World history may be something of a niche interest here at The Richest but in fact it pays to have a little background on the global players of the world. A brief history of the world will take you from Columbus’ discovery of America and the New World through the many European nations staking claims on far off lands to Britain’s quest to conquer the orient . Spain had been a leading player in the Empire game – evident, still, today in the widespread use of the Spanish language internationally – but ceded its place to France and Great Britain who went on to control enormous lands across the earth. As of the twentieth century civil and international wars and the end of these colonial empires has meant the maps have been redrawn again, shaking up the pockets of international dominance. The old guard of the United Kingdom and France, once undisputed heavyweights, now have their power challenged by new contenders. A look at the top ten largest countries in the world reveals a startling number of massive regions that only gained independence in recent years – like India, who only gained independence from the UK in 1947 and today has one of the largest populations on the earth, not to mention a booming developing economy and high profile tech industry.
But many nations still maintain overseas territories and have influence over regions outside their physical landmass. Did you know, for example, that although Greenland does elect its own parliament it still falls under the rule of the Danish monarchy? There are historical lines of influence like these, not evident on your typical modern map, that have untold influence over world economics, cultures and political alliances. Federations, Republics and Commonwealths all feature among the nations who have managed to hold on to ancient claims on overseas or external territory – even if only nominally. We’re looking at the countries that still exert influence on a massive international scale – here’s the five countries with the most significant and wide-spread territories in the world.
5. China: 22 Provinces and 11 – 12 Regions
China may not be the largest country in the world in terms of landmass, but population-wise the country far surpasses any other – over 1.3 billion people currently reside in China. While China was dominated by war and political uncertainty for most of the 20th century, the nation has quickly established itself as a dominant world power – both politically and financially. With an annual GDP of around $8227 billion, China is now the world’s largest exporter: where once the stamp “made in China” referred to children’s toys, now tech giants are more likely to carry this mark with pride. There’s much hype around the booming Chinese economy and there’s a suggestion that the 21st century will be the era in which Asia comes to the fore on the economic world stage, but the Chinese economy is not without its weaknesses: a 2012 British-produced documentary on the rise of the Chinese economy suggested that much of their economic activity is based in mining and construction, outputs that are ultimately not sustainable. The People’s Republic of China is enormous; outside of mainland China, it comprises 22 provinces, 5 regions, 4 municipalities – including Beijing and Shanghai – as well as Hong Kong, Macua and (questionably) Taiwan.
4. France: 12 Overseas Departments and Territories
The French have a much greater reach across the globe than you may think. Aside from the many independent former colonies who still hold French as their national language, France controls a number of overseas territories, including the islands of La Réunion and Mayotte in the Indian Ocean, French Guiana in South America and parts of the Polynesian Islands. France also controls the territory of New Caledonia off the east coast of Australia, which is a whopping 10,026 miles east of metropolitan France! But increasingly, differences have emerged between France and her overseas territories: regions that come under the jurisdiction of France are subject to the same laws, without considering the cultural differences. So, many of the overseas regions believe this isn’t a sustainable set-up. Living conditions and wages in the ‘Dom-Toms’ are often lower than those within France and many residents struggle to make ends meet. This, combined with the trade regulations around France and the EU, means that these smaller territories are obliged to import a variety of produce from Europe, rather than their own geographical neighbours. Needless to say, then, relations between Paris and her overseas regions can at times be rather fraught – the jury is still out on how much longer France can hold on to these hot spots for.
3. United States of America: 14 Territories
It’s obviously no surprise that the USA makes the cut in terms of large countries with a global influence: without a doubt the United States is the most powerful country in the world. With a population of 316.7 million and a GDP of $15,860 billion, the United States far outranks her neighbours in terms of wealth and authority. From the land’s discovery and the birth of the modern nation, America has appeared to the rest of the world as a land of opportunity – a place for change, self-discovery and reinvention. More surprising, perhaps, is that the USA ranks among the top countries in the world for its influence outside of its own landmass. The USA lays claims to five inhabited territories and nine uninhabited properties; the territories, which include fully incorporated territories like Alaska and Hawaii as well as ‘unincorporated’ territories like Puerto Rico and Guam. They all pay varying amounts of taxes to the U.S. but the unincorporated territories aren’t entitled to U.S. citizenship.
2. Russian Federation: 21 Republics
Russia narrowly misses out on our number one spot but the Russian Federation is, in itself, the biggest nation in the world at 6,592,800 square miles. Though while Russia is almost twice the size of the United States, it’s inhospitable climate and terrain means that is has only half the population. The Russian Federation is, in fact, smaller now that it has ever been. The nation was once part of the broader Russian Empire, ruled over by the Tsar, which at that time would have also taken in much of Finland and the Baltic States, as well as other European countries including the Ukraine, Belarus. On top of this Russia owned several of central Asian states in the Empire, including Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan – which itself holds the title of the 9th largest country in the world. But things aren’t so bad for the enormous state which has maintained much of its empire. Russia – spanning nine time zones – is still one of the biggest producers of oil in the world, with a significant and sizable arsenal of weapons at their disposal, and is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Russia has 83 federal subjects, and comprises 21 Republics. Not only this, but with a president who simultaneously is viewed at as both a right-wing politician and a sex symbol, there are plenty of reasons to keep tabs on the Russians.
1. England: 16 countries
The Queen of England is not only the head of the United Kingdom; she is, in fact, the head of state over a much – MUCH – larger region including some of the largest countries in the world. As ruler of the Commonwealth the Queen is the head of state of 16 different countries including the enormous regions of Australia and New Zealand as well as Jamaica, a number of smaller Caribbean islands – and of course, the country with the second largest landmass in the world, Canada. In addition to this, the United Kingdom does hold a number of overseas territories within her jurisdiction which, similarly to France, come under the same government and constitution. This then brings in regions such as Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, The Falkland Islands as well as territory in the Antarctic. Yet as history and indeed many of our previous contenders on the list tells us, it’s not easy staying on top and a number of these territories are disputed regions – most notably the Falkland Islands. The Argentinian government claims Las Malvinas, and the Spanish claim Gibraltar, off the coast of Spain, as their own. Neverthless, for a country as small as the United Kingdom the nation still wields enormous international influence. This smallest permanent member state of the UN Security Council still has an annual military budget of $57,875,170,000, suggesting that although Britain may appear a small shadow of her former self when compared to the heyday of the British Empire, there’s still an unpronounceably large set of figures and millions of miles of overseas territories backing up the Queen’s England.
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