Visualizing Global Foreign Relations
By Chris on December 25, 2010
[Various updates below – clean up of data etc. – as of Dec 28, 2010]
Paul Butler at Facebook did a really nice piece of work of displaying friendships spanning the globe, allowing us to looking into the global scale of how Facebook relationships span earth. Seeing that I thought we could do something similar looking at political relationships between countries. Understanding shifts in the geopolitical world is not trivial. Leaders speak, meet, travel, etc. – and all the activities have to be weaved together to gain a full picture. Here we will, in the spirit of Paul Kedrosky’s data exhaust idea – “the kinds of information we throw off as a byproduct of our actions”, look at travel events of world leaders, with the theory that world leader travel is not only an indication of interest but perhaps even a leading indicator.
We used the Recorded Future News Analytics API to extract travel events on 1,000 “VIPs” – prominent politicians, generals, business people from around the world, and created a data set first of 350,000 events. After removing duplicate reporting and other clean-up we ended up with 7,000 unique VIP trips done during 2009-2010.
Getting right into it – using Spotfire to visualize the trips we can immediately see a subtle “map” emerging – just like in the Facebook example. Washington D.C, Beijing, and a few other places stand out. The data include both city names as well as trips starting or ending in “just a country”.
(all visualizations produced with Spotfire – http://spotfire.tibco.com/)
We can look specifically at trips originating in Beijing – essentially seeing what countries/places that China really care about.
Or a smaller country, but certainly active in its foreign relations – Iran.
But let’s go a bit deeper and beyond the map. If we use a connectedness metric to filter out only 5 most connected cities in the world (again assuming the leader travel is a leading indicator of connection/importance/relevance) then we find that the most important cities in the world are all rising powers like China, India, and Turkey. Not only do we find strong connections between Washington D.C. and these capitals, but also pretty much between every other pair but New Delhi and Ankara. The most powerful connection we find between Washington D.C. and Beijing – not surprisingly so in terms of a “new world order”.
Instead of analyzing just cities we can of course look at people. Here we select Xi Jinping, the likely successor of Hu Jinatao in China, and review his connections. Maybe revealing future focus of his!
Finally, as an alternative visualization we can review highly connected cities and use a treemap to see what people travelled there – and color each person by how favorably/negatively the visit was portrayed.
Using a global lens to understand what makes the world go around can be powerful – and here we can very compellingly look at where real interest is these days. The world certainly seems focused on Asia.
The data used in this analysis is here.