Guest Post: For the 3rd Time, the Mongolian Parliament Has Passed a Law in Breach of Other Laws

By D. TEGSHBAYAR

On January 18, 2023, the Mongolian parliament passed a “bill to protect human rights on social media” that allows to regulate social media contents. Within a little over 48 hours after the draft proposal submitted by the Minister of Digital Development and Communication to parliament, the bill was passed giving no space and time for the public to get acquainted with the draft.

This rushed process of passing a law did not occur for the first time for the Mongolian parliament. It turns out, the basis for such breaches of existing laws and human rights by parliament has been laid out over the past half-year. Three laws have already been passed by parliament in an expedited way since August 2022, all within 6 to 48 hours. Mandatory supporting studies to draft bills and public engagement, openness and transparency of drafts ensured pursuant to the law on legislations of Mongolia, effective since 2015, were disregarded in each circumstance.

Expedited procedures for passing a bill

The only circumstances when a bill can be passed in an expedited procedure by the parliament is asserted in article 21.1 of the bill on parliament procedure which specifically indicates that the bill has to be specifically to ensure the ‘national economic security’.

About a month ago, in December 2022, before the adoption of the new bill to protect human rights on social media, the parliament passed a revision to the criminal code within 48 hours eliminating prescription period for corruption-related crimes and increasing punishment commensurate with corruption, money-laundering and illegal enrichment risks. The amendment to the Constitution of Mongolia made in August 2022, however, sets the record of high-speed expedited adoption by a day, within 6 hours.

Public protest against the amendment made in the Constitution lasted for about 2 months with no response from decision-makers.

The draft bill to protect human rights on social media was submitted to the parliament pursuant to article 21.1 of the bill on parliament procedure to be discussed in an expedited manner and was passed the next day. However, human rights organizations criticized that it has no economic nor national security coverage whatsoever rather encompassing regulations pertinent to human rights concerning free speech and anonymity on social media platforms. There was no response from parliament. Five days after the adoption of the bill, the Minister of Digital Development and Communication, N Uchral posted a video explaining ‘his’ need for urgency and addressing public criticisms on the content of the bill on his Facebook page.

Unfortunately, the parliament’s hasty discussion and adoption of these laws overlooked compulsory public engagement and debates and passed without justifications to amendment or create a new law.

Content of the adopted bill

Apparently, the bill is to be effective from February 1, 2023, upon publication in the ‘State News’ magazine. So far, the official adopted version of the bill to protect human rights on social media is not to be found from the website of the Mongolian parliament but publicized on news sites.

The bill and the concept paper  define that human rights can be restricted in two ways: 1. by restricting the content in violation, and 2. by partially or completely limiting the communication network to reduce restricted content distribution in the event of public unrest. Although, the latter will be done pursuant to the accompanied law on amendment to Cyber Security and will be regulated by that procedure, justifications for such limitations should be clear in the law within legitimate parameters in consideration of human rights. This procedure to limit the communication network will be developed by the stakeholders working group and adopted by the Minister of Digital Development and Communication.

The bill has 6 chapters with 12 articles. Although it says the law will regulate all specifics of information, in detail, that could be deemed as restricted content, the bill is limited to the following vague list defined as restricted contents:

  • denigrating state symbols of Mongolia;
  • fraud or attempt to fraud using the social network;
  • promoting, urging, or pressuring to negatively affect child’s body, mind and morals;
  • encouraging or promoting violence or obscenity;
  • encouraging and promoting threats, suicide, and physical harm to people;
  • encouraging or advertising the use of narcotic drugs and psychoactive substances;
  • extremist activities, undermining national unity, disclosure of state and official secrets, terrorist acts, crimes against human security and national security, inciting and calling for crimes;
  • discriminating against an individual or a specific group based on ethnicity, language, race, gender, social origin, status, wealth, religion, opinion, sexual or gender orientation, disability, or health;
  • infringement of intellectual property rights;
  • instructing in detail to commit a crime or violation, or encouraging, inciting, instigating, promoting, or supporting the commission of a crime or violation;
  • luring, urging, inciting, or promoting children to beg, wander, or live unsupervised;
  • violating social media platform rules and terms and conditions.

Some lawyers say that crimes listed in article 6 of the bill are currently sufficiently regulated by the law on Crime Prevention (2019), law on Cyber Security (2022), Criminal Code (2016), and the law on Criminal Procedure (2017), and violations are regulated pursuant to the law on Violation (2017).

When the draft version became available, the public strongly criticized following provisions in the law that potentially could have had a direct impact on free speech:

  • clause 6.1.3. Any content tarnishing someone’s reputation shall constitute grounds for restriction,
  • clause 6.2 Following conditions shall be considered in establishing grounds for restrictions defined in clause 6.1:

6.2.5. if determined that any risk may cause on rights, lawful interest or on social or economic status of a person,

  • clause 6.3. Personal information of a public official may not be disclosed or shared on social media without prior consent,
  • limitation on anonymity

These clauses were removed upon adoption of the bill by parliament, confirms a member of the Human Rights Commission G. Narantuya in an interview, who was also a member of a working group to develop the bill. However, the final bill is yet to be open to confirm or deny the reduction.

The concept paper says the purpose of the bill is to regulate an increasing number of cyber-crimes. There are three types of justifications: 1) crimes such as online fraud, spreading false information, cyber-attack, embezzlement, extortion, organizing illegal online gambling, invasion of privacy, proliferation of pornography to minors and online abuse are predominant; 2) increased amount of loss due to cyber-crimes; and 3) a need to monitor false, abusive and other restricted contents such as illegal use intellectual property or affecting others both mentally and morally, especially on Facebook.

Clearly, an individual could have reported restricted contents to the social platform itself without any bill. The bill drafter responded to that as ‘public lack of understanding of social media platform rules and many children who use it tend to tolerate restricted contents and cyber bulling due to a language barrier’. The Minister of Digital Development and Communication said that a unit of an existing public center (Public Center to Combat Cyber Attack and Violence) shall establish whether it is a restricted content within 72 hours upon receipt of a complaint and determine if a content constitutes a crime or a violation. The powers of the unit include processing requests regarding restricted content and delivering decisions, recommendations, and requirements to social media providers.

Regulation of certain action still needs to be clarified

The bill still left many questions for the public. For example, the unit that will examine a complaint then shift to the law enforcement organization of the jurisdiction. How will the work of the police and this unit be related and what happens during the examination period with the content provider, content or the victim, is currently unclear. So, the question we may ask ‘Instead of a law, couldn’t we just have raised a public awareness on social media restricted contents and gave a general instruction on reporting violations?’.

The public also ask other questions such as ‘Would there be an official agreement between the unit and social media companies such as Twitter, Facebook, or TikTok? When will my anonymity be revealed by them to the unit?’ or ‘If an individual, not a legal entity, has 300,000 or more subscribers or followers from Mongolia on their website, social media page or platform, can such an individual register a representative office as allowed in clause 7.1.4 of the bill?’ or ‘How to ensure  restricting just a restricted contents and not the complete site in the event of negligence or violation?, etc.

However, it seems as though the main public concern will arise immediately after the effectiveness of the bill is in relation to the presumption of innocence ‘Every person accused of any crime is considered innocent until proven guilty by the court, not by a unit of a public center’. Most of the restricted contents listed in article 6 of the bill constitutes a ‘crime’ in accordance with the Criminal Code of Mongolia.

Civil society protest

The law was supposed to take effect on February 1, 2023, unless Mongolian President U Khurelsukh vetoes it. Since the day the bill was proposed to the parliament, the consortium of non-governmental organizations opened a platform to collect signatures opposing the bill. Over 6,588 people signed the petition addressed to the President of Mongolia to veto it on www.uil.mn site and over 458 on www.change.org were collected to send to the President as of January 27. On January 26, 2023, a civil society consortium publicized an open letter to the President U Khurelsukh demanding that he veto the bill.

Several press conferences were scheduled on January 27 and 28, 2023 by the civil society consortium, comprised from the most active domestic NGOs, and the Urban Civil Forum.

Recent developments

On January 27, 2023, the spokesperson of the President’s Office twitted from his personal account that ‘The President of Mongolia will veto the bill on protection of human rights on social media in whole. The President’s Office will make a statement on Monday’.

Speculations have raised by some that the announcement by the President’s spokesperson to veto the bill could mean that the President of Mongolia is intentionally aiming to win a public favour in promoting a change in the governance and political systems in the Constitution. A working group to revise the Constitution has already been set up in 2021, right after the Presidential election though the Constitution has been heavily revised in 2020 and was amended once after that by the Parliament within 6 hours in 2022 as mentioned earlier.

About Tegshbayar

D.Tegshbayar is an independent consultant working in Mongolia specialized in financial crimes compliance. Tweets @Davandai

Posted in Civil Society, Constitution, Darambazar Tegshbayar, Human Rights, Law, Media and Press, Politics, Protest, Social Media | Leave a comment

Oyun-Erdene Cabinet, Version 01/2023

By Marissa J. Smith

A cabinet reshuffle has opened the new year of 2023, in the wake of a December marked by large demonstrations that climaxed with an attempted storming of the Government Building. A major focus of these demonstrations was the revelation that as much as $12 billion of revenue from coal exports to China, the cornerstone of the Mongolian economy under the Khurelsukh/Oyun-Erdene government, had evaporated. The demonstrators also called attention to much wider problems in Mongolia, where inflation is in the double-digits and living conditions are in decline.

In an interview published by AFP, the Minister of Justice, Nyambaatar, acknowledged that “the majority believe that the reason behind the economic downturn and crisis is the corruption,” but also doubled down on government measures as a solution: “We have to improve and increase the measures that we’re taking to combat corruption, which is the issue that raises frustration among the people of Mongolia.”

The recent cabinet reshuffle indicates that these will be familiar government measures, executed by familiar government members, and that there are significant risks that demonstrator’s concerns are not being fully addressed.

More Young Deputy Ministers… But More MPP

All four new Ministers are double-deel wearers, i.e. current Members of Parliament. Except for Kh. Bulgantuya, they have been ministers in the past, and two have long been near the center of the Mongolian politics. The new Deputy Prime Minister, Ch. Khurelbaatar is already Minister of Finance and I have not seen any news that he will resign from that position. Ts. Davaasuren was previously Minister of Power in Khurelsukh’s cabinets (2017-2021) and worked in the Ministries of Finance, Economy, and Education throughout the 2000s (i.e. the tenure of N. Enkhbayar — according to Alan Sanders, he was initially expelled from the MPP when the MPRP and MPP split in 2012). Both Khurelbaatar and Davaasuren are noted by Alan Sanders as participants in the MPP’s rehabilitation of Tsedenbal in 2015.

In addition to the Cabinet reshuffle, a number of new Deputy Cabinet Ministers were appointed, and this was showcased in an official government news release. In contrast to the new Ministers (except for Kh. Bulgantuya, b. 1981), these are young people (zaluu) (except for Tsendsuren, b. 1965).

That the positions to young people are more minor ones, and the general sense of enlarging the MPP controlled government (Bulgantuya’s post, dealing with the timely issue of border ports, is new; similar to the post on traffic congestion created in August), calls to mind ongoing efforts on the part of the MPP-controlled government to increase membership of Parliament. There is widespread concern that this will lead to further control of the MPP over the Mongolian state and society.

While it can be said that many younger MPP government members have come up through the party system from a range of backgrounds, jokes about the resemblance of youthful and elder government figures are visible on social media.

“It’s too much that the father and son both become ministers. Baterdene was the Transport Minister. Now his son is a deputy minister.”

Additionally, suspicion has been aroused about the arrest of the young head of freight transport of Ulaanbaatar Railway, with commentators suggesting he is a fall guy for the wife of a former Minister of Road and Transport Development.

Response to Coal Theft Scandal and December 2022 Demonstrations Appears Uncoordinated

The government news release announcing the new cabinet members includes not just CVs, but ambitious expectations: “Increasing coal export by 45-50 percent” … “Doubling the size of the economy in a short period of time” … “Establishing new cities in the Orkhon Valley [central Mongolia, near the former imperial capital site of Kharakhorum/Kharkhorin] and Khushig Valley [site of the former international airport near Ulaanbaatar]” … “Promptly implementing proposed reforms in the health sector.” Meanwhile, the establishment of a new department and the reorganization of investigation departments under the Ministry of Justice were announced.

Again, as noted by the Minister of Justice, “the majority believe that the reason behind the economic downturn and crisis is the corruption.”

The demonstrations started just days before the MPP Party Congress, and for my own part I find credible reports that some threads of the demonstration, especially in its initial phase, were linked to competition among factions within the MPP. Should we read this Cabinet reshuffle as a move to address factionalism via the distribution of offices?

If so, this appears to run against the grain of public sentiment about corruption, which connects it to the dire state of the economy. Davaasuren’s image in particular has loomed large in my Twitter feed in the last few days.

“Davaasuren: I swear I will not take 10%!!!”

Speculation about the validity of government members’ claims about educational history have also recently been a theme. In recent months, I have heard complaints from Mongolian elites about the validity of the Minister of Digital Development and Communications’ PhD in history, and even PM Oyun-Erdene’s application to Harvard. While concerns about the legitimacy of academic credentials has been a staple of corruption discourses in Eastern Europe for many years, this is a recent development in the Mongolian context, or operating in the last year or two at a new, louder, level of discourse. At the least, the ubiquity of these narratives underscores general anxiety about the ability of Mongolia’s current government to effectively run the country. Mongolians have also made comment to me about Oyun-Erdene and Khurelsukh’s poor level of fluency in English — and throughout the latter half of the Twentieth Century until now, high proficiency in arts of operating as a cosmopolitian member of the global elite has been a must for Mongolian elites.

“I know this Davaasuren studied electrical engineering with my classmates in Kharkhov [sic]. But I don’t know whether he graduated there. Our classmates could transfer to other schools if they didn’t graduate from Kharkhov. I don’t know how he became a head of government finances.”

New members in bold:

Prime Minister – L. Oyun-Erdene
Cabinet Secretary – D. Amarbayasgalan
Deputy PM – Ch. Khurelbaatar (simultaneously Minster of Economy and Development)
Finance – B. Javkhlan
Defense – G. Saikhanbayar
Justice and Internal Affairs – Kh. Nyambaatar
General Investigation Department established, no head?
Education – L. Enkh-Amgalan
Roads and Transport – S. Byambatsogt
Environment and Tourism – B. Bat-Erdene
Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism – M. Ganbaatar
Foreign Relations – B. Battsetseg
Mining and Heavy Industry – J. Ganbaatar
Deputy Minister of Mining and Heavy Industry – O. Tsendsuren
Labor and Social Protection – T Ayursaikhan
Construction and Urban Development – Ts. Davaasuren
Health – S. Chinzorig
Deputy Minister of Health – S. Enkhbold (previous Minister of Health)
Food, Agriculture, and Light Industry – Kh. Bolorchuluun
Energy – B. Choijilsuren
Culture – Ch. Nomin
Digital Development and Communications – N. Uchral
Deputy Minister of Digital Develoment and Communications – J. Erkhembaatar
Traffic Congestion – J. Sukhbaatar
Olympism, Physical Culture, and Sports – B. Bat-Erdene
Economy and Development – Ch. Khurelbaatar

Deputy Minister of Economy and Development – G. Tuvdendorj
Chairwoman, National Committee of Border Station Revitalization – H. Bulgantuya

Deputy Prime Minister (Монгол Улсын Шадар сайд) CH. KHURELBAATAR (Чимэдийн Хүрэлбаатар) [Previous – S. Amarsaikhann]

b. 1968, Ulaangom, Uvs Province
Leningrad Higher School of Economics, graduated 1991
University of Sydney, graduated 1998
Lecturer, economics and econometrics, 1998-2000
Advisor, Economic Affairs, to Prime Minister (N. Enkhbayar), 2000-2003
Chairman of Millenium Challenge Foundation, 2003-2007
State Secretary, Ministry of Finance and Economy, 2003-2007
Minister of Fuel and Power, 2007-2008
Head, Standing Committee On Budget, 2008-2009, 2016-2017 2021-2022 Member, MPRP Little Khural, 2005-2009, 2013-2015
Cabinet Secretary, 2009-2012 Minister of Finance, 2017-2019, 2020-2021, 2022-present
Member of Parliament (Uvs), 2008-Present

Minister of Construction and Urban Development (Засгийн газрын гишүүн, Барилга, хот байгуулалтын сайд): SH. DAVAASUREN (Цэрэнпилийн Даваасүрэн) [Previous – B. Munkhbaatar]

b. 1964, Khuvsgul Province
Kharkhiv Polytechnic University, 1989
Power system automatization engineer, 1989-1992
Foreign exchange professional, Ministry of Finance, 1995-1999
Saitama University, 1998
Head of Information, Monitoring, and Evaluation Office, Ministry of Finance, 1999-2000
Head of Foreign Relations Section, Economic Planning Office, Ministry of Finance, 1999
Head of Central Finance Office, Ministry of Finance and Economy, 2000-2005
Head of Finance and Economy Office, Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, 2005-2008
Economic Advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister, 2005
Member of Parliament, 2008-Current (Khuvsgul)
Head of Standing Committee on Budget, 2009-2014
Minister of Power, 2017-2021

Minister of Health (Эрүүл мэндийн сайд) S. CHINZORIG (Содномын Чинзориг) [Previous – S. Enkhbold, now Deputy Minister of Health]

b. 1964, Ovorkhangai Province
Mongolian National University, 1986
Planning Commission, Executive Administration, Ovorkhangai Aimag People’s Deputies’ Assembly, 1986-1988
Head, Executive Administration, Ovorkhangai Aimag People’s Deputies’ Assembly, 1990-1992
Deputy Governor, Ovorkhangai Aimag, 1992-1996
Head, Ovorkhangai Aimag Citizen’s Representatives’ Council, 1996-2000
Deputy Minister, Ministry of Development and Social Welfare, 2000-2008
Deputy Head, General Planning Manager, President’s Stamp Office (N. Enkhbayar), 2008-2010
Advisor to the Prime Minister (S. Batbold), Social Policy, 2010-2012
Head, Office of Development of Social Policy, Mongolian People’s Party, 2013
Minister of Development, 2014-2015
Head of Development Goals Subcommitee, 2016-2018
Minister of Development and Social Protection, 2017-2020
Member of Parliament (Ovorkhangai), 2014-present

Chairwoman, National Committee of Border Station Revitalization (Монгол Улсын сайд, Боомтын сэргэлтийн Үндэсний хорооны дарга Хүрэлбаатарын Булгантуяа) KH. BULGANTUYA (Хүрэлбаатарын Булгантуяа)

b. 1981, Arkhangai Province
Investment Consultant, “Creative Solutions” LLC, 2006-2008
Project and Program Consultant, World Bank, 2008-2010
Project Manager, Engineering Department, Oyu Tolgoi, 2010-2011
Principal Commercial Advisor, Business Strategy Department, Oyu Tolgoi LLC, 2011-2012
Head of Business Development, Petrovis LLC, 2012-2013
Member, MPP Leadership Council, 2013-2016
Secretary, International Relations, Party Organization and Cooperation, 2013-2016
Deputy Minister, Ministry of Finance, 2016-2020
Member of Parliament (Bayanzurkh District of Ulaanbaatar), Deputy Leader of MPP Group, 2020-present

Sources of information for this post include:

cabinet.gov.mn
mongolia.gov.mn
Sanders, Alan J. K., Historical Dictionary of Mongolia, Fourth Edition, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2017.
Sonin.mn
zindaa.mn

Previous Oyun-Erdene Cabinet Posts on Mongolia Focus:

Oyun-Erdene Cabinet, Post-Constitutional Change
Oyun-Erdene Cabinet

Posted in Governance, Inequality, Inflation, Mining Governance, Mongolian People's Party, Party Politics, Politics, Populism, Tavan Tolgoi, Youth | Leave a comment

Summer 2023 Mongolia Field School

Interested in educational travel to Mongolia this summer? Join our informational webinar about the ACMS Mongolia Field School 2023, with the International and Mongolian instructors who will be teaching the courses in summer 2023. We will hold the webinar January 18, 2023 at 8pm EST, 5pm PST, which is January 19, 2023 9am ULAT. Click here to register for the webinar.

In the live webinar we will go over the details for each of the three Field School courses to give more information on the content and itinerary, travel details, the application process and the fellowships available. We will be ready to answer any questions you may have on the courses or program. If you are unable to attend the webinar it will be recorded and made available for viewing. Even if you are unable to attend, please register and we will send you a link to the recording as soon as it comes available.

Through the Mongolia Field School you will have the opportunity to visit areas of the country off the beaten path, experience local life and culture and conduct academic field work and educational explorations. You will join a small group that includes both international and Mongolian participants offering a chance to make new friends and connections. Everyone is welcome to apply – whether you are a student, a teacher or a lifelong learner, our program offers a unique experience where you will gain new insights and take away memories that will last a lifetime. A significant number of fellowships are available for participants thanks to the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation and other donors, with awards based on merit, diversity, and need. All applicants who apply by the March 1, 2023 deadline are given priority consideration for fellowship awards. You can apply for one course, or stay on in Mongolia and participate in up to two MFS 2023 courses (Course 1 and either Course 2 or 3).

  • Course 1: Discovering The Sonic World of The Mongolian Countryside: June 2-June 15
  • Course 2: Climate Change and Public Health: What does climate change mean for the people of Mongolia?: June 19-July 4
  • Course 3: Mongolian Buddhism, Nature, and Conservation: June 19-July 4

Full details of the program are on the ACMS website.

The priority deadline for application is March 1, 2023, and the final deadline is April 30, 2023.

Posted in American Center for Mongolian Studies, Research on Mongolia | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Sino-Mongolian Relations: A New Era?

By Borjgin Shurentana

On November 28, Chinese President Xi Jinping held a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People to welcome the state visit of Mongolian President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsuh. A 21-gun salute was fired on Tiananmen Square, and Khurelsuh, accompanied by Xi Jinping, reviewed the honor guard of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. China welcomed the President of Mongolia with the highest ceremony. The two sides stressed their intention to build the bilateral relations into a “model of state-to-state relations” in the “new era” (新时代). It is interesting to note that there were some changes in the definition of the southern neighbor or the state of bilateral relations by the current leaders of Mongolia in post-pandemic time. The Prime Minister of Mongolia emphasized that China is a “golden neighbor”(金不换的邻居), while the President of Mongolia stressed that the friendship between China and Mongolia is a “steel friendship”(钢铁般的友谊). These definitions are quite eye-catching because they are relatively new in the political discourse of Mongolia regarding China where the most commonly used terminology had been “eternal neighbors” (munkhiin hursh)”.

For Mongolia, affected by global COVID-19 and the tightened Chinese border-control policy, its foreign trade has been seriously hindered, its local currency exchange rate has continued to decline due to the significant reduction of foreign exchange reserves, commodity supply has been in shortage, and inflation has galloped. These have made Mongolia’s already troubled economic situation even worse. The uncertainties around the world seem to make Mongolia further realize the importance of its territorial neighbors. From Sant Maral’s survey data, one could observe a gradual decline in terms of preferences of Mongolians towards the major “third neighbors” in general in recent years. Also it is interesting to note that Khurelsuh emphasized the “Asian value” when meeting Xi Jinping in his last visit, though its not clear what he refers to by “Asian value” exactly.The proportion of the trade between Mongolia and its “third neighbors” in its foreign trade is quite small in comparison, and most of the trades need to reach each other’s markets through Chinese ports. These “third neighbors” have quite limited interest in Mongolia in terms of trade and other economic activities maybe except for cooperations on mega projects.

As Connor and Sanchir pointed out “The rentier and neo-patrimonial nature of Mongolia’s political settlement has been partially responsible for some foreign policy rhetoric and goals. To cultivate domestic legitimacy, Mongolian elites have at intervals utilized foreign policy to legitimate their aspirations.” The current MPP government has failed to improve the economic condition of the country during their time in-office. They will take full responsibility since they were given enough time and sufficient power. The only possible solution currently is to look further towards China. The MPP is already under great pressure given that the frustration of the people is accumulating to a certain level as the recent protest movements show. Hence, the MPP’s portrayal of China as a ‘golden neighbor+steel friend’ is understandable, Mongolia is showing more pragmatism in its foreign relations, focusing on economic interests.

China is facing a complex and challenging situation both at home and abroad. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a great impact on China’s economy, and its economic and social development does face difficulties and challenges. In recent years, with the deterioration of China-Australia relations and the implementation of China’s ban on coal imports from Australia, Mongolia’s role as an important coal source has been further consolidated by its possession of high-quality coal at a cheaper price. In addition, the construction of railway lines from Mongolian mining areas to the Sino-Mongolian borders the import of Mongolian minerals to China more convenient and economic. Currently, of the three new railways planned to be built in Mongolia to the Chinese border, two (Gashuun Suhait-Gantsmod, Zuunbayan-Khangi) have been built and opened to traffic within Mongolia this year. During Khurelsuh’s visit, the two sides agreed to highlight connectivity and cooperation in the energy sector as the top priority directions in the bilateral cooperation, and stressed that they should support enterprises of the two countries to expand trade in coal, iron ore and agricultural products in accordance with market principles and commercial rules, and support enterprises of the two countries to sign medium and long-term coal trade agreements. China promises to continue to support Mongolia in transit transportation, sea access and other aspects, and to help Mongolia ensure the import of important goods essential for national and people’s livelihood. China wants to solidify Mongolia’s role as a stable source of resources by providing Mongolia with a reliable expectation in the medium- and long-term regarding trade and customs clearance. The global energy crisis, challenges in foreign relations and the slowdown of its economy prompted China to further secure its energy supply given that its economy relies heavily on traditional energy resources. Moreover, China aims to peak its carbon emissions by 2030, and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. In this sense, Ecological environment, desertification prevention and control, and green development are also the main areas of cooperation stressed by the two sides. Mongolia has potential for development in terms of renewable energy which may replace traditional energy as a new field of cooperation in the longer future.

Docking the “the Belt and Road” initiative with Mongolia’s Prairie Road strategy has been mentioned repeatedly in various bilateral meetings and documents, but the implementation of specific cooperation projects has not made significant progress. China, Mongolia and Russia have established some quasi-institutionalized cooperations around the construction of the trilateral economic corridor (including China-Mongolia-Russia Summit Mechanism, China-Mongolia-Russia Think Tank Cooperation Alliance, China-Mongolia-Russia Business Forum, China-Mongolia-Russia Tourism Ministers’ Meeting)), and initially planned 30 projects for cooperation in 2016. However, none of them has been realized so far. In 2016, China halted the Egiin Gol hydropower project due to a disagreement with Russia over the impact of the dam on the ecology of Lake Baigal. (Grossman 2017) Moreover, Mongolia expects the Sino-Russian Siberian natural gas pipeline to pass through Mongolia while the eastern route of the Siberian pipeline bypassed Mongolia and directly led to northeast China. Mongolia has great enthusiasm in the China-Mongolia-Russia trilateral cooperation, or to say China’s promotion of sub-regional cooperation because it is in line with Mongolia’s interest of maintaining a balanced economic relation between China and Russia, rather than being over dependent on China. At present, centering on the construction of the economic corridor, the upgrading and reconstruction of the midline railway connecting the three countries and the laying of the new China-Russia natural gas pipeline crossing Mongolia is coming to be on the agenda.

The uncertainties and challenges caused by global development and international situations seem to have brought Sino-Mongolia relations closer, at least in terms of political level. Mongolia’s economic dependency on China is quite likely to continue to grow. Furthermore, according to the survey data, Mongolians’ perception of China has shown a trend of gradual improvements over recent years (Sant Maral Foundation), and the (IRI2016, IRI2020, also from J. Mendee’s analysis). In the future, if Sino-Mongolia relations continue to develop and there is no occurrence of accidental or sensitive events, the bilateral relationship may achieve some substantial if slow development at many aspects including mutual perceptions.

However, Sino-Mongolia relation is fragile in nature, as it is known that the general ‘affective orientation’ in Mongolia’s relations with China cannot be said to be positive. Having this ‘background affective phenomenon” (Hall and Rose 2011), once there are problems that touch the sensitive nerves of Mongolians, such as issues related to land, population, historical narratives, cultural heritage, cross-border ethnic groups, etc., it is very easy to cause widespread emotions in Mongolian society, which likely results in an immediate decline of the bilateral relations. In a recent interview with Mongolia’s Parliament TV, the Chinese ambassador to Mongolia, Chai Wenrui emphasized the enhancement of mutual trust in the bilateral cooperations as the top issue area that should be given major attention. Vice versa, issues that touch the sensitive nerves of the Chinese, such as the Dalai Lama’s visit, will also frustrate bilateral relations. Although the MPP government promised in 2016 that the Dalai Lama would not visit Mongolia again during the term of their governance, it does not mean that things will not happen again in the future.

About Borjgin Shurentana

Borjgin Shurentana is a researcher in The Center of Mongolian Studies, Inner Mongolia University in Hohhot. She received her Ph.D in international relations from Fudan University in Shanghai. Her researches mainly focus on Sino-Mongolian relations, Mongolian foreign policy, cross-border ethnic relations and political psychology in international relations.

Posted in Borjgin Shurentana, China, Foreign Policy, Inner Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, International Relations, Mongolians in China, Oyu Tolgoi, Trade | Leave a comment

Mongolia Focus 2022 in Review

By Julian Dierkes

Readership

During 2022 13,000 users viewed 27,000 pages. Both those numbers are down from 2021, perhaps not surprising in a non-election years as elections have generally led to spikes in readership.

In 2022, the top ten origin countries of readers were

  1. U.S. (27%)
  2. Mongolia (19%)
  3. Canada (9%)
  4. Germany (5%)
  5. UK (5%)
  6. China (4%)
  7. Australia (3%)
  8. India (2%)
  9. Japan (2%)
  10. France (2%)

China’s share of readership continues to grow while Russia dropped out of the top ten during this year of Russian aggression towards a neighbour.

Posts

We wrote 37 posts in the past year. That reflects a general steady output compared to previous years. In this 11th year of maintaining the blog, we have still not missed a single month of writing and we have posted a total of over 775 posts. Energy was flagging a bit by the Spring, in part because many of us had not been able to visit Mongolia since late 2019 due to COVID19-related travel restrictions, but dramatic foreign policy events and some demonstrations in Mongolia quickly re-focused our attention.

In my mind, we wrote a number of posts that will be relevant to analyses of contemporary Mongolia for some years to come.

These included posts on foreign policy

Domestic politics also caught our attention and demanded analyses

We also had another year of being able to invite a number of guest posts onto the blog that added significantly to the breadth and depth of our coverage.

Some of the posts that had been read most widely in previous years continued to be popular this year as well. The most-read posts in 2022 were:

  1. Fascist Symbolism in Mongolia, 2020, 2,500 pageviews
  2. How Popular is Russian, 2016, 950 views
  3. Mongolia and Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, 2022, 600 views

The first two are also among the all-time most read posts.

  1. Fascist Symbolism, over 9,200 views
  2. Russian as Foreign Language, over 7,200 page views
  3. Cars in Mongolia, 2018

Some of the pages we maintain as part of the blog site also continue to be popular, particularly the listing of non-Mongolian mining companies (over 1,400 pageviews in 2022) and our scorecard that bundles various global indices and their ranking of Mongolia.

Posted in Reflection | Tagged | Leave a comment

Flop 5 der mongolischen Politik

By Julian Dierkes

Ich höre inzwischen sehr gerne Podcasts, sei es um die Bundesliga zu verfolgen, kanadische Nachrichten besser zu verstehen, oder auch Entwicklungen in Deutschland nicht ganz aus dem Auge zu verlieren.

Einer meiner Lieblingspodcasts in diesem Zusammenhang ist “Das Politikteil” als Teil des Zeit-Podcastimperiums. Die Zeit Moderatoren sind selbstverständlich sehr gut informiert, haben aber auch immer gute und tiefgreifende Fragen für ihre Gäste. Wer schon mal das Politikteil gehört hat, weiss dass es dabei auch ein paar wiederkehrende Rubriken gibt, wie z.B. ein Geräusch, was Gäste mitbringen, oder aber auch die “Flop 5”.

Mit großem Schrecken musste ich in der letzten 2022 Ausgabe hören, dass die Reaktion offensichtlich die “Flop 5” abschaffen will, auch wenn noch die HörerInnenreaktion abgewartet werden soll.

Flop5 Behalten

Was gefällt mir denn an den Flop5? Erstmal mag ich Rubriken in Podcasts generell gerne, weil sie den Folgen etwas Struktur geben und regelmäßige HörerInnen belohnen.

An den Flop5 gefällt mir aber v.a. auch, dass ich mich in die GästInnen versetzen kann und meine Flop5 im Bezug auf meine Expertise auch gerne loswerden würde.

Das tolle am Politikteil ist ja a) die Tiefe, in die Gespräche gehen können, und b) die Interaktivität der Unterhaltung mit einer/m ExpertIn. Deshalb find ich aber auch, dass GästInnen etwas anbringen können sollen, da wir als ExpertInnen ja auch oft genug mit JournalistInnen sprechen, die danach alle möglichen Aspekte eines Themas hervorheben, die wir so gar nicht relevant finden, die Flops nämlich. Und es macht doch auch ein bisschen Spaß solche Klischees zu dissen, oder?

Änderungsvorschlag

Aber, ich verstehe schon, warum über eine Abschaffung der Flop5 nachgedacht wird. Zwei Gründen fallen mir dazu besonders ein: a) machmal sind 5 zu viele, und b) oft ist es für ExpertInnen, glaube ich, schwierig zu unterscheiden, was sie an dem Gegenstand ihrer Expertise nervt, und was sie an den Diskussionen über den Gegenstand ihrer Expertise nervt.

Also, vielleicht Flop3, auch wenn sich das nicht einmal fast reimt? Und, strengere Anweisungen an die ExpertInnen sich wirklich an den Diskurs über das Phänomen zu halten, nicht das Phänomen selber?

Alternative?

Vielleicht ist das zu akademisch gedacht, aber die meisten ExpertInnen können auf Erklärungsansätze verweisen, die ihren eigenen gegenüberstehen. Vielleicht könnten sie diesen Ansatz benennen und sich selber kurz damit auseinandersetzen. Als Rubrik vielleicht “Das Widerspenst”? Zu klever?

Für den Fall der Abschaffung: Meine Flop5 der mongolischen Politik

Da es sehr unwahrscheinlich ist, dass das Interesse an der mongolischen Politik in Deutschland so stark ist, dass ich als Gast zum Politikteil eingeladen werde, hier deshalb schon mal sicherheitshalber meine Flop der mongolischen Politik, also fünf Ausdrücke, von denen ich mir wünschen würde, dass sie aus Diskussionen über die mongolische Politik verschwinden sollten.

1. Dschingis Khaan

Oh ja! Wenn es schon einen 1980er Schlager über einen historischen Politik des Themas gibt ist das ja ein klarer Indikator, dass dieser Aspekt nie mehr genannt werden sollte. Aber, leider, gibt es fast keinen Artikel über die Mongolei, der nicht auch einen Hinweis auf den großen Khaan beinhaltet. In diesem Zusammenhang möchte ich explizit darauf Hinweisen, dass z.B. mein Artikel für Foreign Policy im Oktober 2022 das mongolische Reich in keinster Weise erwähnt hat.

2. “Die Mongolei, ein Land zwischen Russland und China”

Oder, noch häufiger in der englischen Version, “a landlocked country between Russia and China”. Ja ja, es stimmt ja, dass die Mongolei als Binnenland zwischen Russland und China eingeschlossen ist. Und ja, dass ist für die mongolische Politik auch ein sehr wichtiger Faktor, vielleicht schon fast im Sinne eines geografischen Determinismus, zumindest was die Aussenpolitik angeht. Und ja, die meisten ZuhörerInnen/LeserInnen wissen oft ja gar nicht wo die Mongolei liegt oder dass sie nicht ein Teil Chinas ist, aber… ich bin diesen Satz einfach leid.

3. Politische Verschwörungen

Ein Großteil der Erklärungen für politische Entwicklungen die mir meine vielen mongolischen Kontakte anbieten sind letztendlich politische Verschwörungen, entweder innerhalb der mongolischen Parteien oder Komplotte die chinesische oder russische Geheimdienste und andere Akteure schmieden. Wie bei allen Verschwörungstheorien ist der Hauptfehler hier, dass diese unwiderlegbar sind. Die große Gefahr im mongolischen Kontext ist aber auch, dass diese Verschwörungen mongolischen WählerInnen jegliche agency absprechen um Veränderungen herbeizuführen. Es ist aber genau diese Möglichkeit Veränderungen herbeizuführen, die MongolInnen von BürgerInnen so vieler Länder unterscheidet, die keinerlei demokratische Rechte haben.

Verschwörungstheorien sind immer dann ganz präsent wenn es um Demonstrationen geht. Als am 5.12. z.B. Proteste ausbrachen und u.a. auch der Regierungspalast gestürmt wurde, haben viele mongolische Kontakte mich belehrt, dass das alles nur durch Präs. Khurelsukh inszeniert sein, weil er damit den Parteikongress beeinflussen wollte, der die Woche stattfinden sollte. Diese Erklärungen haben mich in dem Moment so genervt, dass ich für The Diplomat gleich einen Artikel geschrieben habe um andere Erklärungen anzubieten. Wenn man sich anschaut, wie sich die Proteste über zwei Wochen entwickelt haben, hatte ich wohl recht.

Die internationalen Verschwörungen sind ähnlich unproduktiv. Meisten glaube ich einfach nicht, dass die Mongolei den Regimes in Moskau oder Beijing wichtig genug sind um tatsächlich die Ressourcen zu investieren, die für große Verschwörungen notwendig wären. In diesem Zusammenhang war ich während meines letzten Mongolei-Besuchs im November 2022 sehr enttäuscht, dass sich keine Spione aus der russischen oder chinesischen Botschaft gemeldet haben, nachdem ich deren Kommentare zu meinen Analysen hier doch explizit eingeladen hatte.

4. Die holländische Krankheit und auch Ressourcenfalle

Fast jeder journalistische Artikel in europäischen, australischen oder nordamerikanischen Medienprodukte der letzten 15 Jahre muss über den Bergbau in der Mongolei schreiben. Klar ist das ein wichtiges Thema, für die Wirtschaft sogar das Thema, aber eben nicht das einzige Thema.

Aber nein, Mongolei ist nicht von der holländischen Krankheit befallen und das war auch nie eine Gefahr, denn dabei geht es ja v.a. um Wechselkurse und inländische Inflation, die durch die ausländischen Rohstoffverkäufe geschürt wird. Und inländische produzierende Industrie, die durch die Währungsentwicklung gefährdet wäre, gibt es ja auch nicht.

Klar, die Ressourcenfalle, also viele Rohstoffe = stagnierende oder negative Entwicklung von vielen Wohlstandsaspekten, ist eine Herausforderung, aber wiederum ja nicht die einzige Herausforderung für die Mongolei oder selbst für die Bergbauindustrie.

5. Politisches Macho-Gehabe

Das ist jetzt ein Flop weniger in der Berichterstattung über die Mongolei oder in der Analyse der dortigen Entwicklungen, sondern in der mongolischen Politik selber. Warum müssen sich mongolische Politiker (ja, hier nicht -Innen) immer in diese engen Anzüge zwängen um ihren Muskelbau vorzuweisen. Ganz unangenehmes Putin-Verhalten. Und die Sicherheitsmannschaften um Politiker herum sind da noch viel schlimmer. A) wie groß ist denn die Bedrohung von mongolischen Politikern, selbst vom Präsidenten tatsächlich. Es gibt keinen Terrorismus in der Mongolei, nicht mal die sog. Oligarchen sind hier mörderisch. Das ist doch alles nur eine große Männlichkeits- und Machtdemonstration. B) Müssen die Sicherheitsleute wirklich wir eine Karikatur amerikanischer Secret Service Leute aussehen? Der Knopf im Ohr, der hässliche Anzug, die Sonnenbrille? Muss das wirklich sein? Wie wäre es denn mal, wenn mongolische Politiker stattdessen BürgerInnennähe demonstrieren würden?

Meine Hoffnung

Liebe Politikteil-Redaktion: Ich hoffe, dass die “Flop 5” Teil der Folgen bleibt. Oder, wenn Ihr sie schon abschaffen wollt, dann ladet mich doch wenigstens mal zu einem Gespräch über die Mongolei ein. 😉

Posted in Democracy, Germany, History, Media and Press, Mining, Party Politics, Podcast, Politics, Social Media | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: The Scary Part about ‘Our Common Geopolitical Language’

By Peter W. Fong

Way back in 2018, I led a first-ever scientific expedition from the headwaters of Mongolia’s Selenge River to Russia’s Lake Baikal, one of our planet’s great environmental treasures. In those halcyon days, our international team of Russians, Mongolians, and Americans was spurred to act by Mongolia’s plans for multiple dams in the Selenge watershed, which provides more than half of Baikal’s annual inflows.

Group of six riders going up a ridge on horseback. Misty, cloudy background.

The 2018 Baikal Headwaters Expedition on their way to the headwaters of Mongolia’s Selenge River. photo@pwfong

Such plans were developed despite the potential harm to fish, wildlife, and nearby residents, most of whom are nomadic herders. And despite the region’s low suitability for sustained hydroelectric generation. (In winter, ice can form up to three-feet thick on even the fastest-flowing sections, while recent summers have been plagued by drought and flash-flooding, accompanied by high sediment loads that can prematurely degrade a reservoir’s capacity to store water.)

By the following year, one of those projects—on the Eg River—seemed to have been permanently beaten back, partly through environmental activism and partly by global geopolitics. Although the dam was to be built by a Chinese construction firm, Sinohydro, and financed by a billion-dollar Chinese loan, many of its negative effects would have been felt far downstream in Russia. In order to prevent harm to Baikal (and perhaps prolong Mongolia’s energy dependence), the Russian government convinced their Chinese counterparts to withdraw the loan.

Photos centres the Selenge river snaking toward mountains in the background, lush marshy area to the left, rocky outcrops on the right, somewhat dramatic lighting because of cloud cover.

The Selenge River, Lake Baikal’s largest tributary, in September. photo@pwfong

As any international economist might have predicted, this did not ultimately alter the flow of cross-border commerce. In 2019, China announced that a similar loan agreement had been reached for the paving of a new highway in Mongolia. The name of the construction firm? Sinohydro.

This past summer, however, the Mongolian government publicly solicited the support of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres for reviving the Eg River dam—despite the fact that Baikal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Which reminded me, once again, that no misguided hydro scheme is ever truly dead. And, coincidentally, of the time that our team spent at the confluence of the Eg and the Selenge in September 2018.

On that chilly autumn day, we helped a group of six anglers load their inflatable craft—according to the logo, a New Nice Tank Boat—onto the roof of a Japanese SUV. They were all from Erdenet, the mining town where Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky spent four years of his childhood. The anglers, five Mongolians and one Russian, had killed at least two dozen sharp-nosed lenok, a local species of trout. Some were almost twenty inches long, fat and healthy. To supplement our cache of scientific data, we collected DNA samples and length measurements from every fish.

Large sticker on the side of the raft says, "Nice Tank Boat"

A tourist company’s raft loaded upside-down atop their vehicle. photo@pwfong

One of the Mongolians owned a tourist lodge nearby. When he discovered that three of our team were Americans, he divulged that his daughter had just begun her studies in San Francisco. “Computer programming,” he said proudly.

I congratulated him on his good fortune but didn’t mention that, if the Eg dam were to be built to its published specifications, then the route to his fishing hole would be blocked by a concrete wall 73 meters high and 710 meters wide. Because the project had been in the works since 1964, I’m guessing that he already knew about that. Especially since hundreds of local residents would’ve had to be relocated before the reservoir could be filled. And also because nearby Erdenet—and its copper mine—would’ve been prime beneficiaries of the new power supply.

The planning for the Eg dam began with a Russian team, proceeded with funding from the Asian Development Bank, then continued with support from creditors in Malaysia, the Czech Republic and, eventually, China. A 2014 feasibility study suggested that winter icing could be overcome with a combination of dredging, ice booms, and a buffer dam. The same study proposed a new access road with a 320-meter steel bridge across the Selenge, as well as a museum for the archaeological artifacts rescued from the to-be-drowned site.

A more recent push for dam construction was financed in part by a World Bank initiative dubbed MINIS, a somewhat tortured acronym for the Mongolia Mining Infrastructure Investment Support Project. Other MINIS projects in the Baikal drainage included a proposal to divert water from the Orkhon River south to the Gobi Desert and a potential dam on the mainstem of the Selenge near another tributary named the Shuren.

What was the stated objective of MINIS? To “facilitate infrastructure investments to support mining and downstream processing, regardless of the funding source.” Note that this mission does not mention anything about promoting the common good or preventing environmental disaster. The World Bank, however, was committed—at least on paper—to “increasing shared prosperity and promoting sustainable development.”

Riverside photo. Horns sticking out of the mud, reddish plants growing around them.

Evidence of seasonal flooding on Mongolia’s Selenge River. photo@pwfong

In 2016, the World Bank’s own review panel concluded that [bold in original], “the potential harm that may derive from the improper implementation of the proposed sub-projects is indeed of a serious nature.” Nevertheless, feasibility studies and environmental assessments continued, with support from bankers in China and despite pushback from environmentalists in Russia and Mongolia.

There are several different ways to think about the triangular relationship among the three countries. Consider that, in 1924, Mongolia became the world’s first communist state outside of the Soviet Union. And that the preceding two decades had been eventful ones, including two nationalist revolutions. The first occurred in 1911, against Chinese rule; the second in 1921, expelling both a Chinese occupation and a force of White Russians.

Through this lens, Mongolia looks like a plucky nation contending with monstrous foreign bullies. If we peer farther back into history, however, a different chain of influence appears. In this accounting, “Russia and China were both part of the great Mongol Empire, and we see the persistence of Mongol influence on the Russian state, military, and political culture to this day.” According to the editor of Novaya Buryatia, a newspaper in Ulan-Ude, “When Vladimir Putin and Chinese leaders meet today and find common geopolitical language, and China talks of using its economic might to reestablish the old Silk Road, they are reaching back to that historical experience. It was totally different from the Western one, and it created societies that are very unlike the West right down to their political DNA.”

Photo of broad valley with river flowing right through it, perhaps confluence of two rivers or arms of rivers. On one of the sides sits an abandoned orthodox looking building.

An abandoned cathedral near Novoselenginsk, Russia. photo@pwfong

This is a defiant view, one that evades the perception of weakness by reclaiming primacy at a foundational level. But given how much the world has changed since the dam’s conception in 1964, when Mao and Khrushchev ruled on opposite sides of Mongolia’s borders, I wonder which is the more worrisome concern for a nation undeniably struggling to diversify its economy—that the government still wants to build the Eg dam? Or that they haven’t managed to build it yet?

With Egypt’s COP27 now in the rearview mirror, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the old dreams of unfettered development and the new dreams of energy independence can converge in unexpected and counterproductive ways. Yes—it’s bad policy for any country to be forced to rely on Russia for its vital energy supplies. But the alternatives should not require the twin burdens of a degraded environment and an insupportable debt with China.

About Peter Fong

—Peter W. Fong is an award-winning author whose stories and photographs have appeared in High Country News, The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and many other publications. He has been working as a flyfishing guide in Mongolia since 2006. For more information about the 2018 Baikal Headwaters Expedition, visit www.baikalheadwaters.org.

Posted in Countryside, Environmental Movements, International Relations, Renewables, River Movements, Russia, Water | Leave a comment

December 2022 Protests

By Julian Dierkes

Once again, following protests in April 2022, primarily younger Mongolians took to Sukhbaatar Square in protest in early December.

I initially wrote about these protests for The Diplomat, pointing out the simmering corruption worries connected to state-owned Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi, but also the mounting frustration that younger Mongolians in particular seem to be feeling regarding the lack of delivery on promises made by successive government that also fueled protests in April 2022.

Two weeks after these protests started, they now seem to be petering out. But, they will likely remain significant as an expression of popular frustration on the one hand, but also in pushing for some more concrete action on corruption, at least in the short term.

Journalist Anand Tumurtogoo and I had a Twitter Spaces discussion on the Red Line Podcast on Dec 19 that places these protests in a larger context, but also consider some of the possible implications.

Issues

The actual trigger for these protests were announcements by the government that corruption on a grand scale was taking place with state-owned Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi (ETT). As I wrote in the piece for The Diplomat, that was an admission that had been long coming since the government had already placed ETT under some supervisory measures earlier in the Fall.

I had initially assumed that corruption allegations were focused on 2021-22 when coal exports resumed at a somewhat frantic pace after Chinese border closures had interrupted. As discussions and reactions by government representatives continued, however, more and more of the attention seemed to be focused on longstanding governance issues and allegations of corruption at ETT over the past decade. Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the effort to deflect criticism has focused on former president Kh Battulga who is also involved in the bitter fight of leadership over what remains of the Democratic Party.

Participants

It is clear that the protests were dominated by young people.

It is also clear that the protests were not orchestrated or organized even though the initial reaction I had had from Mongolians was focused on pointing at political conspiracies and political actors as instigating these protests.

Comedian Tsogtbaatar seemed to emerge as a quasi spokesperson, but did not provide central leadership to the protests.

I was interested to see that that recurring Mongolian protest tactic, the hunger strike, did not make an appearance this time. Instead, the most visible symbol of the protests ended up being a small group of protesters who camped out on Sukhbaatar Square. Given temperatures of -30ºC and below, that was surely heroic enough to catch many people’s eyes.

Implications?

The government response has been primarily a bureaucratic one, i.e. “we’ll form a committee”. That is an appropriate response when it comes to corruption allegations, of course. At the same time, it is not a response that tends to be popular with frustrated youth who are protesting.

It does seem likely that this scandal will give the government an opportunity to attempt to prosecute former pres. Battulga and a number of other officials that have been identified as part of the “coal mafia”.

There is some chance that this will lead to more serious governance reform, I suppose, though chances seem relatively low given past histories of alleged corruption and cycles of protest/outrage over those.

Some of the initial reactions to the protest focused on the possibility of an attempt by Pres Khurelsukh to manipulate some kind of power relations within the MPP. I would take note that much of that speculation subsided within days when it seemed relatively clear in their un-organizedness that these protests were not orchestrated somehow. I do feel vindicated in my frustration about the never-ending insinuations of political manipulation when sometimes, voters are also simply frustrated.

Sour Taste

I do want to take note of the sour taste left by some of the Facebook posts of the immigration agency.

As best as I could guess, this may have been directed at suspicions of some kind of foreign interference. Again, not a great look that whole narrative of “foreigners are inciting demonstrations”, especially when it turns out that these seem to be mainly driven by frustrated Mongolians. Just another instance of the endless conspiracy theories and pointing of fingers undermining democracy.

P.S. Dec 19

Posted in China, Corruption, Erdenes Mongol, Mining, Mining Governance, Politics, Protest, Protest, Tavan Tolgoi, Younger Mongolians | Tagged | Leave a comment

State-Socialist Legacies and Selective Perception of Propaganda

By Julian Dierkes

Every so often, my conversations, especially on visits to Mongolia which are so valuable for my thinking, touch on bigger issues that are challenging to frame as a blog post. This is one of those attempts to wrestle with the legacy of state-socialism, but also the selective citing of propaganda as a cause for current attitudes.

I approach this topic with my own set of biases, especially my refusal to ascribe a lot of causal power to such things as “national identity” or “Mentalität”. My dissertation research comparing constructions of national history in Japan and the Germanies was an attempt to find more proximate causes for differences than some kind of “shame vs guilt culture”.

Enduring Legacies of State-Socialist Propaganda in Gender Relations?

This particular version of the on-going conversation about the extent to which the state-socialist period still has an impact on today’s Mongolia started with a close and exciting conversation with an eyewitness to the revolution.

While I was able to purchase the new book from Irja Halász, she also showed me a copy of an earlier book she had published with photographs she took during the winter of 1989/90 as the only Western eye witness (armed with a camera no less) to the revolution. As we were looking through her photographs, I noticed that many of the photographs showed very few women, at least in the front row of the protesters. This might not be surprising when considering contemporary Mongolia where the country and many of its institutions are clearly run by women, yet the nominal figureheads, including government figures, are almost always men. That observation is particularly poignant in the aftermath of the dismissal of prominent female politicians like D Sarangerel for condescending remarks that appear to be unlikely to have landed a male minister in danger of dismissal.

More startlingly, in my mind, this came after 70 years of state-socialist propaganda espousing gender equality. While it is unclear how deep that propaganda really went in terms of action toward gender equality, particularly in terms of representation of women in the political leadership, it is clear that the propaganda espousing gender equality was consistent and persistent. Marie-Dominique Even has written about the topic of “Sex-equality norms versus traditional gender values in Communist Mongolia” (trans. Helen Tomlinson). She initially agrees with seeing the lack of representation of women in the revolution as a paradox,

In view of the rights acquired during the communist period, after the democratic transition of 199017 one might have expected Mongolian women to enjoy a sound social position and a capacity for action close to that of their male fellow citizens. (p. 168)

She points to some possible explanations of the paradox of a lack of representation of women in politics, for example, the channeling of women in civil society organizations rather than political parties, but ultimately identifies the persistence of very traditional gender norms that have come to the fore following the end of state-socialist gender parity propaganda.

I have yet to obtain a copy of Manduhai Buydandelger’s A Thousand Steps to Parliament – Constructing Electable Women in Mongolia, to have a look at what her take on this presumed paradox might be.

But the question I want to raise here is: when do we take state-socialist propaganda to have an impact, and when do we deny this impact?

Unless Manduhai reaches very different conclusions in her research, Even and conversations that I have had, including with Irja Halász, suggest a near-consensus that  state-socialist propaganda failed to fundamentally change gender norms in many areas.

The Case for State-Socialist Propaganda

The two most prominent questions that are often answered by the impact of state-socialist propaganda, are

  • where does the virulent anti-Chinese sentiment in Mongolia come from
  • is there some kind of state-socialist Mentalität lingering in economic affairs.

Anti-Chinese Sentiment

While anti-Chinese sentiment in some countries may be linked to China’s contemporary rise in economic and political power, its roots in Mongolia seem to go deeper. The historical resentiments from Qing era subjugation of Mongolia were reinforced by state-socialist propaganda following the Sino-Soviet split, as Franck Billé argues in his Sinophobia, for example.

In this general view that appears to be a near-consensus, anti-Chinese sentiment is thus attributed to state-socialist propaganda since the Sino-Soviet split. Here, it is argued that state-socialist propaganda has a continuing impact on contemporary thinking.

Economic Relations

Maybe economic relations is not quite the right term, but I do hear somewhat frequent references to a state-socialist Mentalität when talking about matters as welfare state provisions, business relations, or even staff relations within companies. It is difficult to a) pin down what exactly this state of mind or attitude refers to, b) how to measure it, and c) whether it has anything to do with state-socialism, even more so with state-socialist propaganda. Was it the reality of a planned economy that has shaped lives and continues to exert an impact, or was it state-socialist propaganda about a planned economy and what individual Mongolians should expect of the economy that shapes attitudes today. I have to say that I find it more plausible to think of the actual impact on lives as being primary for those born before, say, 1980, while portrayals of the economy as state-centric continue to linger on to younger generations.

So, bottom line in these three areas is something like this:

Gender Relations Anti-China Attitudes State-Centric Economy
Propaganda Impactful X ?
Propaganda Not Impactful X ?

Obviously, that is quite simplistic at this point. Ill-defined, third column not resolved, and static, where surely this would have to be a dynamic assessment or at least one with two points of time, 1990 and now.

But still, this schematic does raise questions.

Why the Difference?

What’s different about gender relations vs. anti-Chinese sentiment? The obvious difference would be that gender relations are very much “here and now”, while anti-Chinese sentiments are primarily an othering that is not confronted by social reality regularly. Again, a simplistic explanation, but certainly one that seems plausible.

Dissertations Galore!

Clearly, there are several seeds of very interesting (to me) dissertations in this short musing. I will also continue to keep an eye on when state-socialist propaganda is referred to as impactful and when it isn’t mentioned, as well as on constructions of economic policy.

Posted in Business, Dissertation Ideas, Gender, History, Policy, Politics, Protest, Protest, Reflection, Social Issues, Social Movements, Society and Culture | Tagged | Leave a comment

Can Mongolia Resist Russia?

By Julian Dierkes

Repercussions of the Russian invasion of Ukraine were a major topic of conversation during my visit to Mongolia this August. I had arrived with a sense of frustration that the MPP government wouldn’t publicly take a stance to defend Ukraine, but was persuaded through several conversations to see Mongolia’s abstention on UN resolutions as a version of sticking their neck out as far as they feel they can.

I wrote an article for Foreign Policy on this general geopolitical challenge that Mongolia is facing. I found much of my conclusions confirmed by conversations in Ulaanbaatar in November.

This is the question I would like to ask here today: how was Mongolia able to resist Russian pressure in 2009 and what can we conclude about the current situation from understanding that example?

Mongolia Squeezed

One of my conversations produced a very graphic version of what Mongolia’s geopolitical position is and feels like.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Dr Battsengel Gotov (@batt1972)

Note the looming buildings that are leaving a very narrow visual field for the Mongolian flag.

Here’s another version of visualizing that situation:

Another version of this is to think back to the trash compactor that Luke Skywalker gets himself stuck in on the Death Star when the walls start moving in.

What was reinforced to me through conversations was the sense that no one would come to Mongolia’s defence in the way that Ukraine is at least receiving some support from NATO countries. That is in part because there is no access to support landlocked Mongolia, but also because it seems unlikely that Mongolia would be able to mobilize a coalition of support.

Conventional Wisdom: Resisting Russia

The general perception is that because of Mongolia’s energy dependency on Russia in particular, it would be impossible for the Mongolian government to resist any Russian government requests in a serious way. If the government of Mongolia angers Russia, energy flows might be curtailed leaving Mongolia very vulnerable, especially in the winter. This is akin to an acknowledgment that any agreement between China and Russia adds up to a loss of manoeuvring room for an independent Mongolian foreign policy. When I heard these kind of arguments, however, I wanted to consider examples of Mongolian resistance in recent times.

SCO: Resisting China

The first example that came to my mind is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It has long been assumed that the Chinese regime is applying some – though unclear how much – pressure on the Mongolian government to level up from an observer to a full member of the SCO. We have examined this issue several times in the past. L Bolor has also looked at the recent SCO Summit from a similar perspective. Yet, despite this presumed pressure, Mongolia retains its observer status.

The next example is the attempted gas station takeover in 2008 and that is the example I want to focus on below.

Giving in to Russian Demands: Uranium Mining

But to set the stage for that and from a Canadian perspective, we might also consider uranium mining. That had been a sector that Canadian investors had been active in, including Western Prospector and Khan Resources. To make a long story short, various licenses were expropriated in October 2009, presumably at the behest of the Russian government, and ultimately, the Mongolian government had to pay more than $80m to Canadian investors based on this expropriation. A bad deal for the Mongolian government, clearly. But, perhaps, retribution for resisting Rosneft attempt to integrate its fuel business in Mongolia by setting up its own gas stations as a distribution network?

The Gas Station Thing and Its Context

Without going into a great amount of detail which is difficult to reconstruct, essentially Rosneft was going to set up a distribution network for its petroleum products, i.e. a network of gas stations. All refined fuels are imported from Russia already, so the distribution network would have given Rosneft perfect vertical integration from production through distribution.

The prime minister at the time was S Bayar, notable also for getting the Investment Agreement for Oyu Tolgoi signed. Ultimately, parliament rejected the request from Rosneft to set up a distribution network and Bayar was able to point to that rejection as a face-saving way to avoid denying the application outright, but to most observers, he was the driving force behind this defiance of a Russian request. Obviously, there have been several deals on fuel supplies with Rosneft since then (see 2019 Jargal de Facto article on Rosneft dealings), so it doesn’t appear that there was much of a “punishment” for this defiance, making this an example of outright defiance of a Russian wish by the Mongolian government to consider what might happen if there were direct statements criticizing Moscow for aggression against Ukraine or a vote supporting the various UN attempts to censure Russia.

Defiant Bayar

S Bayar seems an unlikely resistor to Russian requests and wishes, how was it possible that he became the face of the most notable instance of resistance in 2008?

He had received his university education at Moscow State Univ in the late 1970s and was ambassador to Russia from 2001 to 2005. At the time, he was said to be quite close and friendly with the Russian leadership. In 2022, this biography would make him a likely member of the Russophile community in Mongolia.

I have only met Bayar very briefly once, so I don’t have any insights into his character or what might have led him to defy Russia in 2008. I have also not had a chance to look at his biography that has received praise from many directions. If any readers wanted to comment on this post drawing on Bayar’s memoirs, that would be very welcome.

Was it just self-confidence?

So, what might have prompted an apparently Russophile prime minister who was generally perceived to be in office primarily to get the OT agreement signed, to resist Russia? All the arguments about Mongolia’s energy dependence on Russia that hold today, held then. Russia was not the international quasi-pariah that it has become now, so there was no glory in defiance, third neighbours did not cheer this defiance on particularly loudly, for example. The relationship with China was also not fundamentally different. Yes, this was pre-“wolf diplomacy” and a pathway toward greater integration with the U.S. and OECD countries generally seemed more possible, but Mongolia was just as dependent on China for consumer goods imports then as it is now.

In several conversations I had, the only explanation that was offered was, “those were different times”, meaning that Mongolia was ascendent and full of self-confidence.

The conclusion of an OT investment agreement was on the horizon and that buoyed the Mongolian economy and mood. Some of the implications of negotiations over an equity stake in the operation – like the debt that would have to be carried to acquire that stake until it was finally written off by Rio Tinto earlier this year – were not yet apparent.

The MPRP had won a comfortable majority in the parliamentary election that year (45 of 76 seats), re-confirming Bayar as prime minister. The riots surrounding the election had obviously been a shock to many Mongolians and to international observers, but after that had passed by and the government was duly seated, the positive mood returned. Perhaps crucially, the MPRP did not govern on its own, despite its majority, but instead Bayar was elected prime minister by an MPRP-DP coalition. This may have been significant in defying Rosneft as Bayar was able to not only point to the will of parliament as the locus of resistance, but also implicate the DP as a coalition partner, thus presumably deflecting direct criticism of his government.

The Dalai Lama was still coming to visit Mongolia occasionally in open defiance of the wishes of the Chinese regime. There really wasn’t very much of a relationship with Russia at the time.

Implied threats or lacking self-confidence

There is no way for me to claim whether there have been quiet threats against Mongolia from Russia to prevent the government from taking the stance on Ukraine that some at least are calling for. But, if it was a sense of general confidence and optimism that made defiance of Russia possible in 2008, perhaps that is what is missing at the moment.

Obviously, overall confidence would be a parsimonious explanation, but can’t be the entire story. Alternative explanations would focus on private interactions between the Mongolian and Russian governments, but those are not available to a public analysis.

Or, does the explanation lie in less belligerence on the part of Russia/V Putin?

A final answer to these questions is hard to find, but I hope that thinking through this question might provide some inspiration for thinking about future Mongolian foreign policy, for example in the event of a further implosion of Russia or in other scenarios.

Posted in China, Foreign Policy, International Relations, Mongolia and ..., Russia | Tagged | Leave a comment

New to Ulaanbaatar November 2022

By Julian Dierkes

I’ve been keeping lists of things that are arriving to/disappearing from central Ulaanbaatar: August 2022 | December 2019 | June 2019 | April 2019 | December 2018 | August 2018 | October 2017 | June 2017 | May 2016 | December 2015 | May 2015 | May 2014 | October 2013 | October 2011 | August 2011. More informal versions of these observations also appear in the /ulaanbaatar/change/ category.

Bulgan added her observations in Spring 2022.

I’ve copied previous lists here and am adding to them. New items since previous posts appear in italics. Since this list has been growing, I’m also beginning to delete some items that I’ve had on the list for some time. Strikethrough means that these items will be off the next list.

This list was cruelly interrupted by something that was new to the world in 2020, a global pandemic and thus restrictions on travel. After not being able to visit for 32 months, I finally made it back in August 2022.

What has arrived?

  • bubble tea
  • large-scale BBQ extravaganza on the banks of the Tuul river, particularly near the ASEM Road. On summer weekends, so many cars parked right on the riverside, BBQs planted right next to them, families camping out, some literally
  • drive-home service for drivers who have been drinking. You call the service, they drop off a driver who drives you home in your car and is then picked up again. Given – fortunately – much stricter enforcement of drunk driving laws, a great service!
  • fixies
  • airport road is getting ever fancier, now there’s a giant overpass just before crossing the Tuul on the way into town. Lots of fancy on/off-ramps popping up everywhere on roads.
  • Canadian cold weather brands, Canada Goose and Arc’teryx are everywhere, fake or not
  • fully electric cars, charging stations, green license plates for electric cars, Tesla
  • electronic payment systems. There is the transit card and a number of apps issued by Mongolian banks. There are some QR-code based payment systems. Often credit card payment is approved via a fingerprint reader.
  • surveillance cameras. I recall seeing these first at large intersections, presumably to monitor traffic. Now, every other buildings seems to have haphazardly attached a CCTV camera to its facade. I do wonder how many of these are operational and where the feeds lead and if any of them are monitored.
  • street art (several years now, but I hadn’t noted this before) and newly commissioned public art
  • many more food and agricultural products from Mongolian sources available now
  • in April there had been a lot of concern about the lack of snow in the winter and the likelihood of drought. June brought some heavy rains and Ulaanbaatar turned quite green, almost lush.
  • audible pedestrian crossing signals
  • awareness of plague of small water bottles in all meetings and in homes
  • Prius-based delivery services around downtown for online orders, food, etc. Just like informal taxis, lots of Priuses (?) roaming central Ulaanbaatar to pick up/deliver orders, fleet of Prius clustered around restaurants in the evening to take diners (and drinkers?) home
  • skateboarders and electric scooters
  • several new parks: North of Winter Palace, Southeast corner of Sukhbaatar Sq, also astroturf on Sukhbaatar Square seemingly quite popular as picnic spot as well
  • When I first started visiting Ulaanbaatar in mid-2000s, streets were tree/shrub-lined. Trees disappeared, perhaps for lack of watering, but are definitely back now in the urban centre
  • Oat milk and lactose-free milk. Of course, good health reasons for both, but still a little odd in the land of meat and dairy.
  • Eye makeup with small glittering tears in the corner of an eye. Note that I am not much of a fashion correspondent, but I remember seeing this first in Japan in the early 1990s when it was called ピカピカ, I think.
  • Coffee choices. Not just Korean chains, but more local choices appearing.
  • Taste for spicy foods. Surely this has arrived via Korean food, but quite the contrast to years ago when spices seemed entirely absent.
  • Movember

  • Solar panels on commercial buildings in downtown core.

  • The development of Mongolian brand consumer products, especially food products has been happening for years and I can’t pinpoint the moment they started appearing on grocery shelves in big numbers. While I still find New Zealand butter in Mongolia strange, most of the dairy shelf is now made in Mongolia, for example.

What has disappeared, or at least nearly?

  • for-pay scales (actually, they seem to be hanging on)
  • supposedly haunted house South of Choijin Lama Temple
  • Victims of Political Persecution Memorial Museum
  • private fences encroaching on public land/sidewalks
  • It seems like (Korean) convenience store chains are replacing the small grocery stores that were ubiquitous in the downtown core. Not gone yet, but waning.

What will appear in the future

  • navigation systems
  • mental maps shifting to street names/addresses instead of landmarks
  • subway (really, I wish they had selected light rail instead, but who knows whether either will come)
  • urban renewal and historical restorations embracing district north of government house (National University of Mongolia, German embassy, etc.)
  • road signs in the countryside (and not just the very random, very occasional ones that can be found now)
  • network of cross-country riding (bike and horse) trails (though not in central Ulaanbaatar)
  • parking (meters), electric charging in parking spots/lots
  • Combined Heat and Power Plant #5 (yeah, right!)
  • hipsters discovering УАЗ (minivan and jeep)
  • giant hole blown into Bogd Khaan mountain to “drain” polluted air out of the valley (that actually is a proposal, but it will not appear! There also seems to be a proposal to blast away mountains on either end of the valley to let bad air escape!)
  • some kind of traffic routing system with overhead displays
  • Mongolia-themed coffee travel mugs
  • Mongolia-themed bicycle stands, for example roof structure of a ger as a steel strucure
  • vending machines

What will disappear in the medium-term future

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

Actually, since I have been predicting this as “near future” change for some years now, I guess I was wrong with all these predictions, and have changed the listing to medium-term future.

  • stretched-out hand to signal for a car ride
  • that awkward extra half-step on most stairs
  • whitening make-up.

What will disappear in the long-term future

I mean around 7 years or so. None of these seems to be coming true quite yet, so I’ve changed the name of this category from medium-term to long-term.

  • 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 [Tough call to make as the MFA building is now dwarfed by its own annex]
  • deels in the city [actually, they seem to be making a bit of a fashion comeback among young people]
  • some of the downtown university campuses
  • buildings of 4 floors or less in the urban core
  • Russian minivans (УАЗ452)
  • the Winter Palace. It won’t disappear entirely, but it is more-and-more surrounded by a very urban and very tall landscape making it look somewhat forlorn, a fate it shares with many other buildings
  • heritage buildings
  • street vendors with their little cardboard boxes of tissues, lighters, soda, perhaps rounded out by pine nuts or other offerings.
Posted in Change, Curios, Social Change, Ulaanbaatar | Tagged | Leave a comment

Atmospheric Observations

By Julian Dierkes

My August trip to Mongolia was the first visit after over 30 months of global COVID19 restrictions. I have already taken note of some of the visual and consumer changes I observed in Ulaanbaatar. But, I also want to share some of my observations of the post-COVID19 (we hope) overall mood.

Retail Businesses

One of my great surprises was that I recognized many retail businesses in downtown Ulaanbaatar. I had half-expected that small retail operations would have been most impacted by some of the restrictions in the first COVID-year, but my impression was that I recognized most stores in walking around the downtown core. I can say little about areas outside of the downtown core, or in Sainshand and Tsogttsetsii where I visited on this trip as well, simply because I don’t visit there regularly enough to have a strong sense of the cityscape and would thus notice changes at a casual glance.

I would include businesses such as restaurants, many of the souvenir/traditional goods stores around the Department Store, some of the kiosks and smaller shops along roads that I walk regularly. Obviously, this is merely an impressionistic observation, but it did surprise me. Of course, this was a happy surprise as it made feel Ulaanbaatar as familiar as on previous visits.

Young People Leaving

Many younger and older Mongolians have left Mongolia for higher education or work purposes for many years. I have met many Mongolians living in Vancouver, but also in Germany. My experience had always been that a surprising number of these Mongolians who are largely going abroad for higher education was keen in returning to Vancouver. That was certainly the case in the 2000s and early 2010s but shifted somewhere around 2015, I would guess. The most frequently named reasons are air pollution and education (in the case of those Mongolians studying abroad who have kids).

What was new to me on this summer’s visit to Ulaanbaatar was that a number of people mentioned that their younger colleagues were looking for any opportunity to leave. Not to go somewhere temporarily for work or to seek further education/training, but to actually leave Mongolia. I heard this several times and from people working in significant business operations, thus most likely offering jobs with decent pay and some advancement opportunities. Is this another version of the frustration with the lack of results of government action apparently expressed by demonstrators this April? Was this an observation that was only new to me? That’s always hard to tell as the number of conversations and the kind of people I meet are obviously limited, but it struck me as something that I hadn’t heard expressed as drastically before.

Who Is Spying on Me?

It is kind of amusing how my own interests and activities are perceived by Mongolians over the years. For example, in late 2016, I returned from a visit with the impression that many people I spoke to assumed/asserted that I was some kind of spy. In the same post, I noted that a number of people I met with in late Spring 2019 were concerned with my biases. At the time, I tried to respond to this impression by pointing to factors that enable me to retain my independence and also factors that might persuade readers of that independence, or at least look for evidence of a lack of independence.

On this visit, I had a couple of – somewhat humorous – conversations about the likelihood of foreign spy agencies, but also diplomatic missions in Ulaanbaatar, keeping some kind of eye on me. So, let me address those of you reading and reporting my analyses in various embassies, but particularly those of China and Russia: I would be very interested in hearing what you make of my analyses and how you see my position. Do you really exist, i.e. is there really someone out there who reads my posts and translates/summarizes them for the consumption of colleagues? Am I breaking the 4th wall of blogging? Will you help me in that? I must apologize, however, I’m somewhat reluctant to come visit you in your embassies, but I’m sure we can identify a nice cafe nearby.

Posted in Business, Demography, Reflection, Younger Mongolians | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: One Day in Mongolian Twitter – Inner Mongolian Girl’s Accidental Social Media Stir

By Manlai Nyamdorj

On October 14th I wrote a short thread on the surge of Inner Mongolian Twitter accounts in the Mongolian Twitter space.

A close look and interactions with some suggest that these are media professionals working for Chinese Party-state media on a mission to tell China’s stories well. While one could recognize the imbalance of reporting on China in the global media landscape dominated by Western media outlets and understand China’s efforts to match its perceived power in global discourse, the way these are done in countries with fragile media systems is alarming. Like many other developing countries with democratic institutions and a relatively free media system, Mongolia is a testing-ground for foreign – in this case Chinese – media professionals where the sky seems to be the limit.

A curious case

On October 17th, just three days later after I published the twitter thread mentioned above something remarkable happened. The twitter account Ордос охин A Girl from Ordos, with twitter handle @Otgontsetseg88 posted a video of a Khorchin Inner Mongolian girl commenting on prejudices she and other speakers of Khorchin dialect/accent endure from other Mongolians with ‘proper’ and probably more dominant versions of  Mongolian – unclear who the video was intended to.

Now, I cannot comment on the origin and the purpose of the video since it was taken from a personal douyin account – a version of tiktok that is only available in China. Since in the original video, the girl singles out her Khorchin dialect but not the ‘Inner Mongolian accent’ at large which would be target of prejudice in Mongolia, one can conclude that the video was not intended to Mongolians of Mongolia but to other Inner Mongolians of China.

The account that posted this video is, however, one of many Inner Mongolian accounts that appeared in recent months that my original twitter thread was referring to. This particular account was created in June 2022 and through my monitoring of this and a number of other accounts, I noticed that it was briefly ‘restricted’ in early September to reappear again in late September.

Then a strange thing happened. The same day at 14:58 an unnamed account with twitter handles @szzs retweeted the post followed with a series of tweets targeting actors of Mongolian comedy dramas (хошин шогийнхон) for contributing for years to the language prejudices towards Inner Mongolians that were talked about on the video. It was later revealed that this account is run by a state secretary in the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs, P.Sainzorig.

As the original video went viral by Mongolian standards with 747 retweets, 125 quote tweets and 2279 likes, all big names on Mongolia social media chimed in the discussion, including former PM Sanjyn Bayar, Demberel Sambuu and Ider-Od, among many others. As Sainzorig’s tweet was intended for comedy drama actors, the video then turned into a weapon of public condemnation of a particular type of Mongolian comedy drama as a genre and its performers past and present. This instigated collective action championed by some of the leading comedian-actors in Mongolia to clear their names, demanding an apology of which they considered a breach of the constitution in ‘discrimination by profession’. For nearly two days, the scandal dominated the Mongolian media environment, reappearing on different social media platforms.

Social Mediatized Public Discourse?

It should not be an overstatement by now to state that the media, particularly social media, plays a key role in everyday public discussion in Mongolia. Social manipulation in all forms, under different names – publicity, communications and public relations (PR) – are regarded normal processes where a portion of media professionals with an unsolved issue of financing either carry out services for different interest groups or already operate as mouthpieces of some others.

Phrases such as сошиалаар ажлаа хийнэ – public offices work through social media, сошиалаар сэвнэ – to disseminate (manipulate) information through social media both from public or private offices, хар пиар – black PR and хөлсний бичээч – hired writers/commentators are all too familiar everyday lexicon in Mongolian public discourse. In short, social media scandals are a daily phenomenon in Mongolia so much that each day is expected with one or more socially-engineered or accidental topical scandals where everyone awaits to discuss.

Beyond domestic activities, It has been asserted regularly in different circles that there are foreign influencing operations present in Mongolian media landscape, specifically from Russia – through active measures активные мероприятия with number of ‘Russian trolls’, though not much concrete work has been published and without evidence still exist in the corners of conspiracy.

The recent twitter activities in Mongolia are just one avenue of coordinated communication coming out of China through social media. Considering a very dense concentration of Mongolians on social media platforms, specifically on facebook with a whooping 103% of its total population according to one report, it is one of the go-to arenas if one decides communicate with Mongolians.

The case I presented should be seriously considered as one of direct communications from foreign party state media professionals, engaging with Mongolian public, stirring up public debate to the level of generating social scandal and in effect undermining the ‘public sphere’ that is necessary for healthy democratic public discussion. One should also note that Mongolia is not the only country to receive increased information outflow to its direction. In the past months, some reports have appeared tackling the similar issues of increased information circulation on Xinjiang influencers by Australian Strategic Policy Institute as well as on China’s media presence in Kyrgyzstan by OSCE, among others.

Our hero, a girl from Ordos has doubled her audience since the incident, reaching 4,846 followers and continues to engage with Mongolian public with all sorts of Inner Mongolian popular culture items as of October 23rd.

About Manlai

Manlai Nyamdorj (@manlaibaatr) is a PhD candidate at University of Trier. He writes on Mongolia at urgalegends.substack.com

Posted in China, Inner Mongolia, Manlai Nyamdorj, Mongolians in China, Social Media | Leave a comment

Challenging Supermajority

By Julian Dierkes

Following the 2020 parliamentary and 2021 presidential election, there were some fears that the MPP’s electoral wins and occupation of all three highest offices would lead to some kind of one-party domination.

Most readers will recall then-Pres Battulga’s April 2021 warnings that Mongolia was about to descend into militarized one-party rule. Marissa and I didn’t think so at the time, and it doesn’t quite look like a one-party state at the moment. In fact, from all conversations that I’ve had this summer into the fall from afar and in Mongolia, with members of all parties and other observers, it seems that the MPP is struggling to make policy despite its huge parliamentary majority and occupation of the office of the president. By all accounts, this is what’s behind the late-August cabinet reshuffle as well, a move that has brought many MPs into cabinet again, but does not seem to be directed at any particular areas of policy-making.

Substantive Void at the Core of the Party System

What’s the challenge? One of the fundamental challenges that Mongolian democracy has been facing for some time, i.e. there are no politics in politics. The MPP has no ideological core and Mongolians did not vote for it on the basis of proposed or likely policies. This holds for all three individuals in offices, Pres. Khurelsukh, PM Oyun-Erdene, and Speaker Zandanshatar, but also for the party at large. If you have no direction nor political goals and neither does your party, then perhaps it is not so surprising that a super-majority is challenging to operate.

This is not limited to the MPP, of course. It’s hard to even say anything about the DP anymore. Kh Battulga and S Erdene both seem intent on sacrificing the party on the altar of their… what? Not political goals. After all, Battulga spent four years as president without a single identifiable policy goal. Erdene and his shenanigans involving party votes and stamps seem to be built primarily around his personal ambition despite a clear signal from voters in the 2021 presidential election that he is simply not electable. Some seem to hope that a more substantive, ideologically-motivated DP might arise from the ashes, but I’ll wait to see that to be convinced.

KhUN? Hints at liberalism and social democracy (not coincidentally, the two orientations that the DP and MPP pay some lip service to occasionally), but no coherent position beyond, “we’re different and potentially competent”, has emerged.

Practical Challenges

The 2019 amendments’ experiment of attempting to strengthen the power of the PM by limiting the number of MPs in cabinet and thus also promoting technical expertise, seems to have been deemed a failure. As I have argued in examining current proposals for further constitutional reform, we really haven’t had an opportunity to get a sense of the impact that these changes might have had, as they are being abandoned/amended again already. In the case of the maximum number of MPs in cabinet (double deel), this amendment had been struck down by the courts, but PM Oyun-Erdene could have still applied it. Instead, he re-populated his cabinet with MPs even for ministries where there was no obvious urgency driven by policy-challenges or underperformance of the minister.

Party Discipline

What is behind this and the lack of any agenda that is being pursued by the Oyun-Erdene government? In previous electoral cycles, party discipline had always been seen as a strength of the MPP. Once a leadership battle had been settled, the party leadership would be able to promote individuals within the party to become candidates for office and to count on them for support of legislative ambitions. That support was – apparently – rooted in the recognition that only a united party would be strong enough to stave off challenges from an opposition.

The fact that the current opposition poses no challenge has exposed the essential emptiness at the core of the MPP. Just like the DP’s fundamental raison d’être is to be opposed to state-socialism, authoritarianism, so the MPP is focused on being in power. But, in power for what? to do what?

What the PM thus seems to be struggling with and attempted to address in his cabinet reshuffle was the sense that MPs had few reasons to support his agenda. Party discipline goes out the window when the margin of the majority is so large that MPs may be looking out for their own re-election rather than supporting a government agenda.

There are two further factors that exacerbated this apparent breakdown of party discipline in parliament: weak ministers and the lack of resources that MPs have.

Ineffectual Non-MP Ministers

The intention behind the double deel constitutional amendment had been to make the role of ministers less political and more substantive. The hope was that the jockeying for a ministerial post (and the spoils that might come with that in terms of patronage, etc.) could be undercut by emphasizing ministerial competence. However, in the current parliament at least, the reputation of non-MP ministers has mainly been that they’re moderately competent, but entirely ineffective as they lack a parliamentary power base.

Would this be different if there were more opposition MPs? That’s hard to imagine since that opposition would be unlikely to side with a government minister only because she was competent. But, with a smaller majority in parliament, the PM might be able to lean on MPs to support the government and thus give leeway to ministers for substantive policy-making. That is not what the situation up until this summer was perceived as, however. MPs largely leaned back and ignored ministerial proposals and projects.

MPs’ Pet Projects

The extent to which MPs engage in pet projects has always been quite notable. One of the most obvious examples of this would be current speaker of the UIX, Zandanshatar’s deliberative polling. This was something that Zandanshatar picked up during a research stay at Stanford Univ where it is being pushed as an element of or upgrade to democracy. There’s much that recommends deliberative polling as an attempt to involve a greater number/variety of citizens (i.e. not professional politicians) in fundamental decisions. Yet, the implementation of such deliberative polls only makes sense when a majority of parliamentarians see the virtue of such a format and intend to support the results that it might deliver. And, the public would need to understand deliberative polling and be on board. Not only was the polling experiment conducted in Mongolia deemed flawed by some thoughtful observes like legal scholar O Munkhsaikhan, but it doesn’t seem like anyone other than Zandanshatar himself was particularly interested or even remotely committed to this exercise.

This appears to be relatively typical of parliamentarians’ initiatives; they rarely amount to much more than pet projects. MPs are thus often responsible for the actual drafting of legislation (though the Min of Justice also gets involved in some of the detailed work) and they do so not only without coordination from central party bodies (recall the lack of ideology or policy agenda I discussed above) or any apparent support for such initiatives. In a parliament with a super-majority they might then act as free agents on behalf of “their” projects and look for support directly from other MPs who might in return be seeking support for their projects.

Given this tendency towards legislative pet projects, it is perhaps no surprise that so many plans, agendas, and laws are poorly implemented as they may have been shaped in an MPs office without much benefit of consultation with the ministries/agencies implicated.

Of course, PM Oyun-Erdene’s Vision 2050 was supposed to combat this lack of implementation and out-of-control growth of pet project legislation. But then, he doesn’t seem to have the internal party power to really reign in his MPs and rally them to a government cause, though the recent cabinet shuffle may be an attempt to do just that.

One-Party Dominance?

All kinds of things might still happen during the remaining 20 months until the next parliamentary election, including a change of prime minister, but it does seem to me that in the current institutional context of Mongolia, a supermajority is not the obvious route to a one-party dictatorship.

Posted in Constitution, Democracy, Democratic Party, Mongolian People's Party, National Labor Party, Party Politics, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Mongolia’s New PM-In-Waiting: Who Is D Amarbayasgalan?

By Amar Adiya

New Cabinet Chief Dashzegviin Amarbayasgalan is increasingly emerging to be a likely successor to Prime Minister Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene in the future, i.e., post-2024 election. As new ministers are settling into their roles following August cabinet reshuffle, Amarbayasgalan has been seen practically everywhere speaking and weighing in on pressing issues. He also made clear that No.2 in the Cabinet is him, not Deputy PM Amarsaikhan.

Many people were surprised by Amarbayasgalan’s nomination to Oyun-Erdene’s Cabinet 2.0. President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh is said to have pushed Amarbayasgalan into the government after the latter skipped to join the administration following his party’s landslide wins in 2016 and 2020.

According to the Mongolian People’s Party’s (MPP) leadership transition plan, Amarbayasgalan appears now to be a top choice to succeed Oyun-Erdene in post-2024 if the party wins the election.

The rumor suggests Oyun-Erdene’s next career step is anticipated to be that of a parliament speaker, which is considered the second highest post in Mongolia’s political hierarchy, with the top job being that of a president though constitutional reforms can change that order.

Who is Amarbayasgalan?

So, who is Dashzegviin Amarbayasgalan? Amarbayasgalan, 41, was born and raised in Govi Altai province (western Mongolia) and began his career in the early 2000s with his elder brother’s printing business. He studied political science and was educated as a telecommunications engineer. In the late 2000s, Amarbayasgalan entered politics, winning local elections in Ulaanbaatar. He rose to prominence as the campaign manager for the MPP in the 2016 general election with Khurelsukh’s backing.

Amarbayasgalan’s ideas are completely aligned with the MPP’s key message, as well as Oyun-New Erdene’s Revival Policy and Vision-2050. Both Amarbayasgalan and Oyun-Erdene aided Khurelsukh when the latter was managing the party in 2008-2012 as a secretary general.

Amarbayasgalan may favor China in international policy because of his past position as party secretary general and close contacts with the Chinese Communist Party during the MPP’s centennial anniversary. But he’s unlikely depart from the current foreign policy direction.

Amarbayasgalan has a far more convincing and elegant speaking style than Oyun-Erdene. His words are more powerful, and his messages are more focused. But he has also avoided media and public appearances.

Many people praise him for his ability to broker an agreement between powerful factions inside the MPP. He also cultivated an image of not only competent, but also affable and reasonable in dealing with wide ranging politicians. One of his accomplishments as an MPP secretary general is regarded to be reinforcing the party to social democratic principles and conceptualized those in the new party chapter.

Earlier this year, he also received broad support from other political parties for new constitutional reforms, particularly reintroduction of proportional electoral system and expansion of parliament size.

As Khurelsukh and Oyun-Erdene, Amarbayasglan strongly believes in a parliamentary system, which helps improve governance, ensures regulatory stability and promotes more accountability, transparency and participation of wider population in major economic decision-making.

Amarbayasgalan represents a rising millennial wave of politicians, including PM Oyun-Erdene, Justice Minister Khishgeegiin Nyambaatar, PM’s senior advisor Ayushiin Ariunzaya (former labor minister), Digital Development Minister Nyam-Osoryn Uchral and new governor of Khovd Enkhbatyn Bolormaa. They are expected to wield more real political power by 2024 as they represent Mongolia’s largest demographic.

About Amar Adiya

Amar Adiya writes and edits Mongolia Weekly, an English newsletter on political analysis and business intelligence every week. He is also a regional director at Washington-based strategic advisory firm BowerGroupAsia.

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