Foundation of a Superpower: How Geography Shaped China

There are 195 countries in this world, and most of them are unique in several ways. They possess their own history, culture, and citizens that separate them from the rest of the world in one way or another. An important factor as to how and why nations have developed the way they have is their geography. Geography is the very foundation of any nation, influencing their growth, security and wealth in a significant way. Geographical features dictate the national and international policy of every country, which is why we want to take a look at several nations, this time China, to analyze how geography shapes and influences their every decision.

South China Sea: China’s Artificial Islands

China’s location on the world map is a mixed bag for the nation. For one, the nation is set on fertile ground enabling multiple harvests per season, in turn fueling the rapid growth we’ve seen from China in the past decades. Being able to feed your citizens domestically is an important factor to grow, but it is only a minor puzzle piece in sustaining their growth. Access to open waters in order to import and export is one of the main reasons why rich nations became rich over time – free access to waterways. It was either through favorable sea trade routes or through a fleet that nations like Britain, the Dutch and Spain were able to develop the way they did. China, however, never really needed to expand beyond today’s borders. But as their population keeps growing and their naval access is threatened, there is cause for them to worry.

China depends massively on the South China Sea, which leaves them at the mercy of the US, which are allies to most of the adjacent countries, enabling them to block China’s sea access in case of a conflict. That is one of the reasons why China has created artificial islands all across the South China Sea to counteract this possibility in the case of conflict and to secure a passage into the world by water.

A passage that has been increasingly important as China not only exports and imports a lot, but also started investing heavily on the African continent. The nation’s efforts in Africa can almost be described as a neo-colonialization movement, with major corporations buying vast amounts of land in Africa, increasing Chinese influence on the continent.

Tibet and North Korea: Buffer Countries

Ever wondered why China aggressively backs North Korea? Well, there surely are several reasons, but one of them is the USA, which has a heavy presence and is a treasured ally of South Korea. If worse comes to worst, North Korea would at the very least act as a buffer zone in case of a conflict. But that’s not the only nation that has geographical advantages for China.

China’s occupation of Tibet is a fiercely discussed topic as to how and why it should or shouldn’t be a part of the superpower. Casting all the usual arguments aside, there are two very simple reasons why Tibet is an important asset to China. Apart from American allies off the coast to the east, China is sitting right next to two other major countries: India and Russia. While Russia to the north is an ally, India and China have been at odds for a while, with unresolved border disputes that keep the nations on edge. Tibet sits right in between both of them, with the high Himalayas making it impossible for India to attack, even if they wanted to. And even if it was possible, Tibet is huge and scarcely populated, resulting in long supply lines for armies to actually get into the country.

If that wasn’t enough, China’s fertile lands are only as fertile as their water supply. With two of their major rivers originating in Tibet, whoever controls Tibet also controls the majority of the water supply for China. A dependency no superpower would ever accept.

Geography: Natural Borders are Key

The most important factor of a country’s security is natural borders. Big rivers or mountain ranges provide reliable shields against invasions. While China does have natural borders in place in some areas, others are more vulnerable than they would like them to. Their borders to South East Asia (Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam) for example have not been shaped by geography, but war and conflict, thus are artificial. That means that China is theoretically vulnerable to the south. To those who may now say that those little countries are hardly a threat to a vast country like China – be reminded that Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar combined have half the trained soldiers of China. They won’t conquer, but they’ll hurt them good.

This is all but a limited look at how China’s geography influences the country and their actions, but it may shed a light on a few issues that are as relevant as ever in today’s political climate.

About Andreas Salmen

Born and raised in Germany, learned a job in IT and Business and ultimately decided that this wasn't exactly where my life was going to end. Left everything behind to become a writing backpacker instead. The world's crumbling away anyway so why not write about it and get a few good Instagram pics on the way, am I right?

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