of the South’s information about the North.