Mongolia: Looking East, looking West
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Mongolia: Looking East, looking West

President demonstrates considerable flexibility in balancing strategic relationships, reports Jonathan Berkshire Miller

Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj continues to ascend up the list of priority partners in the capitals of North Asia’s key power brokers. Elbergdorj has demonstrated remarkable tact in his management and enhancement of Mongolia’s complex relations with China, Russia and the United States.

The Mongolian head of state is fluent in English and Russian and has a master’s degree from Harvard in government. His own personal narrative continues to further Ulan Bator’s diplomatic push to enhance ties with both neighbors – China and Russia – and foreign markets in Europe and North America.

The current Mongolian government’s nuanced approach to its foreign policy is accruing benefits. Elbegdorj continues to follow a policy similar to that of newly re-elected Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan that advocates “zero problems” on its borders. While Mongolia does not have to deal with the same problems as Turkey from a security perspective, the challenge of managing its relationships with China and Russia is considerable.

Mongolia has historically been blessed and cursed by its geostrategic location between two great powers. Elbedorj is now making it a priority for Mongolia to manage these problems – ranging from historical disputes, energy security to corruption – in order to chart out a prosperous and sustainable future for his country.

Sino-Mongolian relations have improved under Elbedorj’s watch, both economically and politically. Defense cooperation with China is still a sensitive issue for Mongolia but there have been signs of a gradual move towards increasing these ties with Beijing. Last August, the two countries concluded the 5th China-Mongolia Defense Consultation aimed at promoting regional and bilateral defense cooperation.

China recognizes Ulan Bator’s increased engagement with the US and NATO and is anxious to act as hedge and second avenue for the Mongolian government. Following the last round of consultations, a senior official from the People’s Liberation Army remarked that the bilateral discussions had made ‘positive contributions to advancing mutual trust between the two.’

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