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  1. Opinion

Perspective: People of the world, not land masses

This map shows what the world would look like if a country's size were proportional to its population. It radically rearranges our sense of geographic space. Vast countries such as Russia, Canada and Australia turn into slivers of territory. Europe, and not South Asia, appears to be the real Asian subcontinent. Compiled by Reddit user TeaDranks, the map is an adapted version of a Population Map made in 2005 by cartographer Paul Breding and published by TeaDranks updated its numbers. What the map emphasizes is the primacy of Asia. The continent's immensity is understood in the West but not truly appreciated. That, of course, is echoed in the Western media, where crises in Europe and conflicts in the Middle East still hold far more attention. The lack of coverage of India's elections last year — the world's greatest exercise in democracy — was lampooned by comedians. And many Americans probably weren't even aware of a similar landmark vote in Indonesia, home to the world's largest population of Muslims, or of Saturday's upcoming presidential vote in Nigeria, which will continue its longest stretch of democracy. Some Asian cities, as delineated on the map, are larger than most European countries. As the continent boasts some of the world's most dynamic developing economies, this map is a useful illustration for why some believe the 21st century will be the Asian Century.

Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for the Washington Post. He was a senior editor at Time, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.


Asia is home to seven of the world's 10 most-populous nations, if you include Russia. Here are the top 10, their leaders and a few tidbits pulled together by Perspective editor Jim Verhulst. Population estimates come from the CIA World Fact Book, which vary in some cases from the numbers the Reddit user relied on to compile the map above.

1. China, 1,355,692,576, the most populous nation on the planet, also became the world's largest economy in 2014, according to the International Monetary Fund. It is led by President Xi Jinping.

2. India, 1,236,344,631, is the world's largest democracy. Elections last year brought Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power. When President Barack Obama visited late last month, he appeared on the prime minister's own monthly radio show. While relations between India and the United States are on the upswing, the Obama visit irked Pakistan, India's longtime nemesis, and ruffled the Chinese a bit as well. India shares a border with three other countries in the top 10.

3. United States has a population of 318,892,103. You pretty much know the rest. Call it "American Exceptionalism" if you want, but we do things our own way, particularly in sports. For example, we just crowned a Super Bowl winner, the world champion of football in a league that only features American teams. Baseball's "World Series" has occasionally involved one international team — from Canada.

4. Indonesia, 253,609,643, is the world's largest Muslim majority nation. Its president, Joko Widodo, was just elected last year and burst onto the scene something in the manner of Obama. He is the first Indonesian president who was neither a general nor from the country's political elite. Known universally as Jokowi, he was born in a Javan slum; his first political office was mayor of his small hometown. He is a populist and a technocrat.

5. Brazil, 202,656,788, is led by Dilma Rousseff, the first woman elected president. Two historical factoids: (1) Brazil speaks Portuguese because of a 500-year-old deal between Spain and Portugal — the pope-brokered Treaty of Tordesillas — that split the world in half between them, except for lands already in Christian hands. (Spoiler alert: The world had other ideas. It didn't last.); (2) The royal head of Portugal got sideways with Napoleon and fled to Brazil in 1807 and later made himself king. Brazil became independent of Portugal in 1822 and elected its first civilian president 120 years ago.

6. Pakistan, 196,174,380, is led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Because of the porous border with Afghanistan and easy passage for Taliban, al-Qaida and Haqqani fighters, the United States has launched an estimated 350 drone strikes in Pakistan during Obama's time in office. New America's International Security Program believes that the strikes killed somewhere between 1,800 and 3,000 people. And remember that the raid to kill Osama bin Laden was conducted on Pakistani soil. These are among the reasons that Pakistan has a fraught relationship with the United States. Oh, and don't forget it has nuclear weapons, as does cross-border rival India.

7. Nigeria, 177,155,754, is led by President Goodluck Jonathan. As recently as four years ago, the United States was importing 31 million barrels of Nigerian oil a month, but by late last year it had dropped to 5 percent of that amount. The nation is beset by the violent Boko Haram, which promotes a radical version of Islam in which it is "haram" — forbidden — for Muslims to take part in any Western activity, whether it is voting or getting a secular education.

8. Bangladesh, 166,280,712, is led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Its apparel industry supplies billions of dollars of clothing to the West every year. Two years ago, a garment factory collapsed and more than 1,100 people died. Western retailers launched a campaign to improve safety standards in the thousands of factories, but inspections are slow and conditions remain suspect.

9. Russia, 142,470,272, is led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. What's there to say that you don't already know?

10. Japan, 127,103,388, is led by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. We know how common Japanese cars are on American roads. What about the reverse? A bit less so. The Wall Street Journal noted that 3,081 GM cars were sold in Japan in 2011. That total included 11 Buicks.


1. Name the country whose leader is a self-professed head-banging metalhead and is particularly fond of Metallica.

2. This country is the largest nation that failed to win a medal at the London Summer Olympics.

3. This country's leader is the third-most admired man in the world, according to a new YouGov poll. Hint: Jackie Chan is No. 4.

4. What is Vladimir Putin's middle name?

5. Name the country that has 29 million Christians.

6. A few months back, this country's leader had an incredibly awkward handshake with a geopolitical rival.

7. This country's leader is "fortunate," becoming president without having first been elected to major office in his own right.

8. The two major parties in this country feud less over policy than over personal animosities between their two leaders.

9. The United States is this country's second-largest export market.

10. True or false: The 10 most-populous nations have more people than the rest of the world combined.


1. Indonesia. Joko "Jokowi" Widodo loves heavy metal music.

2. Pakistan has won only 10 Olympic medals, three of them gold — none of them at the last Summer Olympics.

3. China. Sheer weight of numbers helped. A new YouGov poll of the world's most-admired men puts Bill Gates first, Obama second, Chinese President Xi Jinping third, ahead of Jackie Chan.

4. Trick question! Russians typically have no middle name in the Western sense. Instead, it's based on the father's name. For example, President Putin's full name is Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin — Vladimir, son of Vladimir.

5. India. Only 2.3 percent of the population is Christian, but when a nation has far more than 1 billion people, a small percentage adds up to a big number.

6. Japan. When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Chinese President Xi in November, the two men approached each other, stern-faced, to shake hands in front of cameras in an attempt to ease long-simmering tensions. Abe tried to say something to Xi, who turned away, appearing distinctly uncomfortable, to fix his gaze toward the cameras for the rest of the handshake.

7. Nigeria. Until eight years ago, Goodluck Jonathan was a low-level deputy when he was chosen as vice president on the winning ticket. The president got sick in November 2009, went abroad and wasn't heard from. As the BBC says, "After months of political wrangling, Nigeria's elite finally accepted him as acting leader in February 2010 when the ailing president returned home, but remained too ill to govern" and then a few months later, the president died. Barely 12 hours afterward, "Mr. Jonathan was sworn in as the new president and commander in chief of the armed forces of Africa's most populous nation — one of its most fractious democracies." In 2011 he won his first election as president. He faces another election this Saturday, running against the general he defeated four years ago. Polls show them tied.

8. Bangladesh. A few days ago, the Economist put it this way: "Bangladesh suffers a dysfunctional two-party system, in which the two party leaders, the 'battling begums,' wage a personal vendetta at the country's expense. From 1991 they have rotated in office. ... Both parties know that the other will rig elections." It's gotten worse. The Economist, again: For the past month Bangladesh "has (yet again) been paralyzed. The opposition leader, Khaleda Zia, has been confined to a party office in the capital, Dhaka. Her Bangladesh Nationalist Party has been staging a nationwide blockade of roads, railways and waterways. The trigger for the unrest was a banned protest to mark the anniversary on Jan. 5 of last year's election, in which the incumbent Awami League, led by the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, was re-elected easily thanks to an opposition boycott."

9. Brazil.

10. True. The 10 most-populous nations have more than 4.2 billion people. The rest of the world has only 3 billion.