Mongolia has a population of barely 3.3 million. China’s is more than 1.3 billion, nearly 400 times that of Mongolia’s. So, why is Beijing so keen to court Ulaanbataar where the majority of the people are sheep herders eking out a meagre existence on the Steppes?
It is not Mongolia’s size but geography that matters. The landlocked country is sandwiched between two huge and powerful neighbours: Russia and China. Both court it for economic and geostrategic reasons. So does the collective west led by the US-NATO combine. If Russian- Chinese policy aims to integrate Mongolia into their grids through transportation corridors and pipelines, the west’s policy is to play the spoiler’s role.
Consider this. Two days after President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh of Mongolia was welcomed in Beijing (November 28) with pomp and ceremony including a state dinner, a high-level NATO military delegation descended on Ulaanbataar for a two-day meeting with Mongolian military officials.
November 28 marked the second meeting between Xi and Khurelsukh in two months. Interestingly, the Mongolian president has a striking resemblance to President Xi, albeit a younger, fitter version of him! Accompanied by Xi, Khurelsukh strode on to the welcoming stage with the confident stride that only a descendant of the Mongol warrior Changez Khan can display.
The statement issued by the Chinese foreign ministry was effusive in its praise reflecting the great importance Beijing attaches to Mongolia. “President Xi welcomed President Khurelsukh and pointed out that the two presidents meeting again after two months as promised fully reflects the high level of China-Mongolia relations. The two countries are each other’s important neighbor. It is in the fundamental interests of the two peoples to maintain long-term and stable relations of good-neighborliness, friendship and cooperation.”
The arrival on December 1 of a military delegation from NATO’s Cooperative Security Division, led by its Director, Major General Francesco Diella in Ulaanbaatar reflected western concerns about China’s growing influence even in its own neighbourhood. NATO is determined to throw the monkey wrench in the fast-growing relations between Mongolia and its neighbours China and Russia.
Landlocked Mongolia is not a member of NATO yet this aggressive western military alliance is used as a battering ram to bludgeon reluctant governments into compliance with its demands. The NATO handout read: “The talks were held within the framework of NATO’s Partnership with Mongolia.
“The two-day meeting was an opportunity to confirm NATO’s ongoing commitment to its partnership with Mongolia, which was established in 2005 and includes cooperation on a range of issues, such as counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, cyber security developing mechanisms for crisis prevention and management, and building capacity.”
Diella noted that NATO is committed to strengthening dialogue and relations with Mongolia, especially when addressing shared security challenges. “In this challenging security environment, regional instability can have global implications and affect more countries than just the ones who are directly involved. Nevertheless, by working together, including with NATO Partners, our Alliance can help mitigate and limit foreseeable effects,” he said.
The Mongolian delegation, led by Colonel Gandirvaa Chuluunbor, Director of the Strategic and Policy Planning Directorate from the Ministry of Defence, not surprisingly, provided some insight into his government’s priorities. These included an overview on security and defence policies as well as an update on their national threat assessment. What probably irked the NATO military delegation the most was Mongolia’s engagement and cooperation with other Asian countries, especially China and Kazakhstan.
It, therefore, came as no surprise that within days of the NATO military delegation leaving Ulaanbaatar, protests erupted in the capital on December 5. Initially, the protesters’ concerns related to economic conditions and soaring inflation, estimated at 15.2%, but they quickly escalated into demands for the government’s resignation. Some protesters even attempted to storm the presidential palace but were blocked by the police.
Social media went into overdrive adding fuel to the fire. “Help us our country is collapsing,” read one placard. This was a direct appeal to the west which is orchestrating the protests.
Another factor is corruption, especially relating to the coal industry, the main source of Mongolia’s income. The country’s coal, cashmere, livestock and other resources are all exported to China. While there is certainly corruption in Mongolia as elsewhere, the demand for government’s resignation is orchestrated by the same set of villains from the west who have initiated so many colour revolutions in other places.
The government responded quickly to allegations of corruption. The cabinet decided to reveal details of nine contracts related to the state mining company. Further, a parliamentary committee was step up to probe the scandal and also announced that all future business deals on coal exports will be done with full public disclosure.
The west sees Mongolia as a soft target through which both Russia and China can be undermined. The same holds true for Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. While Russia holds considerable sway in the ‘stans’, western mischief-making is escalating there as well because it wants to punish Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine. Incidentally, Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries in the world but the west continues to shovel tens of billions of dollars into this bottomless pit hoping this would lead to undermining Russia.
For both China and Russia, Mongolia is of immense importance. It is the transit route for the proposed Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline. Once completed, an estimated 50 billion cubic meters of gas will flow from the Yamal Peninsula in the Russian Arctic to eastern China. Construction work is due to start in 2024.
China, Mongolia and Russia are also working on the Development Plan to Establish the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor. This has great economic potential, especially for landlocked Mongolia.
The west’s habitual trouble-makers, however, see great potential in disrupting the trio’s development plans in Mongolia. How Russia and China respond to such mischief-making will determine the future of the entire region.