There’s something a little hard to understand about China’s continued sponsorship of North Korea. Historically it’s easy enough to understand, but for the past couple of decades it’s surely been nothing but a huge millstone around their necks. Are they really that worried about problems on the border with North Korea? Would they really lose that much face if they abandoned North Korea for good? And surely that would be more than made up for by the goodwill it would generate with the West.
I dunno. I get that questions of loyalty and fear of unrest aren’t always entirely rational. Still, it’s hard to see that China’s alliance with North Korea buys it anything at all these days. If the DPRK imploded tomorrow, wouldn’t they breathe the same sigh of relief as everyone else in the world?
This is Adam’s bailiwick, but I’ll give it a shot: no, I do not think China would feel much relief. After the colossal refugee problem, they would suddenly have a border with NATO* rather than with a crazy but (somewhat) manageable satellite state. For a country as intensely focused on its territorial integrity as China, the DPRK is a dream speedbump for invaders. Its terrain and North Korea’s world-leading use of hardened natural tunnel systems makes it borderline suicide to roll even a modern land army through there, and any aggressive move by us more or less guarantees that Seoul is toast. When the DPRK collapses, that border with China will be patrolled by F-16s, Patriot missile batteries and a land force whose size and readiness is exactly proportional to the mood of our Asia-Pacific allies at that moment.
(*) Not actually NATO, but close enough.