China’s Geography Problem


This video was made possible by Squarespace. Build your custom website for 10% off by going
to squarespace.com/wendover. China is a country both blessed and cursed
by geography. On one hand its land has allowed the country
to grow to almost 1.4 billion people but on the other hand it really doesn’t have great
geographical protection. The beginning of what most people call Chinese
history often starts with the Yellow River Civilization and there’s a good reason why
this settlement grew into the most populous country in the world—the floodplain of the
Yellow River is some of the best agricultural land in the world. In fact, the entirety of eastern China is
perfectly suited for Agriculture. This was and still is crucial to the country’s
success. What’s more, this area is just warm and
wet enough that farmers can do what is know as double-cropping. Once the main crop of rice is cultivated in
June and July, another slightly less productive crop can be planted for October cultivation. This increases rice output by about 25% which
means China can make more food using the same amount of land. Europe mostly relies on wheat to feed its
population which only outputs 4 million calories of food per acre of farmland. Rice, on the other hand, grows 11 million
calories worth per acre. It’s easy to see why there are so many people
in China. But China does have its geographical challenges. To the south it borders three countries—Vietnam,
Laos, and Myanmar. The borders between these three countries
and China seem almost arbitrarily set because they sort of were. Vietnam’s was set after the Sino-French
War, Laos’ was set following its involvement in the Vietnam war, and Myanmar’s was set
following a small war with China in the 60s. None was naturally set by the environment;
all were chosen arbitrarily by humans at war. These countries are not insignificant—combined
they have nearly one million active military personnel while China, the much larger country,
has just over two million. Significant conflict with any of these countries
would not be a one-sided war. While China would have the technological advantage,
any of these three countries would have a significant home-field advantage. Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar are all jungle
countries—one of the most difficult environments for warfare. This was part of the reason why the Vietnam
war lasted so long. It’s just so hard to move troops in the
jungle so everything slows down. Without any geographical protection of its
borders it would be significantly easier for Vietnam, Laos, or Myanmar to invade China
than the reverse. But China does have an advantage elsewhere. China and India just aren’t good friends. They have border disputes, military conflicts,
political differences, so its just hard for them to get along and that is why Tibet is
so important. Tibet was historically its own empire; it
was only in the last 300 years that China took it over. Tibetan people are ethnically different from
the Han Chinese inhabiting China’s east. It just doesn’t make sense for Tibet to
be part of China… except militarily. Only 0.2% of China’s population lives in
Tibet which accounts nearly 13% of the country’s area. More people live in the inner four districts
of Beijing than the entirety of Tibet. It’s just incredibly desolate, but it serves
a purpose. If China didn’t rule Tibet, then India would. Maybe not formally, but there’s little chance
that an independent Tibet would not be economically and culturally dominated by either India or
China. It just doesn’t have enough power economically
or militarily to resist, but in China’s view, it could not and cannot allow for an
Indian Tibet. Indian rule of Tibet would mean that there
would be no geographical protection between the populated area of China and India because
Tibet is that geographical protection. Not only does Tibet extend China’s border
to the Himalayas, it’s also an unpopulated area without the transportation infrastructure
needed for an invading India to advance a large number of troops towards eastern China. But that also means that there’s not the
transportation infrastructure necessary for China to advance towards India, but China
is trying to change that. They recently opened the worlds highest railroad
to Tibet, they’re building highways constantly, and they also opened a large airport in Nyingchi
just miles away from the border. In the near term the goal of these projects
is to further integrate Tibet into China. The government has all but failed at winning
over the native Tibetan population, but they can change who lives in Tibet. Hundreds of thousands of Han Chinese have
moved into Tibet and many more visit each year. The government knows that Tibet’s usefulness
is diminished if when a foreign military shows up the population thinks that means liberation
rather than invasion. But there’s another reason why China needs
Tibet—water. That whole eastern zone of agricultural productivity
exists because of all the water from Tibet. The Yellow and Yangtze Rivers—China’s
two longest rivers—both get their water from Tibet and foreign control of the water
supply of the country would, in the governments mind, strike a catastrophic blow to the country’s
food security. If there were, hypothetically, a significant
mountain range separating Tibet from eastern China, there’s a good chance it would still
be independent. The water would still come from China and
the mountains would act as the geographical protection that China desires. But to the North is another one of China’s
assets—Mongolia. It’s an enormous, sparsely populated, friendly
country. With the gobi desert and other desolate terrain,
there’s just little chance that any modern land-based army could make it across with
any efficiency. The supply lines would be enormously long
and by the time they got to the Chinese border there would have been ample warning. But then again, who would want to invade? Mongolia’s only other neighbor is Russia
which is a friendly ally of China both militarily and economically. China need not worry about its northern border
until relations with Russia sour. But that leaves the eastern border. Now, you would think that this would be China’s
safest border—the ocean—but you have to consider that powerful states lay just off
China’s shores, the most powerful one being the US. The United States has a significant Pacific
military presence with bases in South Korea, Japan, and Guam. It’s also a close ally with Taiwan, Indonesia,
Singapore, and Malaysia meaning that, if a serious dispute with China occurred, the US
would have no problem blockading China and cutting off its maritime access, and of course,
China knows this. That’s why China has spent so much time,
energy, and political capital to establish sovereignty in the South China Sea by building
military bases and artificial islands. It knows that it needs these islands so it
has sovereignty over the area so that it can reach the Pacific in case of war, but ironically,
its actions in the area are souring its relations with the very nations that China needs on
its side. The Philippines, for example, doesn’t have
a bulletproof relationship with the US. While the two countries are allies, Philippine
leadership has attempted to distance themselves from the US. If China hadn’t ruined its relationship
with the Philippines over the South China Sea dispute it could’ve won them to their
side which would allow China crucial access to the Pacific if the US attempted a naval
blockade. China’s entire economy relies on exports
so restrictions to access to the oceans would lead to economic ruin. With its enormous population, China also relies
on the importation of food, most of which comes on ships. Without jobs or food, there’s a good chance
that the population would rise up against the government and end the current regime. China didn’t want to be a global power spreading
its influence to every continent until recently. It wanted to be the the dominant power in
its region, Asia, but historically it kept its affairs within the region. It never colonized outside of Asia and for
much of history it didn’t have a significant navy to project its power around the world. But that has changed just because China got
so big. China is now of a size where it cannot support
its population with its size alone. Self-sufficiency in food production has been
a major aspect of China’s domestic policy for decades, but the country has found a way
to move past that as its economy has grown. Africa has emerged almost as China’s China. It supplies the country that supplies the
world. China has pumped enormous amounts of money
into the continent in what some describe as a form of neocolonialism. Chinese state-backed corporations have bought
huge amounts of land in Africa to mine minerals, drill for oil, and grow food. China now imports more food and oil than it
exports. While that is a sign of the development of
its economy, it also means that it is now reliant on foreign powers which is a vulnerable
position for a country that is often at odds with some of those foreign powers. China doesn’t have bad geography, it has
some of the best in the world which has allowed for it to grow into the largest country in
the world, but as it grows into a more and more powerful and developed country, it needs
to be cognizant of its vulnerabilities if the current regime wishes to continue. It’s clear that because of its geography,
the country is in a more precarious position than some may think. If there were every a reason to go to war
with China, the country is surrounded to the south and east by countries that would likely
side with NATO powers. To the west and north, China is surrounded
by countries and regions without the infrastructure to support China is a war. China is a nuclear power which means formal
war with other superpowers is unlikely, but, if it ever were to happen, its hard to deny
that its major disadvantage is geography. I just went through the process of building
the new website for my other channel, Half as Interesting, which reminded me why I love
Squarespace so much. All in, it took me about an hour to make this
simple website and the hosting fees are very reasonable. For whatever you do, whether its a YouTube
channel, a business, or anything else, having a professional web presence is incredibly
important because that’s how people find you. Squarespace makes this so easy with their
beautiful templates created by world-class designers, powerful website builder, and 24/7
award-winning customer service. No matter what you do, build your web presence
for 10% off with Squarespace by going to squarespace.com/wendover. Squarespace makes this show possible so please
at least go check them out over at squarespace.com/wendover. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you in
two weeks for another Wendover Productions video.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *