Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2018, Vol. 28 ›› Issue (7): 919-936.doi: 10.1007/s11442-018-1513-x

• Special Issue: Geopolitical Environment Simulation on the Belt and Road Region • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Spatio-temporal evolution of population and urbanization in the countries along the Belt and Road 1950-2050

Haimeng LIU1,2(), Chuanglin FANG1,2,3,*(), Yi MIAO4, Haitao MA1, Qiang ZHANG1, Qiang ZHOU1,2   

  1. 1. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. College of Resources and Environment, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
    3. Institute of Economics, Xinjiang University, Urumqi 830046, China
    4. College of Geography and Environment, Shandong Normal University, Jinan 250014, China
  • Received:2017-09-10 Online:2018-07-20 Published:2018-07-20
  • Contact: Chuanglin FANG;
  • About author:

    Author: Liu Haimeng (1989-), PhD, specialized in urban geography, regional planning, and coupled human and natural systems. E-mail:

  • Supported by:
    The Strategic Priority Research Program of the CAS, Pan-Third Pole Environment Study for a Green Silk Road (Pan-TPE), No.XDA20040400;Key Deployment Project of the CAS, No.ZDRW-ZS-2016-6-2


This paper uses data for the period 1950-2050 compiled by the United Nations Population Division together with methods including spatial autocorrelation analysis, hierarchical cluster analysis and the standard deviational ellipse, to analyze the spatio-temporal evolution of population and urbanization in the 75 countries located along the routes of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road, to identify future population growth and urbanization hotspots. The results reveal the following: First, in 2015, the majority of Belt and Road countries in Europe, South Asia and Southeast Asia had high population densities, whereas most countries in Central Asia, North Africa and West Asia, as well as Russia and Mongolia, had low population densities; the majority of countries in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, West Asia and North Africa had rapid population growth, whereas many countries in Europe had negative population growth; and five Belt and Road countries are in the initial stage of urbanization, 44 countries are in the acceleration stage of urbanization, and 26 are in the terminal stage of urbanization. Second, in the century from 1950 to 2050, the mean center of the study area’s population is consistently located in the border region between India and China. Prior to 2000, the trajectory of the mean center was from northwest to southeast, but from 2000 it is on a southward trajectory, as the population of the study area becomes more concentrated. Future population growth hotspots are predicted to be in South Asia, West Asia and Southeast Asia, and hotspot countries for the period 2015-2030 include India, China, Pakistan and Indonesia, though China will move into negative population growth after 2030. Third, the overall urban population of Belt and Road countries increased from 22% in 1950 to 49% in 2015, and it is expected to gradually catch up with the world average, reaching 64% in 2050. The different levels of urbanization in different countries display significant spatial dependency, and in the hundred-year period under consideration, this dependency increases before eventually weakening. Fourth, between 2015 and 2030, urban population hotspots will include Thailand, China, Laos and Albania, while Kuwait, Cyprus, Qatar and Estonia will be urban “coldspots.” Fifth, there were 293 cities with populations over 1 million located along the Belt and Road in 2015, but that number is expected to increase to 377 by 2030. Of those, 43 will be in China, with many of the others located in India, Indonesia and the eastern Mediterranean.

Key words: Belt and Road, population, urbanization, population migration, spatio-temporal evolution, China