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Visualizing the World’s Busiest Ports

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The World's Busiest Ports

The World’s Busiest Ports

An estimated 90% of world trade is facilitated by maritime shipping, and as trade volumes continue to increase, the world’s busiest ports continue to grow larger and more efficient to meet demand.

In fact, in just the last four years, the median annual volume of the top 50 ports jumped from 5.49 to 5.86 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs).

Here are the world’s 20 largest ports, using the most recent data from the World Shipping Council:

RankPort NameCountry2016 Volume2012 Volume4-Year Change
1Shanghai🇨🇳 China37.132.5+14%
2Singapore🇸🇬 Singapore30.931.7-2%
3Shenzhen🇨🇳 China24.022.9+5%
4Ningbo-Zhoushan🇨🇳 China21.616.8+28%
5Busan🇰🇷 S. Korea19.917.0+17%
6Hong Kong🇭🇰 China19.823.1-14%
7Guangzhou Harbor🇨🇳 China18.914.7+28%
8Qingdao🇨🇳 China18.014.5+24%
9Jebel Ali🇦🇪 U.A.E.15.713.3+18%
10Tianjin🇨🇳 China14.512.3+18%
11Port Klang🇲🇾 Malaysia13.210.0+32%
12Rotterdam🇳🇱 Netherlands12.411.9+4%
13Kaohsiung🇹🇼 Taiwan10.59.8+7%
14Antwerp🇧🇪 Belgium10.08.6+16%
15Dalian🇨🇳 China9.68.9+8%
16Xiamen🇨🇳 China9.67.2+34%
17Hamburg🇩🇪 Germany8.918.890%
18Los Angeles🇺🇸 U.S.A.8.98.1+10%
19Tanjung Pelepas🇲🇾 Malaysia8.37.7+8%
20Keihin🇯🇵 Japan7.67.9-3%

Volume is measured in millions of TEUs

Only five of the top 20 ports in the world are now located outside of East Asia. The Port of Los Angeles is the only U.S. entrant in the top 20, and only three European ports made the cut.

Today, trade is more likely than ever to flow through the South China Sea.

Ruling the High Seas

From dollar store knick-knacks to nuclear reactor components, China’s manufacturing output is a critical link in the global supply chain. Getting all those products to consumers and companies around the world is big business, and over the past decade, China has emerged as the heavyweight champion of world shipping.

While Danish company, Maersk, is still the largest shipping line, an ever increasing share of the world’s container traffic is moving through Chinese controlled ports. An estimated two-thirds of container traffic now passes through Chinese ports or ports that have received Chinese investment.

New Kids on the Block

While shipping volumes on a global basis continue to rise, not all of that growth has been spread around equally. This is particularly true for established titans of the South China Sea.

At the outset of this millennium, Hong Kong and Singapore were home to the busiest ports in the world. Today, both are facing increased competition from neighboring ports, as well as declining volumes:

south china sea ports

In contrast, the massive Port of Shanghai saw a 71% increase over the last decade, and many other Chinese ports has seen significant growth in volume in recent years.

If China’s One Belt One Road initiatives and investments in global port facilities are any indication, the country’s domination of maritime shipping will only continue to strengthen in the near term.

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Meet China’s 113 Cities With More Than One Million People

China has the same amount of 1 million+ population cities as both North America and the EU combined. Here they all are, from biggest to smallest.

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In 2010, China’s urban-dwelling population surpassed its rural population, marking a monumental demographic milestone in the country’s history.

Just three decades prior, China looked markedly different. Only 20% of Chinese citizens lived in urban areas, and many of today’s metropolises were still small villages.

Since then, huge swaths of the population have moved from farmland into cities, a shift that is still causing many urban areas to swell in size. Case in point is the growth of Guangzhou, which lays just north of Hong Kong. From 1980 to today, more than 18 million people moved into the city. A 40-year-old born in Guangzhou will have seen their small, regional city mushroom into one of the largest urban amalgamations on Earth.

Of course, this is just one example of a process that has been altering the landscape of cities from the coast of the South China Sea out to the Eurasian Steppe.

The One Million+ Club

According to Demographia’s World Urban Areas report, there are now 113 urban areas in China that surpass the one million population threshold. In comparison, North America and the EU combined have 114 urban areas that surpass one million people.

Below is a full breakdown of China’s one million+ club:

Meet China’s 113 Cities With More Than One Million People

Unparalleled Urbanization

The massive scale of rural-to-urban migration isn’t just a major development within China, it has no parallel in modern history.

Since 1980, over half a billion people have moved from the countryside to an urban center. The construction of these new cities took a staggering amount of raw materials. Few data points highlight the scale of construction better than China’s cement production in recent years.

china cement production

In 2018, Chinese construction used about 8x the amount of second place India, which has a similar population size.

Megacities on Megacities

Cities with over 10 million inhabitants are defined as megacities. China is already home to six megacities, with another three urban areas well on the way to achieving that status.

In fact, some megacities within close proximity have grown so large that they are merging into contiguous urban areas. The most prominent example of this phenomenon is in the Pearl River Delta region of China.

The Pearl River Delta region is not only home to the megacities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, but also a number of other sizable cities that are quickly merging into a unified continuous entity containing up to 50 million people. Demographia still considers most of these cities to be separate labor markets ⁠— but as more connections form across the region, the Pearl River Delta could be poised to become the largest unified urban area in human history.

Westward Migration

As megacities like Shanghai and Shenzhen have grown and developed, they’ve also become more expensive places to live and do business. The economic evolution of these cities has created opportunity for smaller, less developed cities to woo both residents and businesses.

This natural reshuffling has led to impressive growth in cities further inland like Zhengzhou, which sits 350 miles (630 kms) east of the coastline where many of the country’s largest cities reside.

Using the “build it and they will come” approach, the city converted a 160 square mile (410 sq km) patch of empty land into the Zhengzhou Airport Economy Zone (ZAEZ). The project has proven wildly successful, and the city even has the nickname “Apple City” thanks to the presence of Foxconn (which produces the iPhone) and a cluster of other smartphone manufacturers.

This airport-centered zone was developed with the full political and economic backing of Beijing as part of a broader effort to increase economic activity in China’s interior cities. Zhengzhou has nearly tripled in size over the last decade, a powerful testament to the shift in economic momentum.

China’s Inland All-Stars:

Urban AreaPopulation 2010Population 2019Change (2010-19)
Chengdu4.8M12.1M+152%
Xi'an4.0M7.1M+77%
Wuhan5.2M8.5M+63%
Chongqing5.4M8.3M+53%

Compare the numbers above to fast-growing cities in the U.S., such as Las Vegas or Phoenix, which managed 33% and 12% growth respectively over the last decade.

If this trend continues, China’s one million+ club will most likely expand once fresh census data is released in 2021.

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How China Overtook the U.S. as the World’s Major Trading Partner

China has become the world’s major trading partner – and now, 128 of 190 countries trade more with China than they do with the United States.

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How China Overtook the U.S. As the World’s Trade Partner

In 2018, trade accounted for 59% of global GDP, up nearly 1.5 times since 1980.

Over this timeframe, international trade has transformed significantly—not just in terms of volume and composition, but also in terms of the countries that the rest of the world leans on for their most important trade relationships.

Now, a critical shift is occurring in the landscape, and it may surprise you to learn that China has already usurped the U.S. as the world’s most dominant trading partner.

Trading Places: A Global Shift

Today’s animation comes from the Lowy Institute, and it pulls data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) database on bilateral trade flows, to determine whether the U.S. or China is a bigger trading partner for each country from 1980 to 2018.

The results are stark: before 2000, the U.S. was at the helm of global trade, as over 80% of countries traded with the U.S. more than they did with China. By 2018, that number had dropped sharply to just 30%, as China swiftly took top position in 128 of 190 countries.

The researchers pinpoint China’s 2001 entry into the World Trade Organization as a major turning point in China’s international trade relationships. The dramatic shift that followed is clearly demonstrated in the visualization above—between 2005 and 2010, a number of countries tipped towards Chinese influence, especially in Africa and Asia.

Over time, China’s dominance has grown dramatically. It’s no wonder then, that China and the U.S. have a contentious trade relationship themselves, as both nations battle it out for first place.

A Tale of Two Economies

The United States and China are competitors in many ways, but to be successful they must rely on each other for mutually beneficial trade. However, it’s also the major issue on which they are struggling to reach a common ground.

The U.S. has been vocal about negotiating more balanced trade agreements with China. In fact, a mid-2018 poll shows that 62% of Americans consider their trade relationship with China to be unfair.

Since 2018, both parties have faced a fraught relationship, imposing major tariffs on consumer and industrial goods—and retaliations are reaching greater and greater heights:

trade war china us

While a delicate truce has been reached at the moment, the trade war has caused a significant drag on global growth, and the World Bank estimates it will continue to have an effect into 2021.

At the same time, China’s sphere of influence continues to grow.

One Belt, One Road, One Trade Direction?

China seems to have a finger in every pie. The nation is financing a flurry of megaprojects across Asia and Africa—but one broader initiative stands above the rest.

China’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) Initiative, planned for a 2049 completion, is advancing at a furious pace. In 2019 alone, Chinese companies signed contracts worth up to $128 billion to start Chinese large-scale infrastructure projects in various countries.

While building new highways and ports abroad is beneficial for Chinese financiers, OBOR is also about creating new markets and trade routes for Chinese goods in Asia. Recent research found that the OBOR program’s infrastructure expansion and logistics performance improvements led to positive effects on China’s exports.

Nevertheless, it’s clear the new infrastructure network is already transforming global trade, possibly cementing China’s position as the world’s major trading partner for years to come.

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