Balance of Superpowers: Comparing the US and Chinese Armed Forces - Infographic
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Balance of Superpowers: Comparing the US and Chinese Armed Forces

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Note: to see the bigger version of this infographic, click here.
Balance of Superpowers: Comparing the US and Chinese Armed Forces

Balance of Superpowers: Comparing the US and Chinese Armed Forces

Note: to see the bigger version of this infographic, click here.

Whether China is busy championing trade deals outside of the US dollar, buying up some of the world’s biggest companies, taking over foreign housing markets, or building massive networks of nuclear or wind power grids, it is clear that the country is a world power to be reckoned with.

To be considered a true force, China also needs to be able to back up its economic and political might with a top notch military. Today’s infographic compares the armed forces of China with the United States.

In terms of military spending per capita, China is the new kid on the block. Although it has increased in recent years, China is still behind Russia, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. However, the country does make up for it with in absolute terms by its sheer population. In terms of total military expenditures, China spends the second most worldwide with a total of approximately $216 billion per year, which is about one-third of the US.

In GDP terms, China spends about 2.1% of its annual GDP on military, and the United States spends 3.8%.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two superpowers is influence in other parts of the world. The United States has 133 military bases outside of its territory, and China has zero. More specifically, the United States has bases in multiple jurisdictions that surround China: South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Japan, Singapore, Guam, Afghanistan, and Diego Garcia, a set of small islands in Indian Ocean.

Original graphic by: SCMP

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Mapped: Geopolitical Risk by Economy

Prior to invading Ukraine, Russia had one of the highest levels of geopolitical risk. How does geopolitical uncertainty vary around the world?

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World map with countries coloured according to their level of geopolitical risk. Pakistan has the most geopolitical risk while New Zealand has the least.
The following content is sponsored by The Hinrich Foundation

Geopolitical Risk by Economy

The Russia-Ukraine war highlighted how geopolitical risk can up-end supply chains and weaponize trade. More precisely, the war led to trade sanctions, a food crisis, and energy shortages.

This graphic from The Hinrich Foundation, the third in a five-part series on the sustainability of trade, explores how geopolitical risk differs by economy. It pulls data from the 2022 Sustainable Trade Index, which The Hinrich Foundation produced in collaboration with the IMD World Competitiveness Center.

Breaking Down Geopolitical Risk

Geopolitical risk has a strong correlation with GDP per capita, meaning that developing economies typically have less stability.

The following table shows how geopolitical risk breaks down for select economies that are covered in the 2022 Sustainable Trade Index. A lower number indicates less stability, while a higher number indicates more stability.

EconomyGeopolitical Stability
Pakistan5.2
Myanmar9.9
Bangladesh16.0
India17.0
Mexico17.9
Philippines18.9
Papua New Guinea20.3
Russia20.8
Thailand24.5
Indonesia28.3
Ecuador34.4
China37.7
Peru38.7
Cambodia41.0
Vietnam44.8
Sri Lanka45.3
U.S.46.2
Chile49.1
Hong Kong50.0
Malaysia50.9
UK61.3
South Korea62.7
Laos69.3
Taiwan72.2
Australia73.1
Japan87.3
Canada90.1
Brunei90.6
Singapore97.2
New Zealand97.6

Source: World Bank, based on the latest available data from 2020. Values measure perceptions of political instability and violence, which are a proxy and precursor to geopolitical risk.

New Zealand has the highest level of stability, likely supported by the fact that it is a small nation with no direct neighbors. The country has taken steps to repair relationships with Indigenous peoples, through land and monetary settlements, though challenges remain. 

The U.S. has moderate stability. It has been impacted by increasing political polarization that has led to people having lower trust in institutions and more negative views of people from the opposing party. As the world’s largest economy, the U.S. also faces geopolitical risk such as escalating tariffs in the U.S.-China trade war. 

Want more insights into trade sustainability?

Sustainable Trade Index 2022 Report Cover

Download the 2022 Sustainable Trade Index for free.

Russia has one of the lowest levels of stability. The country’s invasion of Ukraine has led to war along with economic roadblocks that restrict normal trade activity. For instance, sanctions against Russia and blocked Ukrainian ports led to a food shortage. The two countries supply a third of the world’s wheat and 75% of the sunflower oil supply. 

The Impact of Geopolitical Uncertainty on Trade

Geopolitical risk can lead to civil unrest and war. It also has economic consequences including trade disruptions. As a result of the Russia-Ukraine war, the World Bank estimates that “world trade will drop by 1%, lowering global GDP by 0.7% and GDP of low-income economies by 1%.” A separate study found that Pakistan’s history of political instability has negatively affected trade in the country.

Of course, geopolitical risk is just one component of an economy’s trade sustainability. The Sustainable Trade Index uses a number of other metrics to measure economies’ ability to trade in a way that balances economic growth, societal development, and environmental protection. To learn more, visit the STI landing page where you can download the report for free.

The fourth piece in this series will explore air pollution by economy, and how it is influenced by economic activity such as trade.

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