The economy of Mongolia has been growing steadily in recent years, and has an abundance of natural resources ready to exploit. The government supports freedom of religion, since the fall of Communism in 1990, which is predominantly Buddhism (60%), and Atheism (25%). Internationally, the country has a lot of potential, especially for a comparatively small population of around 3,000,000 despite being the 19th largest country in terms of land mass. Despite this, it remains a third world country, with the majority of families living in poverty or as nomads.
Its history has always been turbulent from being on the outskirts of dynastic China before 2000BC to its more recent assimilation by Communism and subsequent peaceful revolution overthrowing the Mongolian People’s Republic in 1990. Since then, it has been enjoying far better relationships with its neighbours and with the international community.
However, for a small nation sandwiched between two of the worlds most influential and powerful countries, it has a lot of pressure to cope with – especially given that both nations have at some point been in control of Mongolia.
The main mineral wealth of coal, copper, and gold attracts a lot of foreign investment who are able to provide the funds required to properly exploit these resources in a way that would simply not be possible by the country itself at this time. This puts Mongolia in an undesirable position. Should they encourage foreign investment at the risk of selling out and allowing foreign powers to dominate control of their natural resources?
This may not be in the best long term interests of Mongolia. On the other hand, they face the prospect of missing out on the proceeds from this exploitation now, when the wealth may be of more immediate use.
It is easy to imagine how reluctant a proud country with such an illustrious past could feel, bullied by overbearing neighbours, to secede control of a primary asset. For the most part however, its relations with China and Russia are generally cordial. This leads us to what has become known as Mongolia’s Third Neighbour Policy.
In essence, it is designed with the intention of increasing diplomatic ties to other neighbouring countries in the East. This means a preference for more diversity in its trade and foreign relations, bringing a greater stability to the country. This is also one of the most certain way of ensuring both the political and economic independence of the country.
For a country that is so heavily reliant on its neighbours this is essential. Being a landlocked country, the only access to shipping and ports is through China. The majority of oil in Mongolia is Russian. So will this policy put their lifelines at risk?
I find this unlikely. It is easy to view this arrangement in a negative light, but the bottom line is that stability in the region is beneficial to all concerned and conflict is unlikely to arise because of it. Every country has the right to freely negotiate internationally and it is likely that both Moscow and Beijing are sympathetic to the strain felt by their buffer state.
This being said, the Mongolians realise the necessity of maintaining good relations with their immediate neighbours. In the worst case scenario, imagine a future where their relationship with China or Russia deteriorates to the point of hostilities. Would the western powers be either able, or even willing to intervene? I find it regrettably unlikely. Increasing local diplomatic ties would seem a more realistic option.
While Mongolia is open to negotiations with any country, including the west, the predominant focus of this policy is with nations such as Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and even Turkey.
As it stands, there seems to be no danger of this becoming a reality. Relations are good and Mongolia is keen to nurture these ties.