DFATD Announcement of FM Baird Visit

On July 22 the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development confirmed previous reporting in the Mongolia press that Foreign Minister Baird will be visiting Mongolia later this week:

In his first trip to Mongolia, Baird will discuss the role of the Canadian government and of Canadian businesses in contributing to the democratic development of the country, including public service reform and mining governance.

Since public service reform and mining governance have been identified as focus areas for any Canadian development assistance in the past, the above phrasing could hint that the bilateral program will finally be announced, as I have speculated, but it doesn’t quite say that, yet.

Note that the DFATD page on bilateral relations now writes about “Canada’s international development bilateral assistance program in Mongolia” (as of July 14 revision) whereas the phrase had previously been “Canada’s international development assistance program in Mongolia”. Perhaps this editorial change was made in anticipation of an announcement.

“We are committed to establishing stronger bilateral and commercial ties with East Asia in order to create more opportunities for job creation and growth at home and abroad,” said Baird. “Promoting Canadian interests and Canadian values will be central in all of my discussions.

Beyond the political and development links between Canada and Mongolia are commercial ties, of course. Just like Mongolia has been added to the “countries of focus” list for aid by DFATD, so it is included in the Global Markets Action Plan as an “emerging market – specific opportunities”. To the extent that a FIPA would be part of strengthening “stronger bilateral and commercial ties” with Mongolia, I would guess that FM Baird will be pushing for a re-start of the FIPA talks.


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FM Baird to Visit Mongolia

According to Mongolian news sources ( 24 Tsag | infomongolia.com), Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird will be visiting Ulaanbaatar July 23-25. There’s no official Canadian announcement as of July 20, but let’s assume that this visit is really happening, after a number of planned official visits by Canadians that had been aborted in previous years.

Why is John Baird Going to Mongolia?

For once, this is not foreign diplomacy that’s motivated by Canadian domestic electoral politics. While the number of Mongolians living (and presumably voting) in Canada is growing, they are neither numerous nor concentrated enough to be an attractive group to address even for micro-targetting politician strategists.

Instead, this visit will be a further step in a slowly deepening bilateral relationship that is rooted in democracy and natural resources. It would follow on the October visit of the Governor General.

Mongolia has long fit the profile of a country that is of interest to the Harper government because of this combination of political and economic shared interests. Mongolia seems to be firmly committed to democracy (though worries have been expressed recently), and its economic and thus social development depends almost entirely on resource development.

Current Developments

FM Baird is arriving just after Naadam, the annual summer festival that celebrates wrestling, archery, and horseback riding. Generally, the period from after Naadam to the end of summer is rather slow in Mongolia, a little like France that way, with  many people, including officials, away to the countryside.

If I had a chance to speak to the Mongolian foreign policy establishment, the top item on my agenda would be the squeeze that Pres Putin’s overtures to Pres Xi potentially puts on Mongolia. This Spring has changed Mongolia’s foreign policy environment rapidly in the aftermath of the Crimea annexation and opposition to it from OECD countries. I would offer strong moral support for democracy and for Mongolia’s independence, especially in light of the upcoming visits by Pres. Xi and Putin. The coming months may well be a time when Mongolia will need to cash in some friendship chips with the “3rd neighbours” it has been cultivating for years – including Canada -, to negotiate a viable course between pressure from its two overbearing neighbours. I imagine that German FM Steinmeier had discussions along these lines on his visit last month. This pressure can be seen in the international sphere in noises about a Russian-Mongolian and possible Russian-Chinese-Mongolian customs union, or in apparent suggestions that Mongolia accelerate its accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. These are developments that are not obviously in Mongolia’s interest, but might be seen as desirable by its direct neighbours.

The other topic that I would emphasize with current officials is the importance of a balanced approach to governing even with a solid majority in place. Of course, FM Baird as a member of the majority Conservatives might be an odd person to deliver such a message.

Concrete Outcomes?

There are two broad areas where the visit might lead to announcement of concrete outcomes, though I’ve been entirely wrong on second-guessing government intentions and discussions in the past.

  1. FIPA. Negotiations for a Foreign Investment Protection Agreement have been stalled for some time, apparently due to objections or a lack of interest by Min of Econ Development, N Batbayar. Recently, there have been some noises about a re-initialization of these discussions.
  2. A Canadian aid program for Mongolia. Last month, it was announced that Mongolia had been added to DFATD’s countries of focus list for foreign aid. A bilateral aid program has been under discussion/in the making for some years, so the visit by the Foreign Minister would seem like an opportune moment for an announcement.

Canada’s excellent ambassador to Mongolia, Greg Goldhawk, is due to leave Ulaanbaatar in August. So far, no word of a successor has come, but perhaps this is something that FM Baird will share with his Mongolian hosts at least, if not with the interested Canadian public.

There have been some hints that Mongolian President Elbegdorj would be interested in visiting Canada, possibly this Fall. If this were to be moving toward a concrete plan rather than a rumour, the visit by Foreign Minister Baird could be a time to announce such a plan, though that strikes me as somewhat unlikely.

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Canadian Development Aid

The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development revised its list of priority countries in June 2014 to include Mongolia.

Past Bilateral Engagement

This is a further step in the long-term process to increase Canadian-Mongolian bilateral engagement. A bilateral aid program has been in the making for some years, at least since the visit of then-PM Batbold to Ottawa in Fall 2010.

A CIDA (now amalgamated in DFATD) officer has been posted at the Canadian embassy for some years. Then-Min of Intl Cooperation Bev Oda visited Ulaanbaatar in August 2011 and a number of smaller development projects in Mongolia funded by CIDA have focused on public service reform and women parliamentarians (those are the projects I am aware of).

The announcement of the addition of Mongolia to the list of focus countries and the increase of the budget share devoted to these countries from 80 to 90% suggests that more concrete announcements of Mongolia activities will be coming, perhaps during the next visit any high-ranking Canadian political officials might make to Ulaanbaatar.

Motivations for Engagement

Canadian engagement with Mongolia appears to be primarily politically motivated. Compared to other countries on the DFATD priority list, Mongolia is relatively prosperous and does not face any kind of humanitarian crisis. Other large donors are also either winding down activities in Mongolia (USAID) or switching from a grant-making to a loan-based engagement as Mongolia is closing in on upper middle-income country status. [See the WorldBank for this classification of countries. The band for lower middle-income goes to $4,085 per capita GNI, Mongolia currently stands at $3,160 (2012) up from near $2,000 in 2010.]

So, why should a country that’s growing economically be a priority focus for foreign aid?

The cynical/critical perspective on this points to an overlap between trading patterns and development aid. This is an aspect of the priority list announcement that Kristen Shane of The Embassy identified, for example.

And, true enough, DFATD’s “Global Markets Action Plan” identifies Mongolia as an “Emerging Market – Specific Opportunities for Canadian Businesses” and thus a priority.

From my perspective this not a case of commercial interests driving development engagement entirely, but rather one where commercial interests have produced a plethora of expertise on the resource sector in Canada, not just among corporations, but also governments, academics, NGOs and development experts.

It is in this common source (a pool of expertise) that I see the roots of a productive and non-cynical overlap between commercial interests and development activities.

In this context I also take note that the volume of bilateral trade and investment is somewhat inflated by the formal part-ownership of the giant Oyu Tolgoi gold and copper project by Vancouver-based Turquoise Hill even though this stake is effectively controlled by Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto. Canadian commercial interests, even in the mining sector, are thus at the moment limited to exploration and the near-development of relatively smaller projects, professional and other services, as well activities in other sectors. This may change in the future, of course.

I am more skeptical on the direct involvement of corporations in the delivery of development projects, though there surely is some scope for collaboration in this as well.

What Role for Canada?

The role that Canada can play very effectively in my mind is to help Mongolians understand and evaluate the policy alternatives that present themselves, in part on the basis of decades-long experience with resource policy in this country. This is not to imply that there is a Canadian or a British Columbia model to follow, but rather that this experience might point to the consequences that policy choices that present themselves to Mongolian decision-makers might have. As I have explained in a recent interview in the Mongolian Mining Journal, “Mongolians must ask their own questions, find their own answers”, but Canadian expertise can (and should, I think) support such a search.

The focus areas that have been announced for Canadian development activities in Mongolia are

“ensuring human development, decreasing rural-urban disparities and improving economic competitiveness.
“The goal of Canada’s assistance is to help the country stimulate sustainable economic growth by strengthening public service capacity, particularly the management of the extractive sector.”

Given the expertise that Canada offers in some of these areas, it is not surprising that Canadian development aid might be welcomed by Mongolians and might contribute to the more sustainable and equitable continued development of that country.


As one of the relatively small (but active) cabal of Mongolia-interested Canadian academics, I (hope to) benefit from increased governmental interactions between the Mongolian and Canadian governments. However, I am not on any payroll in the facilitation of such interactions. I do regularly discuss opportunities with Canadian and Mongolian officials. I also do hope to be more directly involved in development activities in Mongolia at some point sooner rather than later.

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Khaan Quest 2014: a small exercise with big implications

Just recovering from the heavy study term and now trying to join you all.  Here is a link to my recent op-ed on Khaan Quest, a brainchild of the US-Mongolian militaries over two decades of partnership.  The exercise is the only large-scale non-SCO military event in Inner Asia – and as paving its way to be the only constructive framework for the PLA and militaries of the NATO members.

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Foreign Policy Roundup #20: June 9- 22, 2014

A big couple of weeks in Mongolian foreign affairs with the first “Ulaanbaatar Dialogues” held to discuss security issues in East Asia, the President of Latvia making an official visit, and Mongolia’s participation in the ILO and ARF meetings.




On the invitation of Parliamentary Director Z. Ekhbold, the Chairman of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation, Valentina Ivanovna Matviyenko, made an official visit to Mongolia.

The Mongolian and Russian Ministries of Foreign Affairs held their 8th consultative meeting.


Central Asia

Director of the Mongolian General Election Commission, Ch. Sodnomtseren met with the Kyrgyz Ambassador to Mongolia.

L. Bold met with Uzbekistan’s newly appointed ambassador to Mongolia.



L. Bold met with representatives from Japan in the seventh session of meetings regarding the Mongolia-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).



The President of Latvia made an official visit to Mongolia. During his visit official meetings were held with Mongolian President Elbegdorj, PM N. Altankhuyag, and Minister of Foreign Affairs L. Bold. Ideas regarding small state foreign policy were also on the agenda.

Mongolia’s newly appointed ambassador to Denmark, Z. Altai, presented his credentials to the Queen of Denmark.

Both the Mongolian and German sides of the Mongolia-Germany Parliamentary Working Groups met in Ulaanbaatar to discuss their bilateral relations.

Mongolia’s Justice Minister, X. Temuujin made an official visit to Germany to meet with the German Minister of Internal Affairs.


Latin America

Mongolia and Columbia held their first consultative meeting in Bogota. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs D. Gankhuyag met with his counterpart in the Columbia government and discussed issues ranging from mining and development to tourism and industrialization.

D. Gankhuyag made an official visit to Brazil, where he met with the Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs.

L. Bold received the Mexican Ambassador to Mongolia.


North America

Mongolia’s Ambassador the United States, B. Altangerel signed a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs, requiring the U.S. to return dinosaur fossils illegally removed from the territory of Mongolia.



PM N. Altankhuyag was invited by the President of the ILO to the Convention on Labor and Social Security held in Geneva to present the Mongolian government’s “Employed and Profitable Mongolian” program. 

Last year at the meeting of the Community of Democracies, President Elbegdorj announced the creation of the “Ulaanbaatar Dialogues”, modeled after the “Helsinki Process” as a forum to discuss issues in East Asia. Since Mongolia enjoys friendly relations with all East Asian states, President Elbegdorj expressed that Mongolia would be an ideal location for such a forum. The first meeting was held June 17-18, 2014.

Mongolia’s permanent representative to ASEAN, Ts. Jambaldorj, participated in the annual ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) held in Yangon, Myanmar. Ts. Jambaldorj remarked on Myanmar’s successful directorship of ASEAN over the past year.

D. Gankhuyag participated in the G77+China Summit, held in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

MP D. Battsog received the UN Population Fund advisor Katrin Schneider and representatives from the National Gender Commission.

Minister S. Oyun has been nominated for the position of Director of the UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA).


For previous postings, please CLICK HERE.


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Foreign Policy Roundup #19: May 26-June 8, 2014

In this roundup, highlights include Mongolia’s hosting the UN Forum on Trade and Development in Landlocked and Small Island Nations, and continued high level engagement with the Russian Federation.



On invitation of the Mongolia Minister of Law X. Temuujin, the Chinese Minister of Law made an official visit to Ulaanbaatar to exchange ideas of possible cooperation in this sector.

Director of the Mongolian Parliament Z. Enkhbold received the Chinese Ambassador to Mongolia and the Head of the Chinese Investment Corporation. The meeting opened with an expression of gratitude for China’s contributions to the Confidence Building Measures in Asia meeting held in Shanghai. The conversation then moved to discuss the development of coal and natural gas related projects.

Russia’s Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs and Law met with the Mongolian Minister of Law X. Temuujin.

Mongolian Minister of Foreign Affairs L. Bold received the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs I. V. Morgulov at the Mongolian Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Russia eyes Mongolia as transit country for energy trade in Asia.

Mongolia’s relations with NATO, EU, and Russia effected by situation in Ukraine.



Minister of Foreign Affairs L. Bold, made an official visit to Sweden and Denmark and met with his counterparts in the Swedish and Danish governments. While in Sweden, L. Bold also participated in a meeting of the Mongolia-Sweden Business Forum.

Deputy Director of the Mongolian Parliament and Director of the Mongolia-Austria Parliamentary Working Group L. Tsog received the Austrian Ambassador to China, the Vice-President of the Austrian Economic Chamber, and economic attaché to the Ambassador.



Mongolia and Vietnam are marking 60 years of diplomatic relations. In honor of this anniversary, an article was released entitled “The First 60 years of Friendship and Cooperation.”

The Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Mongolia and South Korea held their 8th consultative meeting in Seoul.

B. Tsogoo made an official visit to Laos on invitation of the Laotian government.


Middle East

Mongolia’s General Consul in Istanbul met with representatives from the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs to express Mongolia’s condolences following the mining accident in Soma, Turkey.

Turkey and Mongolia are celebrating 45 years of diplomatic relations.

On the invitation of L. Bold, the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs is making an official visit to Ulaanbaatar.



Mongolia is hosting a UN forum on trade and development in landlocked countries.





For previous postings, please CLICK HERE.


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Will Events in Ukraine Trickle East to Mongolia?

As President Obama declares that the US is preparing to boost its military presence in Europe to the tune of $1 billion, and NATO and the EU move quickly to deepen relations with Georgia and Moldova it is easy to conclude that the crisis in Ukraine and the recent actions of the Russian Federation are a very European issue. However, if we turn our attention to Mongolia, we can see that worsening US/EU relations with Russia are likely to have a far more global effect than may have been initially assumed.

Mongolia, for its part, seeks to simultaneously maintain good relations with its neighbors (Russia and China) while deepening relations with extra-regional powers such as EU member states, the US, Japan, and South Korea. While maintaining this balance and neutrality is difficult enough in a stable international environment, the recent increase in tensions between Russia and NATO/EU members has made playing both sides of the fence an increasingly delicate process.

The first sign that Mongolia was finding itself in an increasingly sticky situation appeared when the country chose to abstain from the UN resolution condemning the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Everything about Mongolian foreign policy and general international outlook would lead one to believe that Mongolian officials do not welcome Russia’s aggressive actions. Not only would Mongolia not be keen on Russia’s attempts to legitimize its actions by reference to historic rights and “arbitrary decisions” (this having the potential to set a precedent for claims on Mongolia’s territory by China), but this kind of action by a great power against a smaller neighbor more generally underlines Mongolia’s own vulnerability. That said, it is also clear that Mongolia is not in a position to upset its relations with the Russian Federation, given its importance to the Mongolian economy and its role as a neighboring balancer vis-à-vis China. “Abstain” was likely the only decision Mongolia could make.

It would appear that the Russian government is also watching how countries on its eastern borders will respond to the crisis in its relations with Europe and North America. Case in point: Russian President Putin met with Mongolian officials 2 times in just the last 3 weeks. The first time, Mongolian Prime Minister N. Altankhuyag met with Putin to discuss the two countries’ bilateral relationship at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. The second time, Putin met with Mongolian President Elbegdorj at the Confidence Building Measures in Asia meeting in Shanghai. Russia is eager to keep Mongolia from sliding towards the United States and Europe.

While I do not know if the current situation in Ukraine was discussed at these meetings, Ukraine was on the agenda during recent meetings between the Mongolian Minister of Foreign Affairs L. Bold and the British Minister of Foreign Affairs two weeks ago. I would also guess that U.S. Senators Steve Lynch and Steven Shabet mentioned the issue during their visit to Ulaanbaatar as part of an official tour of Asia.

Mongolia and other small states seeking to maintain relations with Russia and the “West” are going to find it increasingly difficult to maintain a favorable balance. As Russia becomes more assertive of its foreign policy and security interests, its relationship with NATO and EU member states is unlikely to improve. While Mongolia has navigated the international arena successfully for the past couple decades, that well thought-out success has a limit. As Mongolia’s international profile rises and relations between real and third neighbors deteriorate, I predict that Mongolia’s goal of an omni-directional foreign policy will become more and more difficult to maintain. Difficult, but by no means impossible.



(Many of the resources and links for the post came directly from my “Foreign Policy Roundup”, which be can found here).

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New to Ulaanbaatar in May 2014

Back in October 2013, I made a list of things that are arriving to/disappearing from central Ulaanbaatar.

I’ve copied that list here and am adding to it. New items since October 2013 that I’m adding in May 2014 in italics.

What has arrived?

  • sadly, Louis Vuitton and KFC
  • Mini, Bentley
  • child seats
  • sidewalks
  • parks [these are closely linked to Bat-Uul's election win in 2012]
  • farmers’ markets
  • yoga
  • dogs on leashes
  • Sunday morning joggers and bikers
  • coffee culture

Barista Art at the Rosewood in Ulaanbaatar

What has disappeared, or at least nearly?

Note that some of these may be due to seasonal changes, as I hadn’t been in Ulaanbaatar in September before my last winter, really only in summer or winter.

  • stationary 80s-office-phone-looking old-granny cell phone booth
  • for-pay scales
  • free WiFi on Sukhbaatar, er Chinggis Khaan Square
  • Sukhbaatar Square
  • open gullys/missing manholes
  • street kids
  • packs of dogs
  • smoking
  • the sixth-floor souvenir shop at the State Department Store (though perhaps seasonal)
  • oversized sunglasses for women that were so popular across Asia (?) some years ago
  • Nescafe (see above on coffee culture)

What will appear in the future

  • navigation systems
  • wheelchair accessibility
  • bike lanes
  • city park along the Tuul
  • new airport (apparently)
  • subway (really, I wish they had selected light rail instead)
  • sports cars
  • Harley-Davidson
  • urban renewal and historical restorations embracing district north of government house (National University of Mongolia, German embassy, etc.)
  • road signs in the countryside
  • street names and signs in the city
  • network of cross-country riding trails
  • parking (meters)

What will disappear in the near future

I’m going out on a predictive limb here… 2-3 years is what I mean by “near future”.

  • stray dogs
  • stretched-out hand to signal for a car ride
  • that awkward extra half-step on most stairs

What will disappear in the medium-term future

I mean around 5 years or so.

  • new (to Mongolia) cars that are right-hand drive
  • the neo-classical Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, with its Stalinist (if that’s an architectural style) spire
  • deels in the city
  • some of the downtown university campuses
  • buildings of 4 floors or less in the urban core.
Posted in Curios, Ulaanbaatar | Tagged | 3 Comments

Foreign Policy Roundup #18: May 12-26, 2014

Highlights for the past few weeks include: Putin meets with the Mongolian President at the Confidence Building Measures in Asia international forum and with Mongolian Prime Minister N. Altankhuyag at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.



Mongolian Prime Minister N. Altankhuyag is traveling to St. Petersburg to represent Mongolia at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. This year, Western opposition to current developments in Russian foreign policy has affected the Forum, with 40% lower international attendance. Western opposition has also put Mongolia’s relations with the Russian Federation in a tense position, highlighted by N. Altankhuyag’s meeting with President Putin during the event.

During the Confidence Building Measures in Asia meeting Shanghai, Mongolian President Elbegdorj and Russian President Putin had a meeting, during which they discussed bilateral relations.

Mongolian Minister of Law, X. Temuujin invited the Chinese Deputy Law Minister to exchange ideas on cooperation in the fields of law and rights.



Mongolia’s newly appointed ambassador to Moldova, L. Dugerjav, presented his credentials to the Moldovan President.

Mongolia’s Ambassador to the European Union, Kh. Davaadorj, participated in a conference held for the opening of a new East Asian Studies Center in the Netherlands at Gronigen University.

As Mongolia and Sweden mark 50 years of diplomatic relations, Sweden’s non-resident ambassador made an official visit to Ulaanbaatar.

L. Bold met with the British Minister of Foreign Affairs to discuss international developments ranging from Afghanistan and Ukraine to North Korea.


Middle East

Mongolian Minister of Foreign Affairs, L. Bold, received the Israeli Ambassador to Mongolia to discuss the two countries’ bilateral relations and congratulated the ambassador on the Israeli National Day.

North America

In preparation for the 2015 conference on Nuclear Nonproliferation, Mongolian representatives met with the 5 nuclear states’ in New York. The representatives made particular note of Mongolia’s non-nuclear status.

Minister L. Bold met with US Senators Steve Shabet and Steven Lynch during the Mongolian leg of their Asian tour.


For previous postings, please CLICK HERE.



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In Ulaanbaatar with EITI Project Graduate Students

Together with Dirk van Zyl, a colleague in UBC’s NBK Institute of Mining Engineering, I supervised an interdisciplinary group of graduate students in a project on the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and focused especially on EITI reporting in Mongolia in the Spring term, see http://blogs.ubc.ca/maapps

I’m in Mongolia May 21-30 with some of the students from the group who will be presenting the results of their analysis of the EITI reporting to various audiences. One presentation at the Ministry of Mining that will focus on policy makers has been scheduled for Tuesday, May 27, already.

Another presentation will be at 16h on Monday, May 26, in the conference room of the Puma Imperial Hotel. This event will be co-hosted by the EITI Secretariat in Mongolia and will be free and open to the public.

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Foreign Policy Roundup #17: April 28- May 11, 2014

Highlights from this week include Gankhuyag’s tour of Southeast Asia, several newly appointed ambassadors, and the election of Mongolia to head the international “Freedom Online Coalition.”


On the invitation of Mongolian Minister of Finance, Ch. Ulaan, the Chinese Minister of Finance made an official visit to Mongolia.

The Deputy Chairman of the Mongolian Parliament and Director of the Mongolian People’s Party, M. Enkhbold, received the Russian Ambassador to Mongolia. During the meeting, they discussed M. Enkhbold’s upcoming trip to participate in the St. Petersburg Economic Forum.

The Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Director of Neighbor Relations, T. Togsbilguun, participated in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization “6+5” meeting. Mongolia is an official observer in the SCO.


The Japanese Minister of Infrastructure, Transportation, and Tourism made an official visit to Mongolia, at which time he met with Mongolian Transportation Minister A. Gansukh. The Japanese government has financed the development of some of Mongolia’s key highways, and is a key partner in the building of the new international airport. The Minister also expressed that Japanese companies were interested in obtaining a share of the “Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi” coal mine. 

Mongolian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, D. Gankhuyag traveled to Laos to meet with the Lao Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Tonglun Sisulit. During their meeting, D. Gankhuyag discussed Mongolia’s engagement in the Asia-Pacific and its desire to become a member of the ASEAN Dialogue Partners. Laos and Mongolia have a long history of good relations, developed largely during the communist period.

Following his trip to Laos, D. Gankhuyag made an official visit to Vietnam, for official consultations between the two countries’ Ministries of Foreign Affairs.


Africa and the Middle East

After returning from his tour of Southeast Asia, D. Gankhuyag received the South African Ambassador to Mongolia. As Mongolia and South Africa prepare to mark 20 years of diplomatic relations, the two countries are increasingly looking to each other as models of resource development.

Member of Parliament and Director of the Mongolia-Kuwait Parliamentary Group S. Erdene and S. Batbold had an audience with the Kuwaiti Emir. During the meeting, the two sides expressed interest in deepening Mongolian-Kuwaiti relations in all sectors.


Europe and North America 

Mongolia’s newly appointed ambassador to Germany, Ts. Bolor, presented his credentials to the German Federal President. This year, Mongolia and Germany will mark 40 years of diplomatic relations.

Following the meeting of the “Freedom Online Coalition”, L. Bold took the opportunity to met with the Estonian Director of Parliament.

Mongolian Parliamentary Member, A. Bakey, met with representatives from the Swiss Development Agency. The Swiss Development Agency is preparing a number of aid/investment packages to Mongolia.

Mongolia’s newly appointed ambassador of Canada, R. Altangerel, presented his credentials to the Canadian Governor General.



Mongolian Minister of Foreign Affairs, L. Bold, participated in the international “Freedom Online Coalition” met in Estonia. During the proceedings, Mongolia was elected to lead the organization next year.

The Mongolian Minister of Population Development and Social Protection, S. Erdene, met with the Director of the International Labor Organization.



For previous postings, please CLICK HERE.


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The Cluttering of Ulaanbaatar

Caveats: I am no city planner, nor a scholar of urban development. I also don’t have a strong sense of what’s happening in Ulaanbaatar outside the very small downtown area within, say, 4km of Sukhbaatar Square. Yet, I travel to Ulaanbaatar regularly and am thus confronted with visible changes in the cityscape that I have written about previously (Oct 2013 | September 2013 | June 2013)

May 2014

I’m back in Ulaanbaatar after about six months’ absence. The drive in from the airport makes less of an impression than it has on some previous visits, in part because the (re)construction of the highway to the airport seems to have been largely completed. It is now two lanes in both directions, at least until just before it crosses the Tuul River. There are street lanterns, bus stops and pedestrian crosswalks. The large apartment blocks that had appeared last year (I think) have not multiplied further, the Hunnu Mall looked like it had not been completed. I couldn’t quite tell in the dark how much further along the new urban district (Viva City, I think) had progressed.

Urban Clutter

On one of my last visits it struck me to what extent we can watch Ulaanbaatar develop as an urban metropolis, virtually right in front of us. When I walked around yesterday, it struck me that we are also observing a stark version of urban development without planning, at least without planning that corresponds to my layman’s aesthetic of urban development. Having grown up in Berlin where building height is tightly regulated, the variety of heights of buildings that are popping up in Ulaanbaatar is bewildering and a bit oppressive. It is also beginning to cover some of the gems of urbanity that marked Ulaanbaatar in the past.

Nostalgic Waxing

I don’t want to romanticize Ulaanbaatar’s past too much, but one of the aspects that marked the city when I first started coming regularly about 10 years ago was its openness. Unfortunately, I don’t really recollect much of the cityscape from my first visit/pass through on the train in 1991, but in the mid 2000s the four-story Ulaanbaatar Hotel seemed like a substantial building that had significant open space in front of it.

Now… the Ulaanbaatar Hotel is dwarfed even by the next-door headquarters of the MPP (at least in massive appearance if not in height) which in turn is towered over by Central Tower. At least the stretch of green in front of the Hotel now extends to the front of Central Tower along Peace Avenue as well.

Just South of the city centre, many new buildings are going up. Hotels and commercial buildings closer to the centre, apartment complexes a bit further away. Many of these reach beyond 10 stories. Few of them are architecturally distinguished (to this layman’s eyes), but most of them are inoffensive. Some of this densification is made possible by a re-rourting of traffic that has established several important East-West axes other than Peace Avenue. Yet, my limited imagination does not allow me to see how this cluttered, seemingly unplanned densification will lead to anything particularly attractive in the long run. Open spaces (even if they were dirt lots in the past) are disappearing, but there is no coherent facade to blocks of buildings bordering on city streets.

I find it especially noticeable how many residential buildings seem to be under construction now when the last couple of years looked to be mostly about commercial buildings. If the construction site down the street, across from the Japanese embassy is really going to be a Shangri-la hotel, I do have to wonder what hordes of foreign visitors are clamouring for luxury hotels.

Riverside Walk/Park

These developments make a safeguarding of the Tuul and Selbe riverfronts, and of existing open spaces that much more important.

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Rosneft Pipelines to and Through Mongolia

Events in Ukraine create both uncertainties and opportunities in Ulaanbaatar. A changing balance of power in Europe and closer ties between two regional powers, Russia and China, certainly create new uncertainty for Mongolia. With their country’s “regionless” fate of living between two giants, politicians in Ulaanbaatar have been cautious in their remarks regarding the events in Europe’s East, though they clearly prioritize political stability. Even the US Ambassador to Mongolia’s call over social media for Mongolians to support Ukraine did not inspire much excitement within this landlocked Asian country (link). But on the economic side, Mongolians are expecting some spillover effects from increased economic activities between Russia and China because of the Russian rifts with its European partners.

Moscow and Ulaanbaatar have for years been actively engaging in dialogue to increase the bilateral levels of trade, investment and cultural exchanges. But the actual implementation of any major plans has been slow. Mongolia’s import of fuel from Russia remains the most important, though exceedingly complex issue, at any level of inter-governmental meetings between the two neighboring states. Yet, presumably, with the recent visit to Mongolia by Igor Sechin, the president of Russian oil giant Rosneft, energy talks might finally speed up.

During his three-hour stay in Ulaanbaatar on March 17, 2014, Sechin met with President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, Prime Minister Norovyn Altankhuyag and Mining Minister Davaajav Gankhuyag. The Rosneft president informed his hosts of Russia’s willingness to supply oil to Mongolia via pipeline on a long-term basis, and he even discussed the possibility of transiting crude oil from Russia to China through Mongolian territory. In 2013, Mongolia imported 700,000 tons of crude oil from Russia, equal to 54 percent of its total domestic consumption (link).

There are several clear reasons for why the Russian government has become so forthcoming to Mongolia. For one, the landlocked country is still regarded as small but growing and reliable market for Russian fuel exports because of Mongolia’s increased mining and agricultural activities in addition to a rising number of individual consumers there (meaning, mainly, vehicle operators).

Second, all previous governments in Mongolia have been attempting to reduce the country’s dependency on Russian gasoline and petroleum product imports; they have struck deals with China, Kazakhstan and others as potential sources for Mongolia’s domestic energy needs (Xinhua, May 17, 2013; news.mn, Jan 6, 2009). In addition, Mongolia’s search for new sources of energy—such as shale oil exploration—are undergoing. Russia’s sudden expanded interest in Mongolia is, therefore, likely a reflection of its unwillingness to lose any more market share for Russian gasoline exports.

Third, after much debate, Mongolia has finally begun building the country’s first oil refinery in Darkhan City, which is scheduled for completion by 2015. The new refinery will process 2 million tons of oil per year using crude oil from the Tamsag deposit in eastern Mongolia. This new refinery is also planning to import crude oil from Angarsk in Russia. In order to maintain its dominance in the Mongolian fuel market, earlier in 2011, the Russian side had offered to set up 100 gas stations in Mongolia (see EDM, November 11, 2013). But the proposal triggered sudden protectionist debates among Mongolian politicians, fuel distributors and the public. This time, the Russian side offered to deliver oil products and crude oil via pipelines because of the inefficiency of the Russian-Mongolian inter-state rail links.

Besides a pipeline to Mongolia, the Russian side also indicated it would reconsider the planned oil and gas pipeline transit route from Russia to China (infomongolia.com, March 17). At the height of joint efforts by Russian and Chinese governments to reduce the United States’ interests in Central Asia in 2005, Russia and China decided to build a pipeline that would by-pass Mongolia, even though the Mongolian route is considered shorter, safer and, therefore, more economically efficient than pipeline routes through Central Asia or via Siberia/Manchuria. Over the years, this has been one of Ulaanbaatar’s continued requests to Beijing and Moscow (link). The finalized pipeline deal was to be made this coming May during the Chinese-Russian summit.

Although Mongolia is in many ways geopolitically constrained by its powerful neighbors, any shifts, either amicable or hostile, between China and Russia, have presented both challenges and opportunities for Mongolia. During an amicable period in the 1950s for relations between Moscow and Beijing, the first ever trans-Mongolian railroad was built, which still serves as a rail link between Russia and China for the transportation of goods and people. On the other hand, in the hostile period of the 1960s for Moscow and Beijing, Mongolia was able to benefit from Soviet developmental aid—as a legacy of that assistance, the Erdenet copper mine continues to account for a substantial portion of Mongolia’s GDP (IMF Country Report No. 07/30—Mongolia: 2006, January 2007). Today, Russia urgently looks eastward for markets for its energy exports due to tensions with the West over Ukraine. And because of this, Mongolia will likely be able to position itself to host a Russia-to-China oil transit pipeline.

Note: re-posted with the permission of the Eurasia Daily Monitor of the Jamestown Foundation, for the original news, EDM (2014/05/01).

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State-Sponsored Formalization of Household Herding in Rural Bayanhongor

“A herder is master of 1000 professions.”
President Elbegdorj, printed at the top of herder diplomas

The Presence of the State in Rural Mongolia

Over the course of my dissertation fieldwork in Mongolia, I spent a considerable amount of time ‘doing the rounds’ with the bagiin darga (rural district supervisor) of district 1 in Olziit sum, Bayanhongor province in central west Mongolia. ‘Doing the rounds’ consisted of traveling to each herder household with a variety of objectives depending on the season, such as buying sheep wool, issuing livestock insurance, counting livestock numbers, administering national household surveys, traveling with vets or doctors, etc. In my field sites in rural Bayanhongor, I observed an active state presence in herder’s personal lives in both the district and provincial level and was often struck by the frequency of contact between government representatives and herding households.

Over the course of my time in the field from May 2013 – January 2014, I observed a set of practices initiated by the state that I consider to be part of an ongoing process of formalizing and commercializing the household production of rural mobile pastoralists in Mongolia. My experience is somewhat at odds with the portrayal of an absent or dysfunctional state administration in rural Mongolia; rather, the state seems to be actively involved in shaping the production strategies of herders and the nature of their citizenship.

Herders’ Diplomas During an Election Campaign

The individually packaged red stamps were distributed to herders along with a diploma and medal. The stamps have the name and registration number of a head of household on the face to be used during economic transactions such as the selling of fiber or meat products.

For this entry, I would like to focus on one initiative in which I was an active participant. About a week before the presidential election in June 2013, I accompanied the bagiin darga (district administrator) and two others as they distributed three objects to each herder household in my field site in Olziit sum. I actively assisted them in this process and documented the families as they received these objects. The objects were: an official diploma for herders, which was presented in an red folder with the diploma title ‘Mongolian National Herder Diploma’ (Монгол улсын малчин үнэмлэх) embossed in gold letters on the cover, a medal titled ‘Mongolian National Herder’ (Монгол улсын малчин), and a red colored personalized official stamp (тамга) with the name of head of the household and registration number carved into its oval rubber shape.

The diploma is about 8.5 x 11 inches and divided into two sections. The left side of the page reads (rough translation):

This photo features the heads of household with their diplomas and medals.

Diploma of the Profession of Herder
Registration number XXXX
Sangi Ochir Monkhbat of Bayanhongor aimag’s Olziit sum
“The professional herder certification is being presented to you in accordance with your mastery of the methods, skills, and knowledge of a herder”
Government registration number XXXX”

At the bottom of the left side are the seals and signatures of the Ministers of the Department of Labor and the Department for Agriculture.

The right side of the page reads:

“This is to certify that Sangi Ochir Monkhbat is carrying out and maintaining the traditional practices of animal husbandry of which he has mastered and for which he knows the knowledge and methods.”  Following this statement is a bullet list of thirteen points summarizing the knowledge and skills that comprise the work of a herder.

The day that we were distributing diplomas, this man’s relatives were preparing food and setting up a new ger for a wedding. I learned a few months later that the young man who was married subsequently got in a motorcycle accident during the wedding festivities and now can barely write his name and walk.

These diplomas were distributed to the male and female heads of households along with a medal featuring the title “Mongolian National Herder” with the five types of livestock in an inverted V shape with the horse at the pinnacle. As we distributed these items, the bagiin darga jokingly said to the herders, “Now you have a profession, congratulations.”  As we traveled over the alternatively sandy and rocky dirt roads of the district, the bagiin darga would tell me the name of the next family that we were going to visit and I would locate their individually wrapped and labeled stamp from a flimsy blue and white plastic bag, tearing at the seams and jammed up on the shelf above the dusty seat of our tough Honda excel. When we arrived at a household, we would sit down for the customary tea and taste from their hospitality plate and the darga would explain the purpose of the visit. Then he would gesture for one of us to give the diploma, medal, and stamp to the heads of household. Depending on the household and our timing, I would snap a few photos of the herders with their certificates. These items were being distributed to every fulltime herding family regardless of age. A few of the families were quite elderly and others received the diplomas with infants and young children looking on. Many families asked what they were supposed to do with the stamp, and the bagiin darga explained that it was to be used when they sold their produce, especially wool and cashmere.

The process is especially interesting if looked at vis-à-vis the efforts that herders are making to ensure that their children participate in formal school-based education in rural and provincial centers. My colleague, Dr. Bumochir Dulam and I, found that herders in Northern Bayanhongor province invest a considerable amount of their wealth generated from livestock produce as well as resources such as time and social capital to provide school-based education to their children. Over the course of my time in Mongolia, herders constantly referred to themselves as “unskilled” or “uneducated,” and used the Mongolian term “мэргэжилгүй,” which translates as “without a profession or unskilled” to describe themselves. I have heard these terms used frequently in Ulaanbaatar as well and they seem to comprise a general discourse on herders as formally uneducated and unskilled individuals. Formal education, in many ways, seems to be the primary quality that many Mongolians I talked to used to differentiate herders/rural work from non-herders/non-rural work.

The State’s Perspective on Herding

I spent the day distributing diplomas with the district ‘boss,’ Luvsantseren. A herder walked us to an area with cell phone service, and one of our company tried to capture a bar or two.

In this context, the government initiative to distribute diplomas to herders appears to be a way to formally acknowledge and value the work of mobile pastoralists as a valid profession with a set of skills that contribute to the idea of the Mongolian nation. The idea that herders play an essential role in maintaining the traditional culture and environment of Mongolia is listed in the bulleted list of herder skills highlighted on the diploma. All three objects include the term “Mongolian National Herder” which emphasizes the role of the herder in a national project. Although these objects invoke the socialist past (the red color, the symbolic qualities of a medal and a stamp), the type of citizenship that they put forth is one based on an entirely different logic of production and political participation.  This logic includes a discourse of personal responsibility and initiative, which I observed the Bayanhongor administration use multiple times with herders in a variety of formats (from sum meetings, conversations, speeches by the provincial governor, to a “relationship” notebook that is kept in the herder ger as a way to communicate with state representatives).

It is interesting to see how the distribution of these materials is playing out. In August, I visited Gurvanbulag sum, which is about 240 km north of the Bayanhongor aimag center and my primary field site of Olziit sum. (I did not take part in the distribution of the diplomas in this area). As I was talking to an older herder in his late 50s, an active and vocal member of the community who often presents long critiques of government initiatives during sum meetings, he stood up to show me the long banner of medals hanging from the north side of his ger. He explained many of them to me, but stopped at the recently distributed Mongolian National Herder medal, a shiny piece at the end of a long display of tarnished socialist awards, to say that it is the medal that he is most proud of. He removed it from the banner and held it up to emphasize that this medal was the most important of them all, and in comparison the rest did not matter. On the other hand, some herders appear to be a bit ambivalent towards the diploma. The bagiin darga himself awarded me with a diploma and issued me a registration number for his district in what appeared to be a humorous act of everyday resistance.

Why is the State Making Its Presence Felt in the Countryside?

The herders registered in the first district of Olziit sum of Bayanhongor aimag were given a “National Herder of Mongolia” diploma and medal.

How can we understand these state initiatives? Is this simply a tactic to gain more votes? Is it an initiative to be more inclusive of rural society by encouraging participation after economic collapse and the rapid post-socialist privatization of the 1990s rendered the paternal state largely absent and ineffective? The overt economic quality of these initiatives, especially in the context of Bayanhongor’s effort to revitalize its sums with funding from the World Bank, calls attention to the larger development project that the Mongolian state is carrying out. These initiatives are occurring alongside the privatization of winter and spring camps and the increasing reliance of herders on annual bank loans to finance their household (education, household expenditures, health care, livestock care). To gain further insight on how these measures might play out in Mongolia, it might be useful to look at places in Africa and Chile and the development model of value-chain driven agriculture playing out among smallholding farmers. Phil McMichael’s 2013 piece in Third World Quarterly titled “Value Chain Agriculture and Debt Relations: Contradictory Outcomes,” provides a potential starting point for looking at how the Mongolian state is moving toward managing the agricultural sector. One aspect of this model is the focus on ‘Mongolian made” fiber products, which encourages herders to sell their fiber to the local government rather than Chinese traders. The bagiin darga, who referred to himself not as a “boss” but as a servant of both the government and the district herding community, explained that prior to the government purchasing of sheep wool from herders, locally produced wool would go directly to China. He sees the government purchasing initiative as being more systematized and reliable, and contributing at least superficially to Mongolian economic and cultural sovereignty.

Contrary to an absent state in rural Bayanhongor, I observed a local administration that was very involved in managing herder affairs with frequent contact via sum meetings, phone conversations, and home visits. Government representatives are often active, absentee or former herders and play multiple roles in the community. The paternal state of the past may have given birth to a commercial one, and there needs to be more research focusing on how its institutions manifest within household units and are influencing the nature of citizenship. The formalization of household herding though the distribution of diplomas should be seen as part of this wider process of governance and the changing nature of rural work in Mongolia.

About Ariell Ahearn

Ariell Ahearn is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the School for Environment and Geography at Oxford University, where she is working on an ethnography of changing rural work practices among semi-nomadic herders in central-west Mongolia. She spent the last year working and living with herders in order to understand the conditions for practicing nomadic pastoralism in her field sites located in the region of Northern Bayanhongor province. Originally from rural upstate New York, Ariell is passionate about rural livelihoods, local knowledge, and livestock husbandry as it is practiced around the world.

Posted in Ariell Ahearn, Countryside, Education, Nomadism, Presidential 2013, Research on Mongolia | 1 Comment

Foreign Policy Roundup #16: April 14-27, 2014

After a bit of a hiatus, Foreign Policy Roundup is back, and I am expecting to restart bi-monthly postings from here on out. Highlights for this week include the Myanmar delegation’s visit to Mongolia and Saudi Arabia’s decision to open an embassy in Ulaanbaatar.



Asia Pacific

After arriving in Ulaanbaatar on April 12, the director of the Myanmar Parliament was received by Z. Enkhbold, his counterpart in the Mongolian Parliament. Mongolia and Myanmar established diplomatic relations in 1956, but this is the first state visit by an acting head of Parliament. During his official visit, Tura U Shwe visited the Mongolian Election Commission. This year Myanmar is the chair of ASEAN. See my previous article on the potential of Myanmar-Mongolian relations, here.

Mongolia’s ambassador to South Korea participated in the 2014 Trilateral Summit held in Seoul, between China, Japan, and South Korea.

Member of Parliament and Director of the Mongolian Legal Commision, Sh. Tuvdendorj, received South Korean economic representatives. During the representatives’ visit they announced out plans to expand technological cooperation and establishing a continent-wide railway network.

Mongolia and Thailand held a consultation meeting, during which they discussed cooperation in tourism, education, and general political/economic affairs.

Mongolian MP, R. Amarjargal, participated in the Institute Fund Summit 2014 Asia event in Hong Kong. During his address, he said that Mongolia welcomes investment, making specific reference to the new investment law.



Mongolia’s newly appointed ambassador to Croatia presented his credentials to the country’s president, Ivo Yosipovich. Mongolia has managed to maintain good relations with many of the Balkan states as a result of its previous relations with communist Yugoslavia.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, L. Bold, met with the French Ambassador to Mongolia. France and Mongolia have expanded political and economic relations in recent years, increasing cooperation in such sectors as tourism and education.


Middle East

L. Bold made an official visit to Saudi Arabia, where he met with his counterpart in the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This was the first such meeting between these two countries. During the visit, Saudi Arabia announced that it would be opening an embassy in Ulaanbaatar.


United Nations

Mongolia was elected to become a member of 2 UNESCO divisions: Population and Development; and Women’s Issues.

For previous postings, please CLICK HERE.


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