Browsing Tag: international relations

    The Longest Underwater Tunnel | China’s Future MEGAPROJECTS: Part 5
    Articles, Blog

    The Longest Underwater Tunnel | China’s Future MEGAPROJECTS: Part 5

    December 7, 2019


    Now for the most dangerous project on the
    agenda. The world’s longest underwater tunnel will connect the cities of Dalian and Yantai
    across the Bohai Sea, passing through two deadly earthquake fault zones. At 76 miles
    long it will be longer than the current first and second-ranked underwater tunnels combined,
    and at a cost of $42 billion, it will be extremely expensive. But the Chinese calculate that
    it will be worth it. For one, it will slash the eight hour drive
    between the two cities to under two hours. It will also connect China’s isolated northern
    rustbelt with its wealthy east coast, adding an additional $3.7 billion to the economy
    each year. The experience could also establish the Chinese
    as the preeminent submarine diggers in the world, and would be a serious practice run
    for far more ambitious potential future Mega-MEGA-projects like connecting China to South Korea, or even
    Russia to the United States across the Bering Strait–yes, that has actually been proposed. This isn’t the first underwater tunnel project
    for Chinese engineers, either, who already gained some experience by completing the 3.8
    mile-long Jiaozhou Bay Tunnel in 2011. But while the Bohai Sea is roughly the same depth
    as Jiaozhou Bay, the tunnel underneath it will be 20 times longer. When it comes to construction, if they’re
    lucky, the Chinese will encounter only soft seabed, allowing them to use Tunnel-Boring
    Machines the whole way. But if they run into harder rock, they’re going to have to use
    the “drill-and-blast” method embraced by the Japanese during construction of the
    Seikhan Tunnel. Using tons of dynamite hundreds of feet underwater is dangerous business,
    and it resulted in the unfortunate deaths of four workers over the course of that project,
    and maaaany accidental leaks. Reporter: “In 1976 the project hit its biggest
    crisis when 80 tons of seawater a minute began leaking in. 1.5 km of tunnel flooded. It took
    five months to get back on track.” Bryce: The Bohai Tunnel will also have to
    withstand magnitude 8.0 earthquakes. In 1976, the deadliest earthquake in modern history
    — a 7.8 — killed a record 650,000 people in Tangshan and surrounding areas. In 1969
    a quake measuring 7.4 on the Richter scale shook the Bohai Bay itself. And there doesn’t
    seem to be much the engineers can even do about that threat besides simply reinforcing
    the strength of the tunnel walls. Of course, they could simply not bore a long hole under
    a deep bay through two fault zones, but that doesn’t really seem to be an option at this
    point. Because officials throughout China are under
    enormous pressure to hit GDP economic growth targets, and there aren’t many other options
    that could provide anywhere near as much economic benefit as the Bohai Tunnel, which should
    break ground sometime in 2016. For TDC, I’m Bryce Plank. Thanks for watching.

    China Secretly Cancels Cameroon’s Debt | Belt and Road Infrastructure | China Uncensored
    Articles, Blog

    China Secretly Cancels Cameroon’s Debt | Belt and Road Infrastructure | China Uncensored

    September 2, 2019


    China has just forgiven a chunk of Cameroon’s
    debt. Normally, that’d be something to brag about. Except China kept it a secret. Why is China keeping quiet about writing off Cameroon’s debt? Welcome back to China Uncensored. I’m Chris Chappell. Debt relief. When a country lets another country off the hook for paying back loans. As in no more debt, what a relief. If only they did that for student loans. Specifically, *my* student loans. Usually when rich creditor countries forgive the debts of poorer countries, there’s a ton of publicity to highlight
    all that generosity. Like that time twenty years ago when Bono worked with world leaders to get them to forgive more than $100 million in loans to the poorest countries. “Take your time and get your head around
    this fact. The national debt of the 18 poorest countries
    in Africa has been canceled thanks to Bono.” The point is, everyone loves publicity. Which is why it’s weird that when China recently wrote off a chunk of debt of the West African nation of Cameroon… it was all super hush hush. And then reporters asked, “Why the secrecy?” In fact, the world might not have even known China forgave a chunk of Cameroon’s debt if not for a gaffe by the Chinese language
    edition of the Wall Street Journal. It reported— based on a statement from the president of
    Cameroon— that China had agreed to write off 5 billion dollars of Cameroon’s debt. Since that’s almost all of the debt that
    Cameroon has ever borrowed from China, that news report caused a bit of controversy
    online. Last September, Chinese leader Xi Jinping pledged some $60
    billion dollars in aid, investment and loans to Africa at the Forum
    on China-Africa Cooperation. That created some backlash, including netizens asking online why China was giving money away to nearly failed states
    in Africa, when in China there are at least 30 million
    people who live on less than a dollar a day. As you can imagine, those questions were then censored. Actually, it was at that meeting in September where Cameroon’s president Paul Biya pleaded with Chinese authorities to ease his
    country’s debt burden— according to Chinese media. But it turns out, when the Wall Street Journal said China forgave 5 billion dollars in debt, well…it was kind of not quite accurate. The actual amount was 78 million dollars. That’s a big difference. It’s like reporting that “The new tower is a tall as the Empire State
    Building!” When actually it’s only one story tall, with a low ceiling. Now, Chinese media had a field day with this, with the Global Times calling it a huge blunder
    for US media: And other Chinese media accusing foreign media of planting fake news for Chinese readers. But if it weren’t for the Wall Street Journal’s
    mistake, the world might never have known of China’s
    “generosity.” See, Cameroon still owes China about 3 billion
    dollars in total debt. So the 78 million in debt forgiveness is actually
    really small. So now it should be clear why China might have wanted to keep it a secret. It’s not really a PR win. I mean, 78 million is less than what one rock star with sunglasses can do. But there’s another reason the Chinese regime may have wanted to keep news of the debt relief
    under wraps. Reporters might start to suspect that the
    Chinese regime plans to use debt relief to get something
    in return. Remember the story of how “China got Sri Lanka to cough up a port”? China lent billions to Sri Lanka, no strings attached, and when they couldn’t pay it off, China asked for Hambantota port. And China got it. Sri Lanka was forced to sign a 99-year lease in exchange for waving off about a billion
    in debt. So I guess there were strings attached. Plus the deal gave China control of territory right near its arch-rival, India, as well as a strategic foothold along a critical commercial and military waterway. Unconditional debt forgiveness— that’s for suckers. Setting up a long-term lending relationship so that you can get something in return that gives you a geostrategic advantage, now that’s the kind of lending relationship the Chinese regime likes. Xi Jinping calls it “win-win mutual cooperation.” I like to call it, “debt trap diplomacy.” For more on that, you can watch my episode “5 Countries That Have Fallen into China’s
    Debt Trap” for all the sordid details of how China leverages debt to get what it wants. Wow, I forgot there was a time when I didn’t have a beard. Anyway, why would the Chinese regime care about Cameroon? Well, for one: mineral resources. Like bauxite, iron ore, and gold. And don’t worry, Chinese gold mining operations there are totally legit and have no problems
    whatsoever. Ok, a few minor problems. But look, there’s another reason China cares
    about Cameroon. Let’s go back to that map. Cameroon sits along the Gulf of Guinea. And that’s a good place to be when doing
    trade with a dozen other countries, like Nigeria. So it should come as no surprise that China has invested 1.2 billion dollars to convert a fishing town called Kribi into the region’s biggest deep-water port. “Made up of four main parts, a deep water port with roughly 20 wharfs, a zone for industrial and logistics activity, a multi-modal transport corridor, a new city.” And Cameroon’s Kribi port is connected to a pipeline project to bring in oil from land-locked Chad. There’s also a 436 million dollar highway
    China is funding there. It ties the port with Cameroon’s resource-rich
    inland area. And there are also plans to build a railroad directly to a deposit of iron ore. And those iron mines will definitely not have
    problems. So far it doesn’t look like Cameroon has had to directly give up any of its infrastructure
    or resources for the 78 million dollars in debt forgiveness. But the Chinese Communist Party’s overall
    actions in Cameroon are clearly the same strategy it has used
    around the world: Make generous loans, get countries in debt, and forgive the debt in exchange for small
    things— like all of their resources, or strategic
    infrastructure. Win-win mutual cooperation. Which means that China-Cameroon relations should be something to keep an eye on. And before we go, it’s time for me to answer a question from one of you who supports China
    Uncensored by contributing a dollar or more though the crowdfunding website Patreon. David Schwimmer asks: “Happy Valentines Day! It seems like the recent love that Putin and
    Xi have shared, particularly in Eastern Europe and Venezuela, could be undermined by recent NBC media exposure, what do you all think OF THIS! Ah, I see you’re referring to this um, “map” from season one of NBC’s Unbreakable
    Kimmy Schmidt. There are…several…problems with this map. Among them, China has taken over all of Russia. Plus Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and
    Asia. But don’t worry, Xi and Putin can’t be
    torn apart that easily. From holding joint press conferences, to cooking delicious Chinese pancakes, to cooking delicious Russian pancakes, to putting friendship medals on each other, it is the relationship between China in Russia that is truly unbreakable. Thanks for your question, David. And as always, I hope all our supporters on Patreon will continue to leave thoughtful, interesting
    questions within each Patreon post, so I can answer them on the show. Visit Patreon.com/ChinaUncensored to see what you can do to support this show. You guys keep the lights on here at China
    Uncensored. Once again, I’m Chris Chappell. See you next time.

    Why Is China Investing Billions in Africa? | NowThis World
    Articles, Blog

    Why Is China Investing Billions in Africa? | NowThis World

    August 22, 2019


    China has invested billions of dollars into the continent of Africa to build massive infrastructure projects. Much of this infrastructure is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, an estimated 1 trillion dollar plan to connect the country to trade routes all over the world. African leaders like Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta have favorably compared China’s investments to earlier projects built by colonial powers. While the old railway was built by force and violence against the wishes of those whose land it divided, the new railway is built by consent and partnership both between ourselves and China and between the governments which will prosper and profit by it. But is China’s investment in the continent actually a “win-win” as some African and Chinese leaders have said? Or just a new form of colonialism on a continent that’s experienced so much of it? In this episode, we’re examining China’s Belt and Road Initiative and what it might mean for Africa. While China’s Belt and Road Initiative was only proposed in 2013, the country’s first infrastructure project on the African continent was built decades ago. The Tazara railway, completed in 1976, was built to connect copper mines in Zambia to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s former capital. The Tazara railway was the first infrastructure project built on a pan-African scale. China’s Belt and Road projects will be designed with this scale in mind, creating new trade routes within and between African countries. In 2017, a Chinese firm opened a railway network in Kenya, connecting its capital Nairobi to the port city of Mombasa. There are already plans to extend this network into South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. China, through its public and private sectors, has already loaned about $132 billion to African countries from 2006 to 2017. Many observers worry that African countries won’t be able to pay back these debts, placing them in what’s been called a quote “debt trap.” The Jubilee Debt Campaign, which campaigns for poor countries’ debts to be canceled, estimates that about 20% of debt held by African governments is owed to China, making it the single largest lending nation. For comparison, 35% of African debt is owed to multilateral, global institutions like the World Bank. Earlier waves of Chinese firms that invested in Africa made mistakes that caused problems for those countries’ governments. Starting in 2005, tens of thousands of workers from China poured into the west African country of Ghana to take advantage of a gold rush. This eventually provoked a local backlash due to accusations of illegal mining, inflaming tensions between Chinese miners and the local government. Many observers have pointed to projects like this as examples of China exploiting Africa for its natural resources through quote “neo-colonialist behavior.” However, other observers contend that the majority of investment from China has largely avoided creating the problems seen in Ghana’s gold mines, precisely because resource extraction has not been the main focus of other investments. In fact, the number one industry for Chinese investment has been the service industry, according to IMF economist Wenjie Cheng. She also points out that the countries where China’s investment has been largest include those without abundant natural resources, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, in addition to resource-rich countries like Nigeria. Ultimately, African governments may feel that the risk of accumulating debt is outweighed by the benefits of new infrastructure. The China Africa Research Initiative found that roughly 40% of China’s loans between 2000 and 2015 went towards paying for energy projects and another 30% went toward modernizing transportation on the continent. These loans were set at relatively low interest rates and with longer periods of time to pay them back. The Center for Global Development crunched the numbers on debt to China as a result of the Belt and Road Initiative, and found that eight of the 71 countries involved in the project were particularly vulnerable to getting caught in a debt trap. Of these eight countries, only one was in Africa: Djibouti, a port country that’s also become a military strategic point for China. The other seven countries are in Europe and Asia. Nevertheless, China has denied engaging in “debt trap” diplomacy. In an attempt at thisto strengthen this collaboration, China has also promised to align its goals for the Belt and Road Initiative with the African Union’s own development goals of greater interconnectivity on the continent. However, these promises have yet to be outlined. Ultimately, China’s push in Africa may be seeking to increase the country’s influence, rather than reap financial gains. Its investments are already strengthening China’s alliances with African governments, to China’s benefit. Every African country but eSwatini, formerly known as Swaziland, has cut ties with Taiwan, a prerequisite for diplomatic relations with mainland China. Some observers think that as African countries rise economically, they could actually have the upper hand by the time they negotiate payments back to China. This explains why African leaders have been so confident in calling Chinese investment a “win-win,” but only time will tell if their long game pans out. So do you think China’s investments in Africa will be a boon to the continent, or are they a form of neocolonialism? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for watching NowThis World, don’t forget to like and subscribe.

    China’s New “Silk Road”: Future MEGAPROJECTS
    Articles, Blog

    China’s New “Silk Road”: Future MEGAPROJECTS

    August 18, 2019


    Having recently completed both the world’s
    most extensive system of expressways and the planet’s longest high speed rail network,
    China is now looking beyond its borders for opportunities to keep building. President Xi Jinping announced at a recent
    summit that Beijing has sealed megaproject deals with 65 countries throughout Eurasia
    and Africa to construct ports, power stations, rail lines, roads, and all the tunnels and
    bridges needed to connect them back to mainland China. At a total cost of over $1 trillion, the One
    Belt, One Road initiative is unprecedented in size and scope. So is the bold funding mechanism: China will
    use its large, state-run banks to provide most of the financing, a risky move, when
    you consider how few of the nations in the O.B.O.R. could afford something like this
    on their own. “Oh,” say the leaders of economically-challenged,
    underdeveloped Laos, Yemen, or Ethiopia — or the blood-soaked regime of Bashar al-Assad
    in war-ravaged Syria — “you want to loan us billions of dollars to build some cool
    stuff in our countries? Of course, why not!?” China is hard-selling the project as a way
    to boost its westward connections, an update of the silk road trade route that played a
    significant role in developing China and the rest of the region 1,000 years ago. But many analysts see this comparison as little
    more than a marketing pitch. Al Jazeera clip: “Is the real point of this,
    East-West service then simply to boost China’s westward connections? [Pauline Loong] “Well I wouldn’t say simply
    to boost China’s westward connections, but I totally agree with Charles that it’s more
    a PR stunt. To call it the “Silk Road,” that’s really
    brilliant—evocative of romantic camel travels in the past. When, you know, you have these lovely silks
    and trade and so forth. And it’s good, because look at all the headlines
    it has been getting, but in practical terms, it’s early days yet.” [Bryce] Aside from the lessons China learned
    from its own recent infrastructure boom, Beijing is also drawing inspiration from the American
    Marshall Plan which financed the rebuilding of Western Europe after it was decimated during
    the second world war. That program was worth the equivalent of $130
    billion in today’s dollars and ensured the US had reliable export markets for the manufactured
    goods and machinery its growing economy had become dependent on producing. China’s modern version — first announced
    in 2013 — is the signature initiative of President Xi Jinping. Several projects have already been completed. Earlier this year London became the 15th European
    city connected directly to China through an ever-expanding global rail system, meaning
    freight trains loaded with goods can now arrive after a 12,000km journey all the way from
    the east coast of the landmass. And, at a cost of $4 billion, China also just
    completed Africa’s first transnational electric railway, which runs 466 miles from Djibouti
    to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Chinese companies designed the system, built
    the line, and supplied the train cars. The many other projects under the O.B.O.R.
    umbrella include: A $6 billion, 260-mile railway connecting
    eight Asian countries. Desperately needed power plants to address
    Pakistan’s chronic electricity shortage, part of a larger $46 billion investment by
    China in Pakistan aimed at offsetting the American and Japanese-backed building boom
    happening in neighboring India, China and Pakistan’s mutual rival. Train lines will connect Budapest to Belgrade,
    Serbia, providing another artery for Chinese goods to reach Europe after arriving in a
    Chinese-owned port in Greece. And — in a move that adds prestige to O.B.O.R. — China is financing more than a third of
    the $23.7 billion cost of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in southwest England. Part of the challenge in analyzing whether
    this building boom is ultimately good for the world is its sheer complexity. Nothing like this has ever been done before
    in human history. Yes, providing underdeveloped countries a
    chance to have better transportation infrastructure, or cleaner power plants is a good thing. But, by funding infrastructure that’s designed
    to enhance commerce and trade — instead of basic services many of these countries
    need more, like clean drinking water, affordable housing, and better education — China’s
    motives seem to favor the wealthy, elite business class. Here are other factors that explain why China
    is undertaking a project of this magnitude: The Communist Party has staked its reputation
    on non-stop economic growth. Since they hold all the power, the Chinese
    people expect them to deliver. But with its domestic megaproject boom nearing
    completion, China must find new buyers for all the steel, cement, and construction machinery
    its economy produces, or many of its factories could grind to a halt. It has decided the solution is One Belt, One
    Road, but lending hundreds of billions of dollars to many countries with weak credit
    ratings and unstable political systems is very risky. Which reveals an underlying sense you get
    when you look closely at One Belt One Road: China’s increasing desperation. The country’s national debt is already very
    high, but borrowing continues to accelerate at historic levels as state owned banks loan
    more and more money to state owned companies. The prime example of the risks associated
    with the tight rope the Communist Party is trying to walk was the government bailouts
    issued during China’s recent stock market collapse. That crisis was caused by the same sense of
    impatience that’s driving O.B.O.R.—the Party’s need to feed the insatiable economic
    growth monster. Using its powerful propaganda machine, Beijing
    urged its own people to invest their savings heavily in its immature, unstable market—causing
    inexperienced citizens to treat investments in companies like bets at a casino, creating
    a huge bubble that, naturally, burst. The government then suspended trading for
    a while and pumped billions into the system to avoid a total collapse. So really, when you step back, the core motivation
    for One Belt, One Road boils down to the Communist Party’s need to buy itself more time in
    order to come up with its next scheme to prop up the economy, because when it inevitably
    slows down, which it’s already starting to do, the Party’s promise to deliver a
    fantastic economic dream world will have been proven false for everyone in China but the
    elites. The silver lining is that many of the ventures
    China has undertaken will pay long-term dividends, like building up its high-tech manufacturing
    sector, with the anticipation that when OBOR’s transportation networks are complete, it will
    be ready to use them to deliver higher-cost goods like iPhones, drones, and green energy
    technologies to the rest of the world. The other major motivating factor here is
    the unmistakable opportunity to gain even-power status with the United States in Asia. The election of Donald Trump, and then his
    decision to walk away from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal that would have hurt
    China, are massive geopolitical mistakes—completely unforced errors that China intends to take
    full advantage of. When it first announced the O.B.O.R. back
    in 2013, Barack Obama had just begun his second term and the US pivot to Asia was in full
    force. With rivals like Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam
    challenging China’s efforts to control maritime trade routes, it was clear China was being
    hemmed in on its Eastern flank. Despite the election of Trump, this is still
    true. So by instead turning instead to the vast
    land mass to the west for new opportunities, China minimizes its reliance on maritime trade
    routes that could be cut off in the event of a destabilizing military conflict. At the end of the day, China is all about
    business. It doesn’t matter if you’re a democracy,
    a dictatorship, or a failed state, China wants to work with you. But this willingness to embrace some of the
    world’s more unsavory characters could backfire. Just look who Xi is sitting next to at the
    O.B.O.R. summit: Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Erdogan—two men who look
    more and more like dictators clinging to power with each passing day. That’s not a good look for China, and it
    reminds us that the Communist Party is even less transparent. But in a world where the President of the
    United States is a bumbling fool, these partnerships create much less of an image problem now than
    they would have just a few months ago, when the widely admired Barack Obama was leading
    the free world. If you ask the Chinese, the O.B.O.R. is all
    about peace, an embrace of the concept of coop-etition. A generation ago it was unthinkable for a
    country to invest billions of dollars on infrastructure in another country, but in our hyper-globalized
    world, dominated by interconnected markets, it may become the norm, especially when we
    consider the intangible benefits—greater economic interdependence lowers the risk that
    groups of countries will want to fight with other groups of countries, many of whom are
    bound together by military alliances. Every one of these projects increases China’s
    soft power, giving Beijing more and more leverage in any future negotiation or military conflict. The many foreign seaports it will build and
    manage for the next half century will be particularly valuable chess pieces. Its understandable that Chinese policymakers
    are romanticizing One Belt, One Road as a crowning achievement for their nation—further
    recognition that it has regained its former status as a great civilization that deserves
    recognition around the world. But the reality is that it still has a long
    way to go. Combined, the following factors may weaken
    the optimistic sales pitches being made to foreign officials: a recent Oxford business
    school study argued that half of Chinese domestic megaprojects actually destroyed, not generated
    economic value; a few of China’s previous efforts to build megaprojects in foreign countries
    — like the A2 motorway in Poland — failed miserably; landowners and their representatives
    in the national assemblies of host countries are pushing back hard against attempts to
    take away their land; and public demonstrations against some the projects are beginning to
    take root, and spread. Another dose of reality that should sober
    Beijing is that— after analyzing China’s overleveraged financial position — its credit
    rating was just downgraded by a major agency, whose analysts concluded that its borrowing
    is raising red flags, and its economic growth will continue to slow down. Of course, none of these speed bumps is going
    to stop the Communist Party from attempting to execute their great leap. They are committed 100% to embracing a fundamental
    history lesson — one we were all reminded of by Brexit’s improbable win and the unlikely
    ascendence of Donald Trump — that fortune favors the bold—at least, in the short run. Thanks for watching. Get caught up on all of China’s major domestic
    megaprojects with the mini-documentary I made last year, which started some interesting
    conversations. To learn even more, and to support our work,
    sign up for a free 30-trial of Audible.com — linked below — and you’ll get one
    free audio download, like the great courses on The Fall and Rise of China. Until next time, for TDC, I’m Bryce Plank.

    Brazil’s Geography Problem
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    Brazil’s Geography Problem

    August 14, 2019


    This video was made possible by Skillshare. Learn from 21,000 classes for free for two
    months at https://skl.sh/wendover3. There are plenty of lines you can draw on
    the globe but perhaps none is more consequential than the equator. Of the 15 wealthiest countries
    in the world as measured by GDP per capita, all are in the northern hemisphere. Only 800
    million of earth’s 7.6 billion residents live south of the equator. There is a clear
    divide between north and south but of those 800 million people a quarter of them, about
    207 million, live here in Brazil. The country is an exception to the global trend. Brazil
    is the fifth most populous country in the world and the most populous entirely within
    the southern hemisphere. Its economy has grown enormously and the country is quickly developing.
    Although, the very land it sits on stacks the odds against it. Its location gives it
    a disadvantage. Given this, the question is whether Brazil can develop into a world superpower
    by the likes of the US, Europe, Russia, India, and China or if the country is doomed to fail? Brazil, of course, looks like this but in
    reality almost 80% of the country’s population lives here—within 200 miles of the coast.
    You do see a concentration of population near the coast in any country as it provides a
    cheap and easy means of transportation by boats and a source of food through fishing
    but few countries have such a severe concentration of people by the oceans as Brazil. This small
    area, for example, is home to three of Brazil’s six largest cities. Normally this would help
    development as the area in between cities will urbanize but this map doesn’t tell
    the whole story—this one does. You see, this area of Brazil is rather mountainous.
    The major cities mostly exist in small pockets of low-altitude, flat land on the ocean. This
    is because major cities need easy water access to get goods in and out. The majority of Brazil’s
    coast is defined by steep, sheer cliffs. Petrópolis, for example, a suburb of Rio, is a mere 13
    miles from the ocean and yet it sits at almost 3,000 feet of altitude. The rare areas with
    low-altitude land on the water are where cities like Porte Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, and Recife
    are but this pattern has two consequences. First, these cities, while being on flat land
    themselves are surrounded by cliffs and mountainous regions which means their growth is limited.
    There are plenty of cities that exist in mountainous regions but the world’s largest and most
    influential cities like London and Delhi and Beijing all exist in areas with absolutely
    no geographical features limiting their growth. The fact that Brazil’s cities locate in
    rare low-altitude coastal land means that the country will likely never have a megalopolis
    by the likes of the Pearl River Delta or the US Northeast. It takes a surprising six hours
    to drive between Rio and Sao Paolo and since there’s no low-altitude coastal land in
    between them, there are really no major cities in between them too. Brazil’s cities are
    confined to the geographically convenient areas which are spread out from each other.
    This means the cities can’t collaborate easily with each other thereby limiting Brazil’s
    impact on the world stage. Like any large country, Brazil’s development
    potential is also linked to how it gets its food. This, in fact, might be Brazil’s greatest
    obstacle as it really doesn’t hav e much great farmland, at least yet. The country’s
    main agricultural region is its south which is blessed with great soil and great rivers
    that help transport crops away from their farms. Interestingly, the same elevation that
    leads to steep coastal cliffs causes rivers to run in a counterintuitive direction. The
    Tietê river, for example, starts near Sao Paolo a mere 10 miles away from the Atlantic
    ocean but then runs inland almost 500 miles where it flows into the Paraná River which
    eventually flows out into the ocean near Buenos Aires, Argentina. If a farmer wants to export
    their food abroad, it’s often cheaper to first ship it the thousands of miles by boat
    on these rivers than just hundreds of miles overland to Brazil’s coast due to their
    poor road infrastructure. This means that Argentina gets the business of packing up
    and shipping Brazil’s food to other countries. That’s just lost money for Brazil as a result
    of their geography. Brazil’s south, though, does not even have enough land to feed the
    country’s own 200 million residents. Given that, the question is where to put the rest
    of the farms. In Brazil’s north is the Amazon basin. The
    central feature of this region is, of course, the Amazon River which is navigable for boats.
    Normally this feature would lead to a significant population as navigable rivers serve as cheap
    and easy transport for crops and goods but the banks of the Amazon are a tough place
    to farm or live. Not only are they muddy and unstable which makes building difficult, but
    the Amazon also regularly floods which means that every year many of the communities on
    the banks of the Amazon can have their streets underwater for months. Building and living
    in the Amazonian cities is difficult, but what’s more difficult is building the roads
    in and out. The largest city in the Amazon, Manaus, is home to 2.6 million people, it’s
    as big as Baltimore, and yet there are only three roads connecting the city to the outside
    world. Many of the smaller towns around the Amazon have no roads going in and out as its
    just incredibly costly and difficult to build roads through the rainforest. In fact, rather
    unbelievably, there is not a single bridge spanning over the Amazon so there is no way
    to drive from the northernmost region of Brazil to the rest without taking a ferry. Overall,
    this whole area is just empty. Even if there was the infrastructure to transport crops
    to market, farming in the Amazon involves clearing huge amounts of land and even then,
    the soil is relatively infertile which leads to poor yields. Despite being Brazil’s largest
    state, Amazonas is home to just 1.8% of its population. It just costs too much to build
    the infrastructure needed to live there. To the south of the Amazon, though, is an
    area known as the Cerrado. This vast savanna used to be in the same category as the Amazon—it
    was empty. The problem was not only that there was no natural network of rivers to get crops
    out of the area but also that the soil was too acidic and lacking enough nutrients to
    easily grow large quantities of crops. Between both the Amazon and the Cerrado being off-limits
    for large-scale farming, that meant that Brazil really didn’t have much land at all for
    farming. 30 years ago, with only the south to farm, Brazil was actually a net importer
    of food—it bought more food from other countries than it sold. That was until researchers discovered
    that all you needed to do to fix the soil was add phosphorous and lime. The phosphorous
    served as a fertilizer in the place of natural nutrients and the lime worked to reduce the
    level of acidity. In the early 2000’s, the country spread more than 25 million tons of
    lime per year and so today the Cerrado accounts for 70% of Brazil’s farmland. In addition,
    Brazil has begun growing soybeans. This plant is normally grown in more temperate climates
    such as the US, northern China, or Japan, but through cross-breeding and genetic modification
    it can be modified to grow in warmer and acidic environments such as the Brazilian Cerrado.
    Thanks to the enormous amount of land Brazil has and these technological advancements the
    country has gone from producing 16% of the world’s soybean in 2005 to 31% today.
    A country’s level of development is often to linked to how good its natural transportation
    system is. That’s part of why the US developed so much so fast—it has a great system of
    navigable rivers right in its agricultural heartland that helps get goods from the fields
    to cities fast and inexpensively. The Brazilian Cerrado, though, does not have that. It doesn’t
    even have much of a preexisting network of roads since before this recent agricultural
    advancement barely anyone lived there. Therefore anyone who wants to farm in the Cerrado has
    to find land, level it, treat it with phosphate and lime, and build roads to get supplies
    in and crops out. Cerrado farms can be profitable but it takes an enormous amount of money to
    build the infrastructure needed to start a farm. It’s not like the US or France or
    China where all you need is some land. The consequence of this is that farms in Brazil
    tend to owned by corporations rather than individuals because only corporations have
    the money to build farms. That therefore increases the level of wealth disparity in Brazil. According
    to the World Bank’s Gini index, Brazil is the 11th most economically unequal country
    in the world. Lower wealth disparity and the emergence of a middle class are indicators
    of economic development so the country should want to fix this. Brazil’s government has
    recognized its infrastructure problem as a source of its wealth disparity and has therefore
    worked to build roads in the interior so that more individuals can run farms but the government
    only has so much money to spend and it’s a big country.
    Brazil does, though, understand the importance of its core. It understands that the coastal
    cities are constrained and that economic development will come from the center. It was partially
    for that reason that the country decided to move its capital from Rio de Janeiro to here—Brasília.
    The thinking was that putting the capital in the core would stimulate the economically
    underdeveloped region and, in many ways, it worked. The city simply did not exist before
    1960 yet today more than 4 million people live in its metropolitan area. Being located
    on relatively flat land unlike Rio, the city can just grow and grow and grow without hinderance.
    Brazil has potential, but its defining issue is that it’s an expensive place. It’s a
    vicious cycle. In order to make money, Brazil needs to invest in its infrastructure but
    without people making money it doesn’t have the tax money to build what it takes t o transition
    into the first world. The question of why tropical countries are less developed is an
    enormous one without a clear answer, but Brazil is one of the most likely candidates to break
    this trend. It certainly lags behind other developing countries like China, but as its
    agriculture industry develops it will become a bigger and bigger exporter which will bring
    more money in. With time, its average income will inch up. The country already does have
    major companies in other industries such as banking, manufacturing, and oil but with how
    big Brazil is, agriculture is the one that’s the world’s focus right now. Only France,
    Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States export more agricultural products per year
    which is good company to be in. Brazil may not have the explosive growth rate of some
    other less developed countries but by continuously taking what it earns and reinvesting it to
    open up more of the country to agricultural production it will continue its path to superpower
    status. One of the common questions I receive is how
    I started making these videos. The first step was learning the skills needed from writing
    to research to sound design and editing, but for each and every one of them there’s a
    course on Skillshare. Skillshare, you see, is an online learning community that has more
    than 21,000 classes on whatever you want to learn. The variety is astounding. You can
    learn skills to help you make videos, to show off at parties, or even to help you get a
    job. There are also some great courses taught by fellow YouTubers such as Mike Boyd and
    Kurzgesagt. What’s best about Skillshare is that you can try it all for free for two
    months exclusively by going to skl.sh/wendover3. Skillshare makes this show possible and its
    a great place to learn or improve your skills so please do check them out, once again, at
    skl.sh/wendover3. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you again in three weeks for another
    Wendover Productions video.