Location: Usually described as part of East Asia,
China is south of Mongolia and the Siberian land mass,
west of the Korean Peninsula and insular Japan, north
of Southeast Asia, and east of Central and South Asia.
Size: China has a total area of nearly 9,596,960 square
kilometers. Included in this total are 9,326,410 square
kilometers of land and 270,550 square kilometers of inland
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lakes and rivers. From east to west, the distance is about 5,000 kilometers, from the Heilong Jiang (Amur River) to the Pamir Mountains in Central Asia; from north to south, the distance is approximately 4,050 kilometers, from Heilongjiang Province to Hainan Province in the south, and another 1,450 kilometers farther south to Zengmu Shoal, a territorial claim off the north coast of Malaysia.
Land Boundaries: China has a total of 22,117 kilometers of land boundaries with 14 other nations. These borders include: Afghanistan (76 kilometers), Bhutan (470 kilometers), Burma (2,185 kilometers), India (3,380 kilometers), Kazakhstan (1,533 kilometers), North Korea (1,416 kilometers), Kyrgyzstan (858 kilometers), Laos (423 kilometers), Mongolia (4,677 kilometers), Nepal (1,236 kilometers), Pakistan (523 kilometers), Russia (4,300 kilometers), Tajikistan (414 kilometers), and Vietnam (1,281 kilometers).
Length of Coastline: China’s coastline extends 14,500 kilometers, from the border with North Korea in the north to Vietnam in the south. China’s coasts are on the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea, and South China Sea.
Maritime Claims: China claims a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea, a 24-nautical-mile contiguous zone, a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, and a 200-nautical-mile continental shelf or the distance to the edge of the continental shelf.
Boundary Disputes: China is involved in a complex dispute with Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, and possibly Brunei over the Spratly (Nansha) Islands in the South China Sea. The 2002 “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea” eased tensions but fell short of a legally binding code of conduct desired by several of the disputants. China also occupies the Paracel (Xisha) Islands, which are claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, and asserts a claim to the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Tai) in the Pacific Ocean. Most of the mountainous and militarized boundary with India is in dispute, but Beijing and New Delhi have committed to begin resolution with discussions on the least disputed middle sector. China’s de facto administration of the Aksai Chin section of Kashmir (which is disputed by India and Pakistan) is the subject of a dispute between China and India. India does not recognize Pakistan’s ceding lands to China in a 1964 boundary agreement. In October 2004, China signed an agreement with Russia on the delimitation of their entire 4,300-kilometer-long border, which had long been in dispute.
Topography: Mountains cover 33 percent of China’s landmass, plateaus 26 percent, basins 19 percent, plains 12 percent, and hills 10 percent. Thus, 69 percent of China’s land is mountains, hills, and highlands. China has five main mountain ranges, and seven of its mountain peaks are higher than 8,000 meters above sea level. The main topographic features include the Qingzang (Qinghai-Tibet) Plateau at 4,000 meters above sea level and the Kunlun, Qin Ling, and Greater Hinggan ranges. In the Himalaya Mountains, the world’s highest, are Mount Everest at 8,848 meters and K-2 at 8,611 meters, shared with Nepal and Pakistan, respectively. The lowest inland point in China—the second lowest place in the world after the Dead Sea—is at Turpan Pendi, 140 kilometers southeast of Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, at 154 meters below sea level. With temperatures that have reached 49.6 C, it is also one the hottest places in China.
Principal Rivers: China has 50,000 rivers totaling some 420,000 kilometers in length and each having a catchment area of more than 100 square kilometers. Some 1,500 of these rivers each have catchment areas exceeding 1,000 square kilometers. Most rivers flow from west to east and empty into the Pacific Ocean. The major rivers are the Yangzi (Changjiang or Yangzte River), which rises in Tibet, flows through Central China, and, having traveled 6,300 kilometers, enters the Yellow Sea near Shanghai. The Yangzi has a catchment area of 1.8 million square kilometers. It is the third longest river in the world after the Amazon and the Nile. The second longest river in China is the Huanghe (Yellow River), which also rises in Tibet and travels circuitously for 5,464 kilometers through North China before reaching the Bo Hai Gulf on the north coast of Shangdong Province. It has a catchment area of 752,000 square kilometers. The Heilongjiang (Heilong or Black Dragon River) flows for 3,101 kilometers in Northeast China and an additional 1,249 in Russia, where it is known as the Amur. The longest river in South China is the Zhujiang (Pearl River), which is 2,214 kilometers long. Along with its three tributaries, the Xi, Dong, and Bei—West, East, and North—rivers, it forms the rich Zhujiang Delta near Guangzhou, Zhuhai, Macau, and Hong Kong. Other major rivers are the Liaohe in the northeast, Haihe in the north, Qiantang in the east, and Lancang in the southwest.
Climate: Most of the country is in the northern temperate zone. There are complex climatic patterns ranging from the cold-temperate north to the tropical south, with subarctic-like temperatures in the Himalaya Mountains, resulting in a temperature difference of some 40EC from north to south. Temperatures range from –30EC in the north in January to 28EC in the south in July. Annual precipitation varies significantly from region to region, with a high of 1,500 millimeters annually along the southeastern coast and a low of fewer than 50 millimeters in the northwest. There is an alternating wet monsoon in the summer and a dry monsoon in winter. North China and southward are affected by the seasonal cold, dry winds from Siberia and the Mongolia Plateau between September/October and March/April. Summer monsoon winds bring warm and wet currents into South China and northward.
Natural Resources: China has substantial mineral reserves and is the world’s largest producer of antimony, natural graphite, tungsten, and zinc. Other major minerals are bauxite, coal, crude petroleum, diamonds, gold, iron ore, lead, magnetite, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, natural gas, phosphate rock, tin, uranium, and vanadium. With its vast mountain ranges, China’s hydropower potential is the largest in the world.
Land Use: Based on 2001 estimates, 15.4 percent (about 1.4 million square kilometers) of China’s land is arable. About 1.2 percent (some 116,580 square kilometers) is planted to permanent crops. With comparatively little planted to permanent crops, intensive agricultural techniques are used to reap harvests that are sufficient to feed the world’s largest population and still have some for export. An estimated 525,800 square kilometers of land are irrigated.
Environmental Factors: The major current environmental issues in China are air pollution (greenhouse gases and sulfur dioxide particulates) from reliance on coal that produces acid rain; water shortages, particularly in the north; water pollution from untreated wastes; deforestation; an estimated loss of 20 percent of agricultural land since 1949 to soil erosion and economic development; desertification; and illegal trade in endangered species. Deforestation has been a major contributor to China’s most significant natural disaster: flooding. In 1998 some 3,656 people died and 230 million people were affected by flooding. China’s national carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are among the highest in the world and increasing annually. The CO2 emissions in 1991 were estimated at 2.4 billion tons; by 2000 that level, according to United Nations (UN) statistics, had increased by 16 percent to nearly 2.8 billion tons. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), between 1990 and 2002 the increase was more along the lines of 45 percent. These amounts cited by the UN are more than double those of India and Japan but still less than half those of the United States (comparable figures for Russia are not available but are estimated at probably half the level of China’s). China’s ozone depleting potential also is high but was decreasing in the early twenty-first century. The CO2 emissions are mostly produced by coal-burning energy plants and other coal-burning operations. Better pollution control and billion-dollar cleanup programs have helped reduced the growth rate of industrial pollution.
Time Zone: Although China crosses all or part of five international time zones, it operates on a single uniform time, China Standard Time (CST; Greenwich Mean Time plus eight hours), using Beijing as the base. China does not employ a daylight savings time system.
PUBLISHER / AUTHOR: This series of profiles of foreign nations is part of the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The profiles offer brief, summarized information on a country's historical background, geography, society, economy, transportation and telecommunications, government and politics, and national security. In addition to being featured in the front matter of published Country Studies, they are now being prepared as stand-alone reference aides for all countries in the series, as well as for a number of additional countries of interest. The profiles offer reasonably current country information independent of the existence of a recently published Country Study and will be updated annually or more frequently as events warrant.
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