MONGOLIA: 'We would like to have more "neighbors"'
It came as a bit of a surprise. The coalition had not asked for their help, but Mongolia's offer was much appreciated. A rather unlikely coalition partner, Mongolia now has 150 peacekeepers on their third rotation in Iraq. It might not seem like a lot, but it should be seen in relation to a population of a mere 2.5 million.
The Mongolians know their way around Iraq. They've been there before - 800 years ago. In 1258, a grandson of Genghis Khan, the Mongol general Hulegu, conquered Baghdad, killing 800,000 people in the process. Last time they left the country destroyed. This time they're there to rebuild.
"The local population still knows about Mongolia and the Mongolian peacekeepers have gotten a friendly welcome," Ravdan Bold, Mongolia's ambassador to Washington, told DiplomaticTraffic.com. "From the beginning, Mongolia supported the US-led war on terror and we were one of the first countries to express sympathy after the 9/11 attacks. Mongolia is a calm and peaceful country, but we have two big neighbors, Russia and China. There is terrorism in our immediate neighborhood. In Russia there are problems in Chechnya and in China there is unrest in the Xinjiang Uygur region. We should be on alert too. Terrorism is a common threat."
There are around seven million Uyghurs, of Turkic ethnic origin, in the northwestern region of present-day China, and the eastern parts of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Some of them call for independence for the land they call Uyguristan or East Turkestan.
The ambassador continued: "We're a landlocked country. You ask why we joined the coalition forces. We believe the peacekeepers will enhance Mongolia's image in the international arena and we want to help rebuild Iraq, post Saddam Hussein."
Iraq is not the only country where Mongolia has contributed troops. The country has 60 officers in Afghanistan with the mission of training the new Afghan army.
"The mission of our army is different now," the ambassador said. "Our new defense strategy is very much focusing on peacekeeping. We want to take a more active role in international peacekeeping and international diplomacy. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the events on Tiananmen Square in 1989, Mongolia needed a new path. We followed a path to democracy, to market economy and freedom. Since 1994, we have been a free country. We have established a multiparty system and a civil society. The number of NGOs in Mongolia is larger than the number in both China and Russia."
Due to its geographical location, Mongolia has always been in a tricky place politically.
"During Soviet times there was a special relationship between Mongolia and the Soviet Union. We were part of the socialist camp. In 1911, after the collapse of the Manchurian empire, Mongolia and China both declared independence. Russia told us, you should be part of China and we will look out for you. In 1921 we sent a request to the Bolsheviks to send the Red Army to expel the Chinese. We promised if they gave us independence we would become a communist state. Now we're trying to maintain a balanced relationship. Geographically we only have two neighbors, but we would like to have more. That's why we have offered our troops as peacekeepers. Unlike in other countries, the Mongolians are very supportive of the government's decision," the ambassador said.
"It's been a smooth shift to democracy," the ambassador continued. "We're carrying out reforms in the political and economic field simultaneously. We were in the first group of 16 countries to qualify for the Millennium Challenge. In fact, Mongolia was the only country to qualify in 15 of the 16 criteria, failing in the criteria of budget deficit. The second country qualified in 9 of the 16 criteria. In Russia, the focus is on political reform and in China it's about economic reform. Mongolia chose a different path with simultaneous reforms. Eighty percent of our GDP is generated by the private sector. In 2003 we had an economic growth of 5.3 percent. This year it is expected to be even higher, around 8 percent."
This growth comes from traditional sectors such as livestock and agricultural products, light industry and the mining sector, but also from new products, such as the production of cashmere. Mongolia is the second largest producer of cashmere in the world, after China. The Mongolian climate is perfectly suited for producing cashmere, which comes from the downy undercoat of Kashmiri goats originally found in the Himalayas. The highest quality of wool is found in dry, mountainous climates, since goats do not grow the downy coats that produce cashmere in moderate climates. The Mongolian cashmere garments have found their way to northern Europe, but not yet made their way to the mainstream US market. American investors, though, have realized the potential and invested in the cashmere industry, in a break from the more traditional sectors for US investments, such as mining.
In addition to investing in mining and cashmere, Americans are scouring Mongolia for, no surprise, oil.
Mongolia exports crude oil to China. This export is done by truck, and might continue to be so for some time as Mongolia was left out of a planned oil pipeline connecting Russia and China. Preliminary plans for the oil pipeline eyed two possible routes, one of which would have gone through Mongolia. The pipeline will now run from the Angarsk refinery near Irkutsk in eastern Siberia to Daqing in the northeastern China. Yukos Oil Company, Russia's second largest oil company, will finance the 1,500 kilometers of pipeline on the Russian side at a cost of $150 million, and on the Chinese side 760 kilometers of pipeline at a cost of $50 million will be needed. The pipeline is to go into operation by 2005.
"It would have been much easier, and cheaper to go through Mongolia," the ambassador said. "And it would have benefited Mongolia. According to geological surveys, Mongolia is rich in oil."
Encouraging foreign investments and contributing troops to the world's hotspots, Mongolia is getting closer to the world.
"US-Mongolian relations are relatively young; they go back only to 1987," the ambassador said. "We saw a pickup of relations in July [this year], with the official visit to Washington of the Mongolian president. In a joint statement, Mongolia and the United States declared a comprehensive partnership. This includes a strategic political and economic partnership."
Soon Mongolia might have more 'neighbors.'
Curriculum Vitae of Ambassador Ravdan Bold, Mongolia's ambassador to the United States
Date of birth: August 30, 1955
Place of birth: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Education and training:
Military Institute, Ulaanbaatar
Military Diplomatic School, Moscow
Naval Postgraduate School, USA
1977 - 1984 The Ministry of Defense
1984 - 1985 The Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1985 - 1989 Embassy of Mongolia, Japan
1989 - 1991 The Ministry of Defense
1991 - 1996 Secretary and Director, Institute of Strategic Studies
1996 Deputy Director, General Intelligence Agency of Mongolia
1996 - 1997 Adviser to the State Great Khural (Parliament)
Director, Institute of Strategic Studies
1997 - 2003 Executive Secretary, National Security Council of Mongolia and
Adviser to the President
Married with two daughters