Visualizing China's Trading Partners

The United States and China recently signed Phase I of a trade deal designed to thaw relations between the world’s two largest economies. The ongoing trade war between these two countries led to an overall slowdown of global growth in 2019, with continued weakness in global trade and investment. Despite this, China has maintained a positive trade balance overall and continues to be a major exporter to countries around the world. Our new series of visualizations maps out the relationship between China and its biggest trading partners.

The data for these visualizations comes from the International Monetary Fund, with all values expressed in U.S. dollars. Here is the breakdown of exports, imports, and trade balance between China and other countries around the world.

china export by country

  • Between imports and exports, China is involved in $4.6 trillion worth of trade worldwide.
  • China has a trade balance of $367 billion, which means that its overall exports are higher than its imports.
  • Since 1989, China’s economy has roughly doubled every eight to ten years, surpassing the growth rates of the U.S., Europe, and most high income countries during the same time period.
  • Although the U.S. dominated most of world trade in 1980, China has gradually taken on a greater role, surpassing the U.S. as the major trading partner in many countries around the world.

In total, China exports $2.5 trillion worth of goods to other countries. For the countries in the visualization above, China has exported more than $1 billion in goods. The size and the color of each country on the map show at first glance which ones are the biggest recipients of Chinese exports. Countries that are larger and a deeper shade of turquoise have a higher value of exports.

China's Trading Partners - Top Countries Where China Exports the Most

1. United States: $481 billion
2. Hong Kong: $304 billion
3. Japan: $148 billion
4. South Korea: $110 billion
5. Vietnam: $84 billion

Even with the ongoing trade war since 2018, the U.S. remains China’s top destination for exports. The most common goods that China exports to the U.S. tend to be electronic devices, such as cell phones. The U.S. is the only country on the top five list that is not located in East Asia.

china import by country

Although China is categorized as a “net exporter,” it still imports $2.1 trillion worth of goods from other countries, especially from the surrounding region. Similar to the previous visualization, the size and the color of each country on the map illustrate the magnitude of trade between China and that country. China has imported the most goods from the countries on the map that are larger and a deeper shade of pink.

China's Trading Partners - Top Countries from Where China Imports the Most

1. South Korea: $203 billion
2. Japan: $180 billion
3. Taiwan: $177 billion
4. United States: $156 billion
5. Germany: $106 billion

As you can see, there are fewer countries on this import map compared to the export map. That’s because China imports $1 billion or more worth of goods from only about 81 countries, while it exports $1 billion or more of goods to about 117 countries. However, China’s imports have a massive effect on neighboring countries. Notably, shipments to China account for a quarter of South Korea’s exports.

China trading partners

The map above shows countries that have a trade balance with China worth $1 billion or more. Countries are shaded in turquoise if China exports more to that country than that country exports to China. By contrast, countries are shaded in pink if China imports more from that country than that country imports from China. The size of the country also corresponds to the value of the trade balance--bigger countries have a higher trade balance.

China's Trading Partners - Top 5 Countries Where China Has a Positive Trade Balance

1. United States: $324 billion
2. Hong Kong: $295 billion
3. The Netherlands: $61 billion
4. India: $58 billion
5. The United Kingdom: $33 billion

China's Trading Partners - Top 5 Countries Where China Has a Negative Trade Balance

1. Taiwan: -$128 billion
2. South Korea: -$93 billion
3. Australia: -$57 Billion
4. Brazil: -$43 billion
5. Switzerland: -$35 billion

Importantly, some provisions of the new deal between the U.S. and China seek to establish a greater balance of trade. For example, the deal requires that China increase its purchases of U.S. goods and services by more than 50% over the next two years. While this deal could be beneficial for some American industries such as agriculture, some economics experts also suggest that this type of preferential treatment for U.S. products over other trading partners could be a threat to free trade. As additional phases of a U.S.-China trade deal are also implemented, the overall effect on trade balances worldwide could also be subject to change.

Did any of China’s top trading partners surprise you? How do you think the new trade deal will affect the balance of trade between the U.S. and China? Let us know in the comments!

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