WASHINGTON - The United States should consider negotiating a separation line with China in a collapsed North Korea, a study said Thursday, warning of catastrophic consequences if Kim Jong-Un's regime suddenly falls.
The report by Rand Corp., a prominent US research institute, said that the crumbling of the totalitarian state could trigger a new, severe famine as well as a human rights crisis in a country that holds hundreds of thousands of prisoners.
The United States and its ally South Korea would almost certainly intervene, causing alarm in China, which is North Korea's primary ally, the study said.
China, whose perceived interests include stemming the flow of refugees and preventing US forces from approaching its border, could also send troops into North Korea and risk a confrontation with US or South Korean forces that could quickly escalate, the report said.
"The best way to minimize such accidents is to define a separation line for Chinese forces versus (South Korean) and US forces," the study said.
The line could be as far north as 50 kilometers (30 miles) into North Korea from the Chinese border or as far south as the capital Pyongyang, it said. Bruce Bennett, the author of the study, acknowledged that the idea would be unpopular in South Korea and evoke the division of Germany after World War II.
The Korean peninsula itself has remained split since the 1950-53 war that pitted the United States and its Western allies against a pre-industrial China.
"Establishing a line like that is really not a good idea - it's politically bad - but on the other hand, having a war with China is even worse, I think," Bennett said.
"And so ultimately we may have to create a line that says the Chinese won't go south, we won't go north," he said.