US-Mongolia relations lack healthy balance

By Fan Lijun Source:Global Times Published: 2019/8/11 20:33:39

Photo: IC

Mongolian President Khaltmaa Battulga met US President Donald Trump at the White House on July 31. During the state visit, the White House said, "The US and Mongolia have agreed that their relationship has reached the level of a 'strategic partnership.'" On Thursday, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was in Mongolia where he met high-ranking Mongolian leaders. Why have Ulaanbaatar and Washington become closer recently?

As tension increases with China and Russia, US frequent interactions with Mongolia could be regarded as an attempt to create more pressure for Beijing and Moscow.

Following its democratic transition, Mongolia has shown a willingness to become a liberal and democratic country with the US as its role model. This is in line with US strategy and provides room for Washington to export its ideology and values to Ulaanbaatar, which aimed at Beijing and Moscow.

As the China-US trade war continues to escalate, reports say that China could slash its rare-earth exports to the US as a countermeasure. According to the US Geological Survey in 2009, Mongolia had 31 million tons of rare-earth resources, 16.77 percent of the world's total and second only to China. 

Boosting ties with Mongolia could be a way for the US to show China it has found an alternative country that can meet its rare-earth demands. This would reduce US reliance on China in this regard. 

By strengthening ties with Mongolia, the US is also attempting to upgrade Mongolia's status in Northeast Asia, giving Washington another channel to deal with the Korean Peninsula nuclear crisis. Mongolia has maintained solid relations with all countries in the region including North Korea, with few historical or territorial issues. Ulaanbaatar wants stronger ties with Washington to earn more respect in the region, at least from Tokyo and Seoul.

Moving closer to the US, Mongolia can reduce its security reliance on China and Russia. 

Mongolia proposed a "third neighbor" policy in 1990, aiming to build relationships with countries other than Russia and China, and formalized its foreign policy and legislation. Mongolia has been seeking to reduce its political, economic, and security reliance on the two giant neighbors by this "third neighbor" foreign policy. 

As a superpower, the US has been Mongolia's most valuable "third neighbor." In Northeast Asia, Japan and South Korea are Mongolia's "third neighbors" in an economic sense. 

Since Mongolia's democratic transition, China has been Mongolia's biggest partner in trade and investment. By cooperating with Japan and South Korea in investment, technology and trade, Mongolia wants to make its economy less reliant on China and Russia. 

Beginning in 2000, the US began attaching great importance to Mongolia through people-to-people exchange and cooperation. Washington will continue to infiltrate Ulaanbaatar with its ideology, grooming officials in line with US values. 

In the short term, however, it will be difficult for Mongolia to change its interdependent ties with China. As long as the two countries respect the core interests of each other, their bilateral cooperation in politics, economy, culture and military under the framework of China-Russia-Mongolia Economic Corridor and the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will advance steadily. The border region between the two countries will remain stable and usher in continued development.

The US-launched trade war against China has influenced global economic development. 

Washington's unilateralism has not received widespread approval from the international community, while China's BRI and proposal for a community of shared future for mankind have gained global acceptance. 

The US development model has encountered multiple challenges and now Mongolia must make a rational stance between the two giants.  

The author is director of the Russia and Mongolia research institute of the Inner Mongolia Academy of Social Science.


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