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Visualizing Global Shipping Container Traffic

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Shipping container traffic

shipping containers china u.s.

Visualizing Global Shipping Container Traffic

Globalization owes a lot to the humble shipping container.

In the distant past, loading a ship was a complicated affair involving pallets, crates, and winches. This process was labor-intensive and expensive, meaning most goods were simply not worth shipping overseas.

In the 1970s, the standardized shipping container solved this problem on a wide scale and turned the world economy on its head. This standardization drove the cost of shipping down as the efficiency of ports skyrocketed. Modern ports can now move upwards of 70 containers per crane per hour.

It doesn’t matter anymore where you produce something now, because transport costs aren’t important.

– Rainer Horn, Hapag-Lloyd

Made in China

With the barrier of shipping costs effectively removed, production began to migrate to countries with cheaper production costs.

China is at the center of this new paradigm: nearly one-third of all global containers move through Chinese ports, and seven of the top 10 ports in the world are all located in China.

Countries Moving the Most Units

Here are the 50 countries with the most 20-foot containers passing through their ports:

RankCountry20-Foot Container Count (2017)
1China (inc. H.K.)234,489,920
2United States51,425,464
3Singapore33,600,000
4South Korea27,427,000
5Malaysia24,719,000
6Japan21,904,444
7U.A.E.21,280,900
8Germany19,447,600
9Spain17,065,000
10Netherlands13,951,000
11Indonesia13,859,500
12India13,259,000
13Vietnam12,284,395
14Belgium11,857,009
15Thailand10,732,000
16Italy10,698,030
17United Kingdom10,530,328
18Brazil10,049,282
19Turkey9,927,385
20Saudi Arabia8,404,000
21Philippines8,196,961
22Australia7,693,643
23Egypt7,430,000
24Panama6,900,000
25France6,714,551
26Mexico6,305,000
27Canada6,298,590
28Sri Lanka6,000,000
29Oman4,784,712
30South Africa4,634,900
31Morocco4,570,000
32Russia4,515,000
33Greece4,461,000
34Chile4,189,669
35Colombia3,444,503
36New Zealand3,227,100
37Portugal3,220,100
38Malta3,203,000
39Iran3,091,000
40Pakistan2,985,600
41Israel2,865,028
42Bangladesh2,587,000
43Poland2,459,900
44Peru2,368,989
45Ecuador1,944,135
46Finland1,920,800
47Argentina1,750,102
48Jamaica1,689,000
49Nigeria1,656,000
50Sweden1,593,450

Asian countries dominate shipping container traffic, taking up four of the top five spots. Singapore, with a population of just 5.4 million, moved nearly 34 million 20-foot containers in 2017. That’s more than Italy, France, Russia, Sweden, and the U.K. combined.

The United States is still the number two country in the world in terms of the number of containers handled. Two massive ports in Los Angeles control over a quarter of the North American market share, and the Port of New York & New Jersey is the largest on the Eastern Seaboard.

The Stack Keeps Growing

Except for a brief slip in 2009, the number of containers moving through ports has increased every year this millennium so far.

Global container shipping chart

In spite of the recent volley of tariff actions, there appears to be smooth sailing ahead for the growth of containerized shipping.

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Markets

The Population of China in Perspective

China is the world’s most populous country. But how does the population of China compare to the rest of the world?

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population of china

The Population of China in Perspective

China is the world’s most populous country with an astounding 1.44 billion citizens. Altogether, the size of the population of China is larger than nearly four regions combined: South America, Europe (excluding Russia), the U.S. & Canada, and Australia & New Zealand.

Using data from the United Nations, this unconventional map reveals the comparative size of China’s population next to a multitude of other countries.

Note: To keep the visualization easy to read, we’ve simplified the shapes representing countries. For example, although we’ve included Alaska and Hawaii in U.S. population totals, the U.S. is represented by the contiguous states map only.

A Historical Perspective

Looking at history, the population of China has more than doubled since the 1950s. The country was the first in the world to hit one billion people in 1980.

However, in 1979, in an attempt to control the burgeoning population, the infamous one-child policy was introduced, putting controls on how many children Chinese citizens could have.

While the government eventually recognized the negative implications of this policy, it appeared to be too little, too late. The two-child policy was introduced in 2016, but it has not yet reversed the current slowdown in population growth.

YearChina's Population (Millions)Annual Rate of Growth (%)Median AgeFertility Rate
1955612.22.00%22.26.11
1960660.41.53%21.35.48
1965724.21.86%19.86.15
1970827.62.70%19.36.30
1975926.22.28%20.34.85
19801,000.11.55%21.93.01
19851,075.61.47%23.52.52
19901,176.91.82%24.92.73
19951,240.91.07%27.41.83
20001,290.60.79%30.01.62
20051,330.80.62%32.61.61
20101,368.80.57%35.01.62
20151,406.80.55%36.71.64
20161,414.00.51%37.01.65
20171,421.00.49%37.01.65
20181,427.60.47%37.01.65
20191,433.80.43%37.01.65
20201,439.30.39%38.41.69

The fertility rate has been consistently falling from over 6 births per woman in 1955 to 1.69 in 2020. Today, the median age in China is 38 years old, rising from 22 in 1955. Longer life spans and fewer births form a demographic trend that has many social and economic implications.

Overall, China’s young population is becoming scarcer, meaning that the domestic labor market will eventually begin shrinking. Additionally, the larger share of elderly citizens will require publicly-funded resources, resulting in a heavier societal and financial burden.

Strength in Numbers

Despite these trends, however, China’s current population remains massive, constituting almost 20% of the world’s total population. Right now 71% of the Chinese population is between the ages of 15 and 65 years old, meaning that the labor supply is still immense.

Here are the populations of 65 countries from various regions of the world—and added together, you’ll see they still fall short of the population of China:

CountryPopulation Region
🇺🇸 U.S.331,002,651North America
🇨🇦 Canada37,742,154North America
🇧🇷 Brazil212,559,417South America
🇨🇴 Colombia50,882,891South America
🇦🇷 Argentina45,195,774South America
🇵🇪 Peru32,971,854South America
🇻🇪 Venezuela28,435,940South America
🇨🇱 Chile19,116,201South America
🇪🇨 Ecuador17,643,054South America
🇧🇴 Bolivia11,673,021South America
🇵🇾 Paraguay7,132,538South America
🇺🇾 Uruguay3,473,730South America
🇬🇾 Guyana786,552South America
🇸🇷 Suriname586,632South America
🇬🇫 French Guyana298,682South America
🇫🇰 Falkland Islands3,480South America
🇦🇺 Australia25,499,884Oceania
🇳🇿 New Zealand4,822,233Oceania
🇩🇪 Germany83,783,942Europe
🇫🇷 France65,273,511Europe
🇳🇱 Netherlands17,134,872Europe
🇧🇪 Belgium11,589,623Europe
🇦🇹 Austria9,006,398Europe
🇨🇭 Switzerland8,654,622Europe
🇱🇺 Luxembourg625,978Europe
🇲🇨 Monaco39,242Europe
🇱🇮 Liechtenstein38,128Europe
🇮🇹 Italy60,461,826Europe
🇪🇸 Spain46,754,778Europe
🇬🇷 Greece10,423,054Europe
🇵🇹 Portugal10,196,709Europe
🇷🇸 Serbia8,737,371Europe
🇭🇷 Croatia4,105,267Europe
🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina3,280,819Europe
🇦🇱 Albania2,877,797Europe
🇲🇰 North Macedonia2,083,374Europe
🇸🇮 Slovenia2,078,938Europe
🇲🇪 Montenegro628,066Europe
🇲🇹 Malta441,543Europe
🇦🇩 Andorra77,265Europe
🇸🇲 San Marino33,931Europe
🇬🇮 Gibraltar33,691Europe
🇻🇦 Vatican City801Europe
🇬🇧 United Kingdom67,886,011Europe
🇸🇪 Sweden10,099,265Europe
🇩🇰 Denmark5,792,202Europe
🇫🇮 Finland5,540,720Europe
🇳🇴 Norway5,421,241Europe
🇮🇪 Ireland4,937,786Europe
🇱🇹 Lithuania2,722,289Europe
🇱🇻 Latvia1,886,198Europe
🇪🇪 Estonia1,326,535Europe
🇮🇸 Iceland341,243Europe
Channel Islands173,863Europe
🇮🇲 Isle of Man85,033Europe
🇫🇴 Faroe Islands48,863Europe
🇺🇦 Ukraine43,733,762Europe
🇵🇱 Poland37,846,611Europe
🇷🇴 Romania19,237,691Europe
🇨🇿 Czechia10,708,981Europe
🇭🇺 Hungary9,660,351Europe
🇧🇾 Belarus9,449,323Europe
🇧🇬 Bulgaria6,948,445Europe
🇸🇰 Slovakia5,459,642Europe
🇲🇩 Moldova4,033,963Europe
Total1,431,528,252

To break it down even further, here’s a look at the population of each of the regions listed above:

  • Australia and New Zealand: 30.3 million
  • Europe (excluding Russia): 601.7 million
  • South America: 430.8 million
  • The U.S. and Canada: 368.7 million

Combined their population is 1.432 billion compared to China’s 1.439 billion.

Overall, the population of China has few comparables. India is one exception, with a population of 1.38 billion. As a continent, Africa comes in close as well at 1.34 billion people. Here’s a breakdown of Africa’s population for further comparison.

CountryPopulation Region
🇳🇬 Nigeria206,139,589Africa
🇬🇭 Ghana31,072,940Africa
🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire26,378,274Africa
🇳🇪 Niger24,206,644Africa
🇧🇫 Burkina Faso20,903,273Africa
🇲🇱 Mali20,250,833Africa
🇸🇳 Senegal16,743,927Africa
🇬🇳 Guinea13,132,795Africa
🇧🇯 Benin12,123,200Africa
🇹🇬 Togo8,278,724Africa
🇸🇱 Sierra Leone7,976,983Africa
🇱🇷 Liberia5,057,681Africa
🇲🇷 Mauritania4,649,658Africa
🇬🇲 Gambia2,416,668Africa
🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau1,968,001Africa
🇨🇻 Cabo Verde555,987Africa
🇸🇭 Saint Helena6,077Africa
🇿🇦 South Africa59,308,690Africa
🇳🇦 Namibia2,540,905Africa
🇧🇼 Botswana2,351,627Africa
🇱🇸 Lesotho2,142,249Africa
🇸🇿 Eswatini1,160,164Africa
🇪🇬 Egypt102,334,404Africa
🇩🇿 Algeria43,851,044Africa
🇸🇩 Sudan43,849,260Africa
🇲🇦 Morocco36,910,560Africa
🇹🇳 Tunisia11,818,619Africa
🇱🇾 Libya6,871,292Africa
🇪🇭 Western Sahara597,339Africa
🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of the Congo89,561,403Africa
🇦🇴 Angola32,866,272Africa
🇨🇲 Cameroon26,545,863Africa
🇹🇩 Chad16,425,864Africa
🇨🇬 Congo5,518,087Africa
🇨🇫 Central African Republic4,829,767Africa
🇬🇦 Gabon2,225,734Africa
🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea1,402,985Africa
🇸🇹 Sao Tome and Principe219,159Africa
🇪🇹 Ethiopia114,963,588Africa
🇹🇿 Tanzania59,734,218Africa
🇰🇪 Kenya53,771,296Africa
🇺🇬 Uganda45,741,007Africa
🇲🇿 Mozambique31,255,435Africa
🇲🇬 Madagascar27,691,018Africa
🇲🇼 Malawi19,129,952Africa
🇿🇲 Zambia18,383,955Africa
🇸🇴 Somalia15,893,222Africa
🇿🇼 Zimbabwe14,862,924Africa
🇷🇼 Rwanda12,952,218Africa
🇧🇮 Burundi11,890,784Africa
🇸🇸 South Sudan11,193,725Africa
🇪🇷 Eritrea3,546,421Africa
🇲🇺 Mauritius1,271,768Africa
🇩🇯 Djibouti988,000Africa
🇷🇪 Réunion895,312Africa
🇰🇲 Comoros869,601Africa
🇾🇹 Mayotte272,815Africa
🇸🇨 Seychelles98,347Africa
Total1,340,598,147

Future Outlook on the Population of China

Whether or not China’s population growth is slowing appears to be less relevant when looking at its sheer size. While India is expected to match the country’s population by 2026, China will remain one of the world’s largest economic powerhouses regardless.

It is estimated, however, that the population of China will drop below one billion people by the year 2100—bumping the nation to third place in the ranking of the world’s most populous countries. At the same time, it’s possible that China’s economic dominance may be challenged by these same demographic tailwinds as time moves forward.

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Mining

Visualizing China’s Dominance in Rare Earth Metals

Rare earth deposits exist all over the planet, but the majority of the world’s rare earth metals are produced and refined in China.

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China's rare earth exports

China’s Dominance in Rare Earth Metals

Did you know that a single iPhone contains eight different rare earth metals?

From smartphones and electric vehicles to x-rays and guided-missiles, several modern technologies wouldn’t be what they are without rare earth metals. Also known as rare earth elements or simply “rare earths”, this group of 17 elements is critical to a number of wide-ranging industries.

Although deposits of rare earth metals exist all over the world, the majority of both mining and refining occurs in China. The above graphic from CSIS China Power Project tracks China’s exports of rare earth metals in 2019, providing a glimpse of the country’s dominating presence in the global supply chain.

China’s Top Rare Earth Export Destinations

Around 88% of China’s 2019 rare earth exports went to just five countries, which are among the world’s technological and economic powerhouses.

Export DestinationShare of China's Rare Earth ExportsTop Rare Earth Import (tons)
Japan36.0%Cerium
United States33.4%Lanthanum
Netherlands9.6%Lanthanum
South Korea5.4%Lanthanum
Italy3.5%Cerium
Rest of the World12.1%Cerium

Japan and the U.S. are by far the largest importers, collectively accounting for more than two-thirds of China’s rare earth metals exports.

Lanthanum, found in hybrid vehicles and smartphones, was China’s largest rare earth export by volume, followed by cerium. In dollar terms, terbium was the most expensive—generating $57.9 million from just 115 metric tons of exports.

Why China’s Dominance Matters

As the world transitions to a cleaner future, the demand for rare earth metals is expected to nearly double by 2030, and countries are in need of a reliable supply chain.

China’s virtual monopoly in rare earth metals not only gives it a strategic upper hand over heavily dependent countries like the U.S.—which imports 80% of its rare earths from China—but also makes the supply chain anything but reliable.

“China will not rule out using rare earth exports as leverage to deal with the [Trade War] situation.”

—Gao Fengping et al., 2019, in a report funded by the Chinese government via Horizon Advisory.

A case in point comes from 2010 when China reduced its rare earth export quotas by 37%, which in part resulted in skyrocketing rare earth prices worldwide.

average prices of rare earth imports

The resulting supply chain disruption was significant enough to push the EU, the U.S., and Japan to jointly launch a dispute settlement case through the World Trade Organization, which was ruled against China in 2014.

On the brighter side, the increase in prices led to an influx of capital in the rare earth mining industry, financing more than 200 projects outside China. While this exploration boom was short-lived, it was successful in kick-starting production in other parts of the world.

Breaking China’s Rare Earth Monopoly

China’s dominance in rare earths is the result of years of evolving industrial policies since the 1980s, ranging from tax rebates to export restrictions. In order to reduce dependence on China, the U.S. and Japan have made it a priority to diversify their sources of rare earth metals.

For starters, the U.S. has added rare earth metals to its list of critical minerals, and President Donald Trump recently issued an executive order to encourage local production. On the other side of the world, Japan is making efforts to reduce China’s share of its total rare earth imports to less than 50% by 2025.

Increasing rare earth mining outside of China has reduced China’s global share of mining, down from 97.7% in 2010 to 62.9% in 2019. But mining is merely one piece of the puzzle.

Ultimately, the large majority of rare earth refining, 80%, resides in China. Therefore, even rare earths mined overseas are sent to China for final processing. New North American refining facilities are being set up to tackle this, but the challenge lies in managing the environmental impacts of processing rare earths.

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