Notably, Encyclopædia Britannica specifies the United States' area (excluding coastal and territorial waters) as 9,525,067 km2
, which is less than either source's figure given for China's area.
Therefore, while it can be determined that China has a larger area excluding coastal and territorial waters, it is unclear which country has a larger area including coastal and territorial waters.
United Nations Statistics Division
's figure for the United States is 9,833,517 km2
and China is 9,596,961 km2
. These closely match the CIA World Factbook figures and similarly include
coastal and territorial waters for the United States, but exclude
coastal and territorial waters for China.
Further explanation of disputed ranking: The dispute for world's third-largest country arose from the inclusion of coastal and territorial waters for the United States. This discrepancy was deduced from comparing the CIA World Factbook and its previous iterations
against the information for United States in Encyclopædia Britannica
, particularly its footnote section.
In sum, according to older versions of the CIA World Factbook (from 1982 to 1996), the U.S. was listed as the world's fourth-largest country (after Russia, Canada, and China) with a total area of 9,372,610 km2
. However, in the 1997 edition, the U.S. added coastal waters to its total area (increasing it to 9,629,091 km2
). And then again in 2007, U.S. added territorial water to its total area (increasing it to 9,833,517 km2
). During this time, China's total area remained unchanged. In other words, no
coastal or territorial water area was added to China's total area figure. The United States has a coastal water area of 109,362 km2
, and a territorial water area of 195,213 km2
, for a total of 304,575 km2
of additional water space. This is larger than entire countries like Italy
, New Zealand
, and the United Kingdom
. Adding this figure to the U.S. will boost it over China in ranking since China's coastal and territorial water figures are currently unknown (no official publication) and thus cannot be added into China's total area figure.