A unified, robust Korea could cut into China’s clout and competitiveness.
Before it divided, Korea was agricultural and saw itself as a shrimp among the whales of China and Japan. But in the past decade, South Korea and its population of less than 50 million, has become one of the top 10 industrial output nations. Just as South Korea cut into Japan’s share two decades ago, a unified Korea could give Beijing a tough competitor. Thinkers in Seoul have looked to the example of Germany uniting, East and West. The creation of joint North-South industrial parks like Kaesong (recently closed by Kim Jong-un) or other projects in the Koreas, using a disciplined and talented people, could be an economic threat.
Of late, China has fixed its eye on North Korean minerals, including rare earth metals, of which the Kim family may be able to extract, over time, an estimated $3 trillion to $5 trillion – perhaps solving the North’s perennial cash problem.
Korea can never be a large nation, but the combination of the South's global impact on technology and on popular culture with the energy that a reviving northern region - which also has a younger population - could provide, is a prospect that is not without problems for Beijing.