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Untold 22: Differently-abled Citizens Are the Largest Minority in the World

By Bulgan Batdorj and Anand Jangar

Today, our guest is Ms. Selenge Sambuu, executive director of the “Association of Parents with Differently-abled Children” (APDC). She started as a board member of the association and transitioned to her current position as executive director. The association has existed for over 20 years and Selenge has been working there for 11 consecutive years managing the day-to-day operation. She has a background in engineering but changed her profession to take care of her child with disability.

Photo: Ms. Selenge herself (with the permission of Selenge)

About the APDC

Selenge shared with us the origin story of the association. In the late 1990s, the British Save the Children organization arranged an orientation for parents with children with disabilities in Mongolia. The parents got together through the orientation activities and realized the importance of forming a support group for the parents of children with disabilities and for raising public awareness. Then those parents created the APDC in 2000, to become the voice of disabled children. The association now has 20 branches across Mongolia, four in Ulaanbaatar and 16 in the countryside. The association aims to help children with disabilities and their parents exercise their rights as human beings. Selenge said that “children must be diagnosed with a disability as soon as it is noticed” and get the necessary support from the government. Countries like Japan and the USA have these government support systems and trained professionals. They diagnose disability at an early stage and support the parents and the children in overcoming the challenges.

There are 11,600 children with disabilities in Mongolian. These children must be allowed to learn at local daycares and schools with other children of the same age. Selenge believes that this process will help educate children with disabilities, create public awareness, and encourage a society respectful of children with disabilities. The association focuses on all types of disabilities and supports the parents of children with disabilities. In the last few years, the association focused on providing parents with legal benefits and knowledge to help their children create a prosperous future for themselves.

Photo: Ms. Selenge in the office of the Association of Parents with Differently-abled Children (with the permission of Selenge)

The Main Obstacle to Achieve Fundamental Human Rights

Our guest illustrated the many problems in our society that make life challenging for children with disabilities in Mongolia. Of the 11,600 children with disabilities in Mongolia, around 4,000 (34%) are illiterate and do not get any support, regardless of whether the child lives in the capital or in a remote community in the countryside. These children have problems commuting, participating in events, accessing education, and receiving medical services. Selenge stresses that although the Mongolian Constitution and the Mongolian ‘Law on Education’ state that “every” Mongolian citizen has a right to free basic education, the wording of “every” citizen needs to include “children with disabilities” proactively. “Although children with disabilities may be limited in their abilities compared to ordinary children, this does not mean that these children should be excluded”, she continues. They must be allowed to develop their skills, their abilities, and to push their limits to achieve their destiny.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that citizens with disabilities should be enabled to develop themselves to their full potential. The Ministry of Education and Science of Mongolia adopted the 155th Order in 2018 which states that the Individual Training Program aims to develop children with disabilities following the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Although it is an exciting time, in theory, most of those children with disabilities in Mongolia cannot fully enjoy their right to learn, develop themselves in schools, and participate in anything since curriculums are not designed to serve and meet the needs of those disabled children, and teachers are not trained to work with disabled children. Most of the time, these children are denied admission to schools simply because of their disability. In other words, although there is an order from the Ministry, the system does not exist. If there was a system and support in place, all these 4,000 children with disabilities would enjoy their right to learn.

Selenge shares that the APDC is discussing and continuously submitting proposals to the law. Amendments to the ‘Law on Education’ and the ‘Law on Primary and Secondary Educations’ will add a supporting program service for students with disabilities in schools. This service will help students with disabilities commute to school, will assist in hiring professional teachers specifically trained to teach students with disabilities as well as teaching assistants sign language interpreters, psychological counsellors, and therapists. Furthermore, it will introduce after-school programs, and much more. Selenge and the APDC office hope to collaborate with many like-minded organizations such as NGOs to receive aid from private sectors, and work with welfare services to create a system to support the children with disabilities.

What Are the Biggest Problems for the Parents of Children with Disabilities?

There are many problems that the parents face. The government does not provide enough advice and information regarding disability. Due to lack of information, parents end up trying to treat their children’s disability while forgetting to educate and develop their children, which results in the loss of the precious ‘Golden Age’ of learning, a vital time in the early brain development of these children.

When parents first see their newborn child being disabled, they often experience a feeling of dejection and despair, and the government does not have any emotional support services. Parents usually have two ways of responding to their children’s disability.. For one, they try to help their children too much, which results in the kids becoming overly dependent which discourages these children from forming a sense of independence. The second way is that the parents try to treat untreatable disabilities, such as amputated limbs, because the family members of the children with disabilities cannot accept the disability. As the parents lose valuable time trying to ‘treat’ these disabilities, the children grow into uneducated and illiterate adults who have no future for themselves.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has a different perspective. Aside from a person’s disability, societies often worsen the living conditions of the these people by adding various barriers. For example, a grocery store can incapacitate a person even more by not adding ramps for the handicapped in wheelchairs.

Photo: Ms. Selenge (with the permission of Selenge)

Mongolian Society’s Attitude towards Citizens with Disabilities

Although the citizens with disabilities are the largest minority group, and will always be a part of the society, they are a marginalized community. In the absence of social awareness and advocacy groups, the APDC formed as a grassroots movement to enlighten the Mongolian society and give the voiceless a voice. She said that numerous protests are organized in Mongolia by various organizations to help the people with disabilities. As for the international context, the first revolution for the disabled took place in the USA in 1970. The citizen with disabilities protested by crawling up the stairs of the US Capitol to let the congressmen and congresswomen know that they forgot about helping the people with disabilities. As a result, the Rehabilitation Act 504 was enacted in the US to ban discrimination of the people with disablities. In Mongolia, the Mongolian Ministry of Social Welfare initiated a law that showed support for the rights of persons with disabilities in 2016. Also, the Mongolian government committed to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009. The APDC tries to ensure the government’s commitment to fulfill the terms of the convention.


Mongolia still has a long way to go to match the global advancements in inclusion and diversity efforts, and this includes infrastructures for the people with disabilities. However, people like Selenge, advocating and championing Mongolia towards a path that is accessible, fair and equal, are truly worth celebrating. Listening to the interview reminded us that we have to lend our voices to organizations that are led by the guests of the Untold Podcast until everyone exercises their rights as global citizens, and equal beings.

Posted in Education, Health, People with Disabilities, Podcast, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

New to Ulaanbaatar, Feb 2022

By Bulgan Batdorj 

After four years, I finally got to go to Ulaanbaatar in February 2022. Although I was in regular contact with my family and friends, I was overjoyed to see them in person. The home welcoming of UB starts with the airport, the long line at the luggage pick up and taxi drivers by the gate. Somehow, Chinggis Khaan was not quite the same as Buyant Ukhaa airport, although it was shinier, fancier I still reminisce about Buyant Ukhaa.

The weather was unexpectedly colder as it ranged from -20 to +160 during the day, it dipped to -17 at night. I was expecting warmer weather since we passed the coldest part of “ес”, a traditional measurement that estimates the strength of coldness. However, the cold weather meant that I got to wear my reindeer boots. Then, despite my excitement, the reindeer boots were so out of style. This winter footwear trend is replaced by felt shoes and Dr. Martens. In addition,  Canada Goose and Arc’teryx got even more popular since first mentioned by Julian in his list of things that arrive and disappear in UB. Many would agree that UBians are stylish, and appearance is a rather important indicator of how UBians judge one’s success and capability unless you are a white person (yes, Mongolians are racist, too). This social appearance and the related perception of prestige and anxiety in the society seem to be rather high given the amount of time, money, and efforts dedicated to looking good with the help of cosmetic procedures and expensive cars. I admit that I felt judged for wearing my out-of-style reindeer boots.

Although my trip coincided with the reduced COVID-related regimes, people were very disciplined in wearing and changing their masks compared to here in Canada. It perhaps is related to UB’s air pollution as people are trying to protect themselves. In addition to the mask, I saw the indoor air filters in many middle-income households as one of the ways to cope with and reduce the effects of air pollution. Since I was in UB last time, the indoor filters were surely not a thing (though Julian noticed it in 2019).  Another interesting addition to households was coffee makers. The indoor air filter was not acquired by every household I visited but I had an option to either drink milk tea or coffee at almost every family I visited except my 82-year-old grandma.

Things that have not changed

The things I  prepared for were the traffic and air pollution in UB. The traffic starts at 7.05am on workdays and only 5 minutes made the difference between being stuck in traffic for 40 minutes or reaching my destiny in 8 minutes via taxi. The traffic gets to be much more manageable in the evenings after 8:30 pm.

The bustling energy of big and busy UB is so hypnotizing. My short visit was not enough to reacquaint myself with the city architect, fashion trends and the food. Although Mongolian dishes are not globally popular, I was over the clouds eating my parents’ buuz, my sister’s ums kitaa (better not translate for those who are squeamish), and sheepshead. Also, I was surely in a treat for a of wild boar meat, and bulganii airag, delicacies. Surely worth every single day of my four years of wait.

Posted in Air Pollution, Bulgan Batdorj, Change, Food, Pop Culture, Reflection, Social Change, Ulaanbaatar | Tagged | Leave a comment

Some observations of the war – Buriyat soldiers

By Bulgan Batdorj 

The war caused displacements of millions and thousands of casualties. The United Nations voted to condemn Russia and called for withdrawal. Mongolia abstained in the vote (please more on Mongolia’s government response in this Bolor’s article). The Mongolians are divided behind the formal “neutrality” position over this war. Marissa’s timeline on events in Mongolia and here relating to the invasion of Ukraine shows the varying motivations. Whether the motivation is national security, nationalism or democratic identity, there are some supporting Ukraine, some supporting Putin and some who are painfully aware of Mongolia’s geographic, economic, political and social links to Russia.

One of the reoccurring themes that Mongolians seem to be rather united is the social media posts of the buriyat soldiers fighting this war in Ukraine. The people of Buriyats, Tuva, and Kalmyk are Mongolian people who shared history, land, culture and nomadism.

Buryats in Mongolia were mass executed during the great political purge in the 1930s. We hear stories of how all buriyat men were arrested from their homes never to return, or fought the war but were prosecuted regardless. The social media posts related to the buriyat soldiers connect the present to the past griefs.

Post below: Former PM, Mendsaikhan Enkhsaixan: Russian military leaders are accusing, arresting, and convicting many officers and generals in the name of the Russian Federation’s Security (informal translation).

The Agiimaa Janchivdorj post says: This is one of the ways Russians purge. My grandfather and uncle were both prosecuted as Buriyat soldiers in the Mongolian military army. The family suffered. I hid my Buriyat ethnicity as a child (informal translation).

These social media posts on the buriyat soldiers remind Mongolians of the dark days of repression, manipulation, and hopelessness regardless of their perception and remind us of the time Mongolia was not in charge of its fate. Not only the reminiscence is worrying, but also the implications of the war in present times, and in the future are sombre for Mongolia. But now, I pray for all lives and livelihoods lost in this war.




Posted in Bulgan Batdorj, Military, Russia | Tagged | Leave a comment

Mongolia and Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine – Part 2

By Marissa J. Smith

It is now a month since the start of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This post follows up from a previous one and relates events that have occurred in the last two weeks.

While the Mongolian government and Mongolian media continue to express “neutrality,” other Mongolian voices on social media contest these and have continued to identify Russia as the aggressor. Most lately, this past weekend demonstrators assembled at the Russian Embassy after the Russian Embassy’s twitter and Facebook accounts directly called out “attention!” (ankhaarlal) to the Mongolian Democratic Party and “other supporters of American liberal hegemony.”


In December 2019, former mayor of Ulaanbaatar and major longtime member of the Democratic Party, E. Bat-Uul, was sentenced to four years in prison related to his son’s company winning tenders for Bat-Uul’s signature ger district development projects. On March 19 his lawyer stated that Bat-Uul’s right to publish was being denied, and that Bat-Uul wished to publish an essay, “Is Putin is reviving colonialism?” stating “Moscow should never be allowed to direct Mongolia again.” The essay is now available on Baabar.mn.

Former president Elbegdorj, who demonstrated alongside Bat-Uul in 1989, tweeted a comparison of Bat-Uul and Navalny.


The twitter account of the Russian Embassy to Mongolia tweets a TV interview of former Mongolian foreign minister L. Erdenechuluun broadcast on Facebook. In his 2017 Historical Dictionary of Mongolia, Alan Sanders notes that Erdenechuluun challenged the Mongolian policy of “permanent neutrality” architected by Elbegdorj 2015, writing in major daily Udriin Sonin that he “wondered whether the neutrality policy, amending the Mongolian defense and foreign policy guidelines, had been discussed with the Russian and Chinese leaders and what they thought of it” (pg. 625).


Mongolia abstains from a second UN vote condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian Embassy of Mongolia tweets to “The Mongolian Democratic Party and other supporters of the American liberal hegemony” that “Trump’s advisor has spread the truth.” The linked Facebook post has been deleted, but context indicates it refers to Roger Stone’s claims that the US was funding “bio-labs” in Ukraine.

Conversations on Facebook about the low availability of foreign currency are also observed.


Demonstrators assemble at the Russian Embassy to Mongolia and call for the ambassador to leave Mongolia and “go home.”

Video on Facebook is also available here. In addition to the long yellow banner, “No War,” and other signs from earlier demonstrations, participants also carry the flag of Mongolia, as well as at least one flag of the Republic of Kalmykia, Republic of Buryatia, and (further behind) the Republic of Tuva.

The twitter and Facebook accounts of the Russian Embassy shared longer statements in Russian and Mongolian defending their comments (though the first Facebook post has been removed).

In addition to the physical demonstrations at the Embassy themselves, the tweet and the and the Facebook post have attracted many Mongolian replies.

Posted in Civil Society, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, International Relations, Mongolia and ..., Protest, Protest, Russia, UN | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Decoding an Asian Diaspora

By Anoushka Chandarana, Anthony Coompson, Jemimah Ogundele, and Narayanan (Hari) GL

Currently, there are around 34,000 Mongolian-origin people living in Canada and the U.S., around half of whom have lived there for over five years. Issues faced by this small, scattered community remain woefully under-documented.

In 1992, as Mongolia drafted a new Constitution to shift from state-socialism to a democracy, one of the fundamental rights it provided to its citizens was freedom of movement. Through Article 16, the country gave its citizens the freedom to travel or reside abroad, and to return to their homeland. This marked the birth of the post-Cold War-era Mongolian diaspora – Mongolians who traveled to and settled in different countries. As diaspora numbers increased, documentation in their homeland improved, and the Mongolian census started counting the population abroad separately.

This piece introduces the Mongolian diaspora in North America. First, it looks at the number of Mongolians living in North America (Canada and the U.S.) and the likely duration of their stay. Examining the city-wise split of the diaspora, the article also talks about Denver, which became an unlikely launchpad for Mongolian expatriates moving to the U.S. in the 1990s.

The North American Dream

Mongolians living abroad

  • 14% increase from 2010
  • Actual figures could range from 130,000 to 200,000
Mongolians in Canada and the U.S.

  • Around 27,000 in the U.S., 50% have lived there for 10+ years
  • 7,480 Mongolians in Canada
Mongolians in Chicago and LA
Continue reading
Posted in Anoushka Chandarana, Anthony Coompson, Canada, Demography, Diaspora, Jemimah Ogundele, Mongolia and ..., Mongolian Diaspora, Narayanan GL, United States | Leave a comment

Mongolia and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

By Marissa J. Smith

It is now over two weeks since the start of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This post is a summary of events concerning events relating Mongolia and the invasion so far. It includes coverage of:

  1. Mongolian government responses, which have not contested Russian actions. I also include responses by the Democratic Party and prominent party members, that have been condemning the invasion, but it must be remembered that these currently have vanishingly little power in the current Mongolian government.
  2. Mongolian media coverage, which has mostly amplified Mongolian government positions.
  3.  Mongolian social media, which has recorded at least one protest that was interrupted by police and ultranationalist groups. Global hashtags have been picked up, but those explicitly supporting Ukraine have been mostly overtaken by the much less explicit “no war,” though the latter is a slogan that the Russian government has aggressively opposed (with reports in the last few days of people in Russia even being arrested for demonstrating with blank signs). In the last few days, signs of Russians fleeing into Mongolia have emerged.

This post does not examine Mongolia’s position betwixt and between Russia and Ukraine, which definitely merits its own post. (Teaser — President Zelenskyy spent part of his childhood in Erdenet.)

And please also take a look at Bolor Lkhaajav’s piece, How Is Mongolia Responding to the Russia-Ukraine War? – The Diplomat.


Russia recognizes Donetsk and Lukhansk People’s Republics


Mongolian state broadcaster MNB reports that no Mongolian permanent residents in Ukraine had requested to leave the though the government was working evacuate 35 Mongolian students


Invasion begins


Contract signed by Gazprom for the Power of Siberia pipeline, to cross Mongolia, carrying gas from Russia to China

2/28 – 3/1

Demonstrators on Sukhbaatar Square were confronted by neo-Nazi nationalist groups and police


The incident was referenced by singularly important Satso demonstrating Mongolian concerns over how the Russia-Ukraine war will effect Mongolia.

Democratic Party condemns the invasion:

Democratic Party announcement

“In the last few days, the Kremlin leaders led by Putin using the means of the Russian military forces to launch a special military operation against a UN member state, an independent and sovereign democratic Ukraine. The Mongolian Democratic Party (MDP) strongly condemns this. We demand an immediate end to this practice, which threatens the lives of many civilians and causes enormous economic damage.

Russia’s move is unjustifiable and a serious threat to peace and stability in Europe and the world.

At this difficult time, members and supporters of the Mongolian Democratic Party are expressing their solidarity with the people of Ukraine.



Independent news outlet Eagle.mn was among those who published the DP announcement on “the Ukrainian matter.”

Posts about Buryat soldiers in Russian forces (one demonstrates racism towards Mongolians and Buryats, including by Ukrainians) shared widely on Mongolian social media.

See also this tweet,  and this tweet.


Mongolian Foreign Minister B. Battsetseg comments that “Mongolia values peace and is of the position that it is important to cease fire immediately.”

2021 Presidential candidate D. Enkhbat conducted a twitter poll measuring anxieties about the effect Russian economic collapse would have on Mongolia. (Results almost evenly split between it being beneficial for Mongolia and dangerous for Mongolia).


Mongolia abstains in UN vote to condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine


An image of the Ukrainian flag high on the storage silos of major Mongolian flour producer appears on twitter. It was retweeted by former DP Prime Ministers M. Enkhsaikhan and S. Bayar, while a reported police visit to Altan Taria was criticized by D. Enkhbat.


A new law against “fake news” in Russia heralds the closure of numerous news outlets in Russia

On March 4th, protestors with “no war” signs were back on Sukhbaatar Square. Former President Elbegdorj, who tweeted “Glory to Ukraine” one day prior, joined them.

Demonstrations on the occasion of International Women’s Day (3/8) have since become more visible.


Mongolian government news agency Montsame reports that Aeroflot’s Ulaanbaatar-Moscow flights had been “indefinitely suspended,” as well as AeroMongolia’s Irkutsk flights.

This was two days after Aeroflot grounded all international flights, reportedly related to many of its planes being leased from owners in Europe.

Russian-language social media activity regarding flight from Russia to Mongolia increasing on Facebook. Mongolian respondents replying that the flights had been suspended, and that bus and car travel at the Altanbulag-Khiakhta crossing (between Ulaanbaatar and Irkutsk) was not possible.


Tweets reporting that Mongolian customs has seized silver, gold, and diamonds in luggage widely shared:

Posted in Mongolia and ..., Politics, Protest, Public Opinion, Russia, UN | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Stepping Up Climate Action Represents a Clear Win for the Environment, People and the Economy

By Annaka Peterson

Building a green economy and investing in climate action has been on the agenda of the Government of Mongolia for some time, and it is an increasingly important part of the national development agenda. It goes without saying that there are many challenges to building a green economy in Mongolia, but there are also some big opportunities. There is plenty to discuss and debate on this topic, so let’s start with Mongolia’s NDC.

What is Mongolia’s NDC you ask? Let’s start with some basics about what NDCs are in the first place.

Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), are country level commitments to address climate change issues under the Paris [Climate Change] Agreement. As part of the Paris Agreement, all countries agreed to work together to: limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to try to limit warming to 1.5°C; increase the ability of countries to deal with the inevitable impacts of climate change; and, make all financial flows consistent with a low GHG emissions, climate resilient pathway. Countries put forward their national targets to contribute to this global effort in nationally determined contributions (NDCs). NDCs have to be updated and submitted to the UNFCCC every five years to take stock of progress to date and increase efforts to achieve the long term objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Mongolia’s updated NDC – what do all the numbers mean?

In November 2019, the Government of Mongolia approved its updated NDC. The NDC commits to a 22.7% reduction in total national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030, compared to the projected emissions under a business as usual (BAU) scenario. To achieve this a number of actions across key sectors are planned including: increasing energy production from renewable energy sources and improved efficiency of energy production; energy efficiency and saving measures in transport, construction and industrial sectors; reduced headcount of livestock and improved livestock manure management in the agriculture sector; and other measures to better manage waste and industrial processes.

In addition to the 22.7% unconditional GHG emissions reduction target the NDC also identifies additional mitigation goals. These additional mitigation goals include a conditional target of 27.2% reduction in total GHG emissions if carbon capture and storage and waste-to-energy technologies are implemented with international support. Additionally, if further actions to remove GHG emissions through forests and land use are considered, the emissions reductions would increase further to 44.9% by 2030. Forest and land use related emissions and removals of GHG emissions or sinks (LULUCF) are treated as a special category and thus not included in the main unconditional target of 22.7%.

If that wasn’t confusing enough Mongolia’s NDC also includes eight broad adaptation goals and needs for financial support, technology transfer and capacity building.

In the last 80 years, the mean temperature in Mongolia has increased by 2.25°C, more than double the global average temperature increase. Making Mongolia one of the regions exposed to intensive global warming. According to analysis of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, these climate changes have resulted in declines in rainfall, chronic drought and increased exposure to secondary impacts such as dust storms. The intensity of climate-related hazards like heat waves, drought, and floods are expected to increase putting pressure on Mongolia’s ecosystems and agriculture production and increasing the disaster risks faced by communities. Mongolia is currently developing its National Adaptation Plan (NAP) to strengthen its efforts to reduce climate risks and support efforts to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change.

Challenges and Opportunities for Climate Action

The two biggest sources of GHG emissions in Mongolia come from the energy and agriculture sectors – coal and livestock, both central to the economy and daily life. Almost 67% of the emissions reductions pledged for 2030 are expected to come from the energy sector, but meeting the 30% renewable energy (RE) target (installed capacity) looks challenging. While there are plans to scale up new RE, there are also plans to further increase coal capacity to meet growing demand for power and heat. There has been some progress increasing RE and important policies and regulations have been put in place, however the fundamental conditions still favor conventional energy. Low, subsidized energy tariffs, high curtailment risk, limited system capacities to manage variable renewable energy resources and the lack of a clear long-term investment signal to the market are all barriers to scaled up investment in clean energy.

While enacting policies today to cut GHG emissions and build resilience in the future is a difficult choice for most policy makers, the longer we wait to address climate change the bigger problem it becomes and there are immediate co-benefits to be gained from climate action. Achieving the NDC would not only help to address climate change, but also have other benefits for Mongolia. Reducing key air pollutants by as much as 40% and generating 59,000 more jobs per year on average in the energy sector alone. With air pollution costing an estimated 5.6% of GDP in 2019 and the need to boost job creation during this pandemic recovery phase, investing in climate action is a clear win.

About Annaka

Annaka Peterson currently lives in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. She is the Country Representative for the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) and has spent the last 15 years working on climate change issues at local, national and global levels. Annaka studied in the Masters of Asia Pacific Policy Studies (MAPPS) Program at the University of British Columbia and received her BA from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Annaka is passionate about making our economies better for people and the environment.

Posted in Annaka Peterson, Climate Change, Environment, Environmental Movements | Leave a comment

Considerations on Planning Travel from the US to Mongolia in February 2022

By Marissa J. Smith

This past week I have spoken with several people, and participated in several conversations on social media, where an announcement by Prime Minister Oyun-Erdene has been quoted as “borders are open.”

I am sharing here a breakdown of my process for assessing if I’m ready to plan or not. Again, this is my process, and it reflects my citizenship and point of departure. Additionally, please note that this in no way reflects the opinions or approaches of others writing for the Mongolia Focus blog.

For now, no, I’m not ready, but I am keeping tabs on the situation.

Overall Situation in Mongolia

When I dug around for primary and more direct secondary sources on the announcement, I quickly found MNB World’s English language coverage. This coverage actually made no mention of changes to entry procedures, rather highlighting how the lifting of domestic restrictions will hopefully help Mongolia’s stricken economy (“economic growth reached -5 percent and the state’s revenue also decreased by 23 percent”). The piece also relayed that border crossings are still “following heightened disaster preparedness measures” and that the administrations of border aimags (i.e., 8 of 21 aimags) were given instructions on outbreak prevention.

Before travelling to Mongolia, I have to consider carefully not only whether or not I might be able to meet my own needs while there, but also what demands my presence might place on Mongolians. It seems that these would at present be not inconsiderable.

U.S. Embassy and U.S. State Department

For American citizens, Oyun-Erdene’s announcement this week did not represent any major changes in terms of quarantine, vaccination, or testing requirements.

The U.S. Embassy website currently includes this warning, specifically about lifting of institutional quarantine requirements (which only happened in January 2022)  — “regulations remain in flux and could change with little notice.”

The U.S. State Department’s Mongolia Travel Advisory remains at Red: Do Not Travel. The advisory notes, “It may be difficult to enter or leave Mongolia and travelers should expect delays entering Mongolia and/or returning to the United States.”


As the U.S. State Department advisory continues to warn: “commercial transportation to/from Mongolia is not available or only sporadically available.”

There has recently been considerable movement on this front in the last month or so, however major concerns remain. In short, routes that were once available daily are only running flights one or two times a week. (And still zero via Beijing.) Below, I give more details by route.

For how things were prior to the pandemic, I have checked my memory against the 2014 edition of the Lonely Planet guide. My firsthand experience of these routes includes flights via Beijing, Moscow, Seoul, and Istanbul.

Prior to the pandemic, flights between Ulaanbaatar and Beijing flew daily. Currently, there are zero flights.

Aeroflot resumed flights between Ulaanbaatar and Moscow only on January 13, 2022. Previously a daily flight, these are now only weekly. Some secondary websites show biweekly flights in March.

Those in my circles who have travelled to Ulaanbaatar from North America in the past few weeks have gone through Seoul. This was an important hub prior to the pandemic as well; but it has always been a more expensive option. I would also note that this route has ebbed and flowed over the course of the pandemic. It is unclear from my online searches how often flights are running currently.

The frequency of Turkish Airlines flights through Istanbul have also ebbed and flowed. Prior to the pandemic, passengers reported issues with checking luggage, and the uncomfortable pit stop in Bishkek (which I have myself experienced). Complaints along these lines have crossed my social media feeds in recent months.

There are also flights going through Tokyo, but Japanese borders are almost completely closed to international travelers, adding additional hurdles to international transit, especially if one is checking baggage.

The Ulaanbaatar-Frankfurt flights seem to have resumed — but these were always in high demand and difficult to book.

Addendum, 2/20/22:

Toby Philpott, a resident of Ulaanbaatar, has brought these “summer schedules” (beginning end of March) to my attention. The Civil Aviation Authority of Mongolia writes (translation from Mongolian): “Airlines will schedule and plan their flights according to this schedule.”

For now, I regard this as a highly tentative preview of what schedules in the coming months may look like.

Posted in Reflection, Research on Mongolia, Tourism | Tagged | Leave a comment

Untold Blogpost 20: From ‘Defectology’ to Special Needs

By Iderbold Batbayar

Have you ever thought deeply about how you think about disability and what your version of its definition would be? Dr. Odgerel’s story has a lot to tell. After committing 34 years of her life to the special education sector and educating herself in the former Soviet Union and Japan, her contrasting insights were an eye-opener for me. When she graduated from the State University in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1984 with a specialization in education science, the perspective with which the study viewed special education was centered around disability, impairment, and thus it was called the study of ‘defectology’.

After the 90s democratization, she remained in the education sector and worked at the 29th school, the Institute for Teachers’ Development, and the Ministry of Education. Knowing how much more needs to be done, she sought for answers from developed countries, and found one in Japan, where she graduated with her masters and doctoral studies further specializing in special education. There, she encountered the notion of special needs for the first time and realized how big the gap was between Mongolia and Japan. The approach on disability not from an angle of impairment and how the impaired ought to adapt to the environment but instead seeing it from the perspective of what special help is needed for someone to develop, has impressed her about the Japanese education. The key question here is whether those in need are getting the help they require to realize their potential.

Photo: Dr. Odgerel herself (with the permission of Dr. Odgerel)

Who Is Missing Out?

Currently, Mongolian laws and regulations consider only six categories of disability. Those include vision, hearing, mental, speech or language impairment, musculoskeletal disorder, and combined disabilities. In contrast, the USA, the UK, and Japan, have thirteen, eleven, and ten categories respectively. The Mongolian categorization is still limited to those of physical impairment, whereas other countries pay special attention to developmental difficulty, attention deficiency, and behavioral changes.

Another issue is that physical impaired and intellectually impaired are kind of put into the same box. A child who has physical impairment, but none of the developmental and behavioral changes, does not need a special curriculum. If the school environment is accessible to them, they are fully capable of competing with other students. In other words, by excluding them from the regular school environment, we hinder them from reaching their full potential.

Vice versa, when encountering someone with a developmental difficulty, we treat them as if their physical or organic system is somehow different, as if they were missing something a like hand or eyesight. Dr. Odgerel emphasizes the need for the education sector to really differentiate about who needs what type of help to recover from the impairment or reach their full potential. Which capacities are fully or less developed? This is the question that should be the guiding the education sector.

Moreover, different sectors should have different guidelines, laws, and regulations to support them. For instance, the ‘Mongolian Law on Disabled People’ has a too generic definition of disability, and there is no specific law on education of disabled people, rather the law regulates all sectors’ relations with disabled people. Consequently, there is only framework that regulates the existence of such framework, but does not specify the methodology, processes, and practices in real life. As mentioned earlier, Mongolians with developmental difficulty, attention deficiency, and behavioral change are not being identified.  But how can we identify them correctly?

Developing Mongolian Version of Tanaka B Intelligence Scale

We all may remember someone from our own school days who did not pay as much attention to what the teacher might have to say. But were they harshly judged by their peers and teachers alike, while they only needed a little bit of help, instead of stigmatization and punishment? When encountering those pupils, many teachers deal with them by giving more assignments and extra individual lessons. But the results are factually unsatisfactory. The key question becomes, “are they just not intelligent enough, or do they need special support?”

Photo: Dr. Odgerel, first from the right (with the permission of Dr.Odgerel)

To clarify this question in the Mongolian context, Dr. Odgerel and her colleagues from the Nagoya University have developed the intelligence test questionnaire for Mongolian children. One thousand and eighteen kids have participated in the questionnaire to verify the methodology and fine tune the questionnaire to the Mongolian context, thereby as well considering the differences between the countryside and the city. Currently, the survey-takers are being trained and it is expected to be utilized in the future, so that children with developmental difficulties can be identified correctly.

Towards a Positive Terminology and Attitudes

To come back to the question of who is not getting the help they require to fulfill their potential as a human being, some alarming numbers can be declared. Under our current categorization, only those with physical impairment (as verified by medical professionals) get the government’s approved special education. In contrast, other developed countries provide special education for non-physical disabilities in about 70% to 80% of the cases. Thus, it is easy to predict that we are touching only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to providing support for those in need.

However, it is not only about the legal restrictions. Most of the time, our fellow Mongolians, the parents of other children get in the way of educational path of disabled people in primarily two ways. First, the parents of children with specific learning disability do not want to recognize it. Secondly, parents of other children do not want their kid to be the fellow pupil of children with disability. Both relate to the negative connotation in the Mongolian language that it is associated with being unable to develop and being somehow incomplete. As a solution, Dr. Odgerel advocates for a positive terminology in describing people with disabilities from an educational perspective such as people with special educational needs. This will not only have a positive impact on the everyday experience of people with special needs, but also enable the teachers, the parents of other children, the pupils, and school staff, to work and interact with people with special needs in a positive manner. Stigmatization must end in our minds, and it starts with the change of terminology.

Author: Iderbold Batbayar is a prospective data scientist graduating from the LETU Mongolia American University and has a background in political science from the Philipps University of Marburg, Germany. Simultaneously with his studies, he provides consultancy services for UNDP Policy Innovation Project and media organizations on various projects. He supports causes associated with equality of opportunity, open data, and ethical business.

The Untold podcast and blog post are made available by the generous support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mongolia. We also want to thank our editor Riya Tikku.

Posted in Education, Japan, People with Disabilities, Podcast, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mongolia Focus 2021 in Review

By Julian Dierkes

In summer of 2021, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of our blog, we’re now into the 11th year of providing analyses of contemporary development, always non-partisan, always for free, rooted in our academic research on Mongolia.

2021 was another election year and we’ve learned over the past decade that international interest in Mongolia goes up during election years, so we have also actively catered to that interest by writing more about the 2021 presidential election. This is especially true as international interest generally has waned from the heydays of the mining boom.

Overall, trends in readership remain relatively steady from previous (election) years.


Just under 15,000 readers generated over 36,000 pageviews.

Readers were located in the following countries:

  • U.S. 25.6%
  • Mongolia 22.3%
  • Canada 8.6
  • Germany 5.6%
  • UK 4.6%
  • Australia 3.2%
  • China 2.7%
  • Russia 1.7%
  • India 1.6%
  • Sweden 1.6%

There are actually some shifts in the readers’ location from last year to note. Japan and South Korea have dropped out of the top 10. I have no obvious explanation for this, nor for the arrival of Sweden on the top 10 list, other than that the absolute numbers at the bottom of the listing are small, so small shifts move countries around on this list. Sweden’s percentage share of readers is thus based on a readership of just over 200 individuals. Maybe all these readers were at the Swedish MFA, following up on last year’s somewhat mysterious “Friends of Democracy” announcement?

Russia is also new on the top 10. Hm… Since the strategic partnership was announced in 2019, not sure why there would be relatively more interest from Russia this year. Perhaps the 100-year anniversary of diplomatic relations that has been celebrated this year?

Interest from China is interesting of course. I suppose that means that we have not written anything to offed the Chinese regime and its censors enough to be blocked (yes, need to work on that), but it also means that interest remains high, though given the number of internet users in China, relatively low compared to, say, the U.S. But the fact that we write (mostly) in English obviously has something to do with that level of readers’ interest.

The cumulative total of readers is now up to just shy of 165,000 with a total of over 450,000 page views in total. I guess we’ll get to the half million page view mark in 2023!


Compared to last year, I note that none of this year’s posts was read more than 500 times. With a similar total number of posts (63 in 2021 compared to 2020’s 61), we had fewer posts that stood out for spikes in readership rather more steady interest, or so it appears.

The three most-read posts that we wrote in 2021 were:

Many thanks to Max and Johann (both with the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation) for their contributions!

Obviously, posts written later in the year never have much of a chance in this ranking as readers will continue to return to them after the initial posting.

There are also a number of posts that continue to attract a lot of readers long after we’ve published them.

Of these, the top three are:

The first two are actually our most-read posts overall as well with more than 9,000 readers between the two of them.

I guess I need to up my game on pop culture topics, at least if maximization of readership on individual posts were the game here.

Posted in Reflection | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Creating Value From Mining: Local Procurement, Shared Value and Sustainable Development

By Jocelyn Fraser & Zorigkhuu Bat-Erdene

As Mongolia develops its rich mineral resources, tensions can arise between mining companies and local communities.  Efforts to expand the economy through the development of mineral resources have therefore raised questions about whether mineral resources can be developed in a manner that complements sustainable development.

To learn more about the challenges and potential opportunities associated with mine development, researchers at the University of British Columbia have been following the work of a Canadian company, Erdene Resource Development Corp with a gold discovery – Bayan Khundii – in Bayan Khongor aimag.

As planning begins for mine construction, Erdene Resource wanted to explore opportunities to create and share economic value. Most recently the UBC team took a look at the barriers and opportunities for local procurement – the purchase of locally sourced goods and services – to build mining shared value.

Local procurement has a larger potential for positive economic impacts than the contribution from mining companies’ taxes, wages, royalties, and community investment.  Yet, in sparsely populated areas with few established businesses, limited infrastructure and little past experience with commercial mining, local procurement can be challenging.

The UBC team interviewed local government officials, community leaders, business owners and operators located in Bayankhongor,  and selected service providers and industry experts in Ulaan Baator.  The interviews provided valuable insight on the ways in which mining can contribute to economic resilience in Bayankhongor aimag.

What we learned about interviewee’s perception of mining benefits

Most of the people we spoke with felt that the sole benefit of having a mine in the region would be jobs for those wishing to work at the mine.  There was very little awareness of local procurement practices or of the types of opportunities this might create for local business owners.

When the concept of local procurement – the purchase of goods and services used for mining from suppliers within the region – was explained, there was interest on the part of local merchants and officials to explore business opportunities that might arise from the proposed mine. However, people also identified a number of barriers or challenges that need to be confronted.

The challenges to establishing local procurement initiatives in Bayankhongor

Although there has been small-scale mining in the region, when Bayan Khundii comes into production it will be the most significant open-pit gold mining operation in Bayankhongor.  Local merchants and service providers have little, if any, experience with supplying a company that will be required by regulators and investors to be compliant with international standards for health, safety and environmental protection. Furthermore, a database of registered businesses in the region suggests there are currently no local businesses operating in the region that are qualified to provide core technical services to the mine.

The two soums closest to the proposed mine are Shinejinst and Bayan-Undur, located about 70 kilometres (km) and 90 km respectively from Bayan Khundii.  The provincial capital is located approximately 270 km north of the soums. The region is remote with few establihsed businesses, limited physical infrastructure such as roads, and little access to markets.

Somewhat surprisingly, some questioned whether there is genuine interest on the part of mining companies to collaborate with local businesses.  They suggested that a requirement for compliance with international standards expected from the mining company is a convenient way to disqualify local suppliers.

Opportunities exist to create benefits to Bayankhongor Community and the mine.

Forty-three existing local businesses were identified that appear able to provide a variety of goods and services to the mine.  These include companies specializing in building and construction services and supplies, light vehicle and plant maintenance, printing and publishing, garbage disposal, hotel accommodation; stationery/office supplies, cleaning and camp consumables; local transportation, and food.  There are also a number of existing businesses that could be expanded to provide a service to the mine.  For example, a local water and juice bottling plant that might be able to expand and displace the need to truck bottled beverages from the provincial capital: something with environmental and well economic benefits.

With the Bayan Khundii mine not scheduled to begin operations until 2023, there is time to build local supplier capacity, generate greater awareness of procurement opportunities, and provide training to enable local businesses to qualify as mine suppliers. Local residents with knowledge about Erdene Resource believe the company has demonstrated a willingness to work with them on issues of mutual interest.  This past collaboration creates a sense that the company has a genuine interest in working collaboratively to contribute to sustainable regional economic development.

For Erdene Resource to be successful, company interests must align with the interests of stakeholders to create value for all.  This may require a delicate balancing act.  For example, while improved road infrastructure could support increased access to market for herder goods such as raw cashmere, building permanent roads in an area where none now exist could adversely impact pastureland and herd movement.  Meeting multiple, divergent, stakeholder demands is a challenge requiring ongoing attention and commitment.

 About the authors

Dr. Jocelyn Fraser is a researcher and lecturer at the University of British Columbia.  She is interested in mining-community engagement and how mining could be a catalyst for sustainable livelihoods.  Her research projects have been located in Mongolia, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Peru and Canada.  Before joining the team at UBC, Jocelyn worked in the extractive industry, designing and implementing social responsibility programs in Canada, the United States, Sudan, and Russia.   She is a member of the World Bank’s Extractive-Led Local Economic Diversification Community of Practice, sits on the Mining Association of Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) Communities of Interest Panel, and leads a working group on engagement at the Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

Zorigtkhuu Bat-Erdene currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He graduated from MUST and is aiming to complete a Master’s degree at Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering of the University of British Columbia. Zorig’s research focuses on Mining Local Procurement (Local Content) in Mongolia.

Professional background: Zorigtkhuu worked for the biggest coal mining company (Energy-Resources) in Mongolia and an “International Medical Center (Intermed Hospital)” project that was jointly commissioned by the MCS group in Mongolia.

For more information:

Final report: Creating Value From Mining in Rural Communities

Fraser, J., Bat‐Erdene, Z., Lyons, J., & Kunz, N. (2021). Local procurement, shared value, and Sustainable Development: A case study from the mining sector in Mongolia. Business Strategy and Development. https://doi.org/10.1002/bsd2.193


Posted in Countryside, CSR, Jocelyn Fraser, Mining, Public Opinion, Research on Mongolia, Zorigtkhuu Bat-Erdene | Leave a comment

Media Notes for Future Revolution

By Julian Dierkes

Two important notes up front:

  1. I cast sideways glances at Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan more than other countries, for historical/cultural similarities, resource-based development trajectories and landlocked-next-to-Russia-and-China status shared with Mongolia. I have no particular expertise on Kazakhstan.
  2. I do not think that major political upheavals in Mongolia are likely, even in the medium term.

Lessons from Kazakhstan Interest

As the protests in Kazakhstan have unfolded in the last few days, I have been watching comments online, largely because I am somewhat interested in Central Asia. As I have been learning about the long-standing political grievances that have been brought to a boil by gas price increases, I have also been noticing how information about Kazakhstan is presented and presents itself on Twitter.

At various moments, I have thought about this in terms of what would happen if there was some kind of political event that attracted global attention in Mongolia. Such a moment has not really occurred since the post-election riots in 2008. Oddly, I was in Mongolia and observed that election, but was en route back to Canada to pick up my family to spend the rest of the summer in Mongolia, while the actual riots unfolded. Also, this was pre-Twitter and pre-blogging for me personally.

Comparing International Coverage

Obviously, international English-language coverage is mediated by journalists, but also academics, even more so in the case of a region like Central Asia or a country like Mongolia, generally seen to be “obscure” by audiences in the Global North. In fact, academics with deep area expertise probably have a larger role to play in this coverage than in many other instances because a) we know and understand stuff, and b) there are no/few foreign correspondents based in these countries, and c) nearby foreign correspondents don’t actually know much. Even more reason to imagine a media event involving Mongolia and plan for it a little bit.

In coverage of Kazakhstan it is relatively clear that Russia is a reference point for many observers, journalist or otherwise. When foreign correspondents report, it tends to be the correspondents based in Russia. Likewise, diplomatic services, international organizations and donors tend to place Central Asia within units focused on the former Soviet Union. By contrast, any coverage of Mongolia from the near-abroad will come from Chinese cities and Seoul. That will obviously shift perspective and reference points for journalists. It also precludes any language abilities among journalists to provide coverage.

For Mongolia, international English-language coverage really has waned and I do not get the sense that there is significant coverage in other European languages or in Japanese or Korean. The exception of a media landscape that may be offering more coverage now than 10 years ago or so (yes, during the mining boom, funny how that focused attention) is probably the Indian media sector. Not only does India appear to be teaming with a great variety of outlets from very serious journalism, including investigative journalism, to less salutary  aspects of online media with shallow click-bait articles also appearing regularly. The strength and cross-Asia reach of Singaporean media companies also means that they occasionally take a look at Mongolia. I do not have a strong sense of Chinese or Russian coverage of Mongolian affairs.

There were never many correspondents based in Ulaanbaatar, but at least some used to come visit somewhat regularly. Those visits were largely limited to elections except for a few journalists who ensured that they came back periodically (for example Matthias Müller when he was still based in Beijing for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung). At the same time, some Mongolian voices have really established themselves as English-language reporters (perhaps most prominently T Anand and B Khaliun).

Some Ground Rules for Myself

Depending on whether I am physically in Mongolia or not, that will imply a different role, eye-witness/reporting vs. analysis/providing context.

Whether or not I’m in Mongolia at the time of event

  • Establish hashtag early on, use it consistently
  • probably no need to spend any time/energy on ensuring that journalists will find me. Any standard search will quickly lead them to this blog and I do regularly  interact with many journalists in any case
  • anticipate likely interpretations to counter/address/reinforce them
  • if there is time, offer responses to likely interpretations via blog, for example role of China, Russia, mining, state-socialist legacy is almost certainly going to come up
  • analysis/interpretation by Mongolians will almost certainly be rich in conspiracy theories, these will seem quite authentic, but I would certainly want to temper them by addressing systemic/structural factors
  • there are almost certainly going to be Chinggis Khaan jokes, might as well make them myself, but just a couple 😉
  • time permitting, offer resource lists pointing to (open access) literature, own research, individuals who can speak authoritatively
  • there will be some surprising voices present in discussions, individuals who have visited Mongolia but have not participated in any academic or policy debates about Mongolia
  • one of my greatest assets will be to be able to provide context to pronouncements by Mongolian individuals, publications, and institutions that will not be familiar to almost all journalists and observers
  • various centres and organizations will host panels online to provide updates and discuss situation. Helpful to interested audiences to make those thematic rather than a more repetitive version of “what’s happened?”

I’m in Mongolia

  • Communicate liberally, but include occasional caveats regarding limits of what I can observe
  • change Twitter bio to include cell phone/messenger contact details
  • pin Tweet listing other on-the-ground sources, preferably Mongolian, communicate with them ideally through some group or shared messenger resource
  • clear prioritization of quality media, especially organizations/journalists I have been in contact with before/that have provided intelligent coverage in the past

I’m not in Mongolia

  • On-the-ground information should always be prioritized/pointed to
  • Mongolian voices should be prioritized where possible, including women
  • consider comparisons (temporal, international) and point to aspects of comparisons that seem useful on the basis of knowledge of Mongolia. What about repeated cycles of protest in Kyrgyzstan that could be compared to a protest event in Mongolia, for example?
  • scan non-English discussions, media outlets and their local contacts, be sure to amplify these to wider audiences

Kazakhstan Comparisons

In the end, I cannot resist to consider any parallels between the context that may have led to these protests in Kazakhstan (my limited understanding) and the situation in Mongolia.

While there are some superficial similarities, I do not think that there is much to compare here in terms of the political situation. The large Kazakh minority concentrated in Bayan-Ulgii but present throughout Mongolia is a twist on the bilateral perspective of course, as that minority will have a different view of events in Kazakhstan than other Mongolians and will also heighten focus on events there.

But compare Freedom House rankings (Freedom in the World 2020) as an example:
Kazakhstan = “not free” 23/100
Mongolia = “free” 84/100

Or, the BTI Transformation Index (2020) on political transformation:
Kazakhstan = “hardline autocracy” 3.8/10
Mongolia = “defective democracy” 7.3/10

While you may quibble with methodologies and specific aspects of different rankings, that stark a difference is measuring something quite significant, I would argue. Also, while many Mongolians often focus on the defects in their democracy (I have written about this difference in perspective), they may not be aware how oppressive other polities are. After all, as the authoritarian ruler, N Nazarbayev has only begun to relinquish his power, maybe, over 30 years after independence. I do not really see Ochirbat, Elbegdorj, Khurelsukh or any other individuals establishing a dynasty in quite the same way.

The dynamic of oil and gas as an industry also seems quite different. Oil and gas projects are – inevitably – giant projects. There is no small-scale domestic sector, never mind any artisinal mining. Erdenet and Oyu Tolgoi may be the only projects that are vaguely comparable to oil and gas projects. While some insinuate all kinds of corrupt practices at Erdenet, especially in the past 10 years or so, that mine has supported the Mongolian budget for over 30 years prior to these developments. And, while there are also all kinds of insinuations about corruption at Oyu Tolgoi, I have argued that the fragmentation of political power makes corruption at a grand scale seem unlikely to me.

All that is to say that Mongolians have had many avenues to express their grievances, including elections, so that the kind of eruption that we’re seeing in Kazakhstan would almost certainly be of a very different nature should it ever happen in Mongolia.

And the request for military support from Russia is also not imaginable in the Mongolian context.

Additions as the situation Kazakhstan evolves:

  • The whole narrative of foreign interference would be interesting in the Mongolian context as the only plausible interference would be Chinese or Russian…
  • Part of the narrative that is emerging in Kazakhstan is, “The protesters in Almaty appeared mainly to come from the city’s poor outskirts or surrounding towns and villages.” This would obviously be a question to ask in any protests in Ulaanbaatar, i.e. to what extent is this pent up frustration in the ger districts? In the end, it’s important to remember that there are significantly more poor people in a city like Ulaanbaatar (presumably Almaty as well?), so not surprising that they might dominate protests. But I’m certain that any narrative in Ulaanbaatar would focus on attempts to pay protesters and draw on ger districts residents in such a fashion.
  • In many instances of coups or requests for foreign intervention, the reason may have been to thwart an internal, rival coup of sorts. To the extent that this would involve the military or security forces, this would seem to be very unlikely in the Mongolian context where the military has been under civilian control and is well-removed from political ambitions as we also argued in response to Battulga’s assertions of a militarization of the state in 2021.
Posted in Central Asia, Democracy, Kazakhstan, Media and Press, Reflection, Social Media, Social Movements | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Panel Analysis of Current Options for a Renewed Oyu Tolgoi Agreement

By Julian Dierkes

Since the Dec 13 announcement of a RioTinto offer to write off government debt, relatively little discussion has followed in the Mongolian public. As I mentioned in a previous post, the MPP response has been almost enthusiastic. What I do not see so far is a deeper analysis of what this offer implies, what is the government conceding in return for this debt write-off?

Since then, Turquoise Hill investors might also be having second thoughts.

It seems to me that a thorough analysis and understanding of what this offer would mean is necessary for any chance of breaking through the cycle of agreement – rising vague dissatisfaction with agreement – political calls for renegotiation – RioTinto concession – agreement. Why should either side strive to break this cycle? In part because it creates uncertainty which makes borrowing more expensive and thus reduces revenues. On the other hand, the Mongolian public is still building up analytical capacity, so, perhaps, repeated cycles of negotiation will lead to a better-understood and thus better agreement.

If the RioTinto offer is accepted through further negotiations, but without much more discussion in Mongolia, I would expect generalized dissatisfaction with the agreement to be on the rise again in a few years. Yes, it allows PM Oyun-Erdene to claim that the agreement has been improved and it allows the project to move forward, but an agreement without public understanding would not build social license to operate, I would suggest.

Proposal for Panel Analysis

A Mongolia observer can dream, can’t he?

Here are elements of a panel analysis that I think would have a significant chance at providing the kind of understanding for the Mongolian public that would solidify not only the OT agreement, but policy making on the mining sector more generally.

  • Panel that is large enough to include different perspectives, but small enough to be workable
  • Membership primarily Mongolian though empowered (and resourced) to solicit additional expertise
  • Members selected for proven expertise. Significant representation of academics likely, though not exclusive. I have my list of candidates. Appointment would be made by convenor(s).
  • Panel members paid for contributions, but full transparency on these payments and on members’ financial conflict of interest, if any
  • Public meetings for panel discussions and extensive documentation of sources used, calculations made, and approaches considered
  • Focus on graphic representation of different scenarios and their implications
  • List of unanswered questions along with recommendations on specificities of current offer
  • Open media partnerships pursued from beginning of deliberations
  • Resources available to hire social media presence to explain aspects of analyses in different forms
  • Credible institution as funder, convenor and host to panel. To me, the World Bank would be such a credible institution, but so would the Open Society Forum. Perhaps a consortium of institutions would be best.
  • Relative lull of other activities in December-Tsagaan Sar makes this a period when a panel could be mobilized.
  • Parties involved in negotiations (RioTinto, TRQ, but also minority shareholders in TRQ, government, lenders, etc.) might choose to present their own analyses to the public, let the public judge differences in these

Sure, such a process might not be cheap. But, this kind of transparent analysis would ultimately be in the interests of all involved parties, if they agree that it might produce more durable agreement. There would be numerous side benefits such as active engagement of the population, baseline for future conversations about agreement/negotiations, experiment of a different practice that might lead to good practice for other jurisdictions.


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By the way, I personally do not have the required financial expertise for this kind of analysis, so I am not angling to be placed on this panel. But, I am a director of (and thus have a financial interest in) the Mongolian Institute for Innovative Policies, and this would strike me as an innovative approach. With colleagues, I would certainly be delighted to contribute to convening such a panel analysis.

Posted in Erdenes Mongol, Mining, Mining, Mining Governance, Oyu Tolgoi, Oyu Tolgoi, Public Opinion, Public Policy, Research on Mongolia, Taxes | Tagged | Leave a comment

Rio Tinto/Turquoise Hill Offer on Debt Forgiveness for Oyu Tolgoi Stake

By Julian Dierkes

On the morning of December 13, PM Oyun-Erdene “unveiled” an offer he received from Rio Tinto/Turquoise Hill that appears to be intended to form the basis for a new agreement to jumpstart underground development at Oyu Tolgoi.

The offer appears to have five main points:

Of these, the offer to write off debt stemming from initial 34% equity stake appears to be garnering the most attention.

Some of my previous guesses about the negotiations appear to be coming true, i.e. PM Oyun-Erdene has been the focus of attention and a restructuring of debt is an element that I suspected to be likely.

Party Support

Reactions to PM Oyun-Erdene’s announcement from fellow MPP officials were swift and enthusiastic.

Without impugning the support of these MPs, it would be fair to assert that this enthusiasm may be more of a sign for party unity in support of PM Oyun-Erdene, following his election as party chair only some days ago, than substantive approval of the offer made by RioTinto/TRQ.

But, this support and the extent to which it celebrates this as a breakthrough, seems to suggest that the offer is highly likely to be acceptable to the MPP and finalization of an agreement might thus be swift.

I have not seen a reaction from former MPRP stalwarts former president N Enkhbayar or his son and newly-elected MP E Batshugar, or from former MPRP presidential candidate and now MP for the DP, S Ganbaatar. Given the MPRP’s re-merger into the MPP, perhaps they can be expected to be silent on this offer. Nothing from the DP so far either, though they are perhaps more likely to be critical.

I would hope that KhUN might be more analytical in their response. MP Dorjkhand focused on the professionalism of negotiations in his initial reaction.

Reactions might still shift as the news sinks in, but these initial reactions and particularly the apparently strong support from fellow MPP MPs for PM Oyun-Erdene suggests that this offer might unlock an agreement.


But what about the offer is generating this support and what questions remain open?

It seems like the main focus in the reactions is on the write-off of the $2.3b of debt incurred by taking a 34% equity stake in the project. I will say more below about how I interpret this offer regarding RioTinto’s approach to managing this project. What the write-off of this debt means is that the government (or, Erdenes Mongol as the holding company) will have received its share in the project “for free”. Indeed, an article in the FT reporting on the offer quotes PM Oyun-Erdene as saying, ““Basically, the Mongolian people get 34 percent for free”.

At first glance, that sounds great for Mongolians as the ultimate stakeholders in this debate. However, is it really? This debt was going to be paid out of OT dividends once those were going to get paid anyway, so this debt in particular would have only delayed revenue streams, not prohibited them entirely. Is this the big win that turns the agreement from something vaguely but widely criticized in the Mongolian public, to something that is “fair”? Or, is Rio Tinto delivering what seems like a major concession to help the government save face by claiming a major victory, without actually changing much about the arrangements?

In terms of other aspects of the arrangements that seem untouched, this includes the IGC report that identified mismanagement by RioTinto as a source of cost overruns, not the geotechnical difficulties that RioTinto has pointed to all along. That mismanagement is thus paid for by shareholders, including shareholders in TRQ, but also by the government, but less so by Rio Tinto itself, happily continuing to collect management fees all along.

What about the various disputed tax payments of the past?

I do not have the resources to compare the debt write-off in financial terms and long-term implications to some of the other areas that have been disputed in the past. I would really look to more independent analyses to help answer whether this offer is as good as it sounds initially. Only the kind of analyses provided by independent sources like the Natural Resource Governance Institute is likely to provide answers to these questions.

Free Carry Interest

So, what does this offer to write off the debt for Erdenes Mongol’s equity stake say about RioTinto and its approach to Mongolia? I had previously criticized RioTinto management for essential attempting to manage Oyu Tolgoi by remote spreadsheet, i.e. by focusing exclusively on financial and operational data, but refusing to engage Mongolians on their own terms, in terms of their aspirations.

I see my sense of RioTinto’s approach confirmed. The original desire for an equity stake expressed by the government was rooted in the symbolic importance of owning a piece of this nation-building project. Yes, some observers noted that an approach focused on revenue streams might provide greater benefits (cash!) and flexibility, but participation in the project was important enough for the government to insist on a stake and to double-down on that insistence through legislation regarding “strategic deposits”. So important, in fact, that the government at the time seemed to ignore the implication of taking on significant debt to acquire this stake, but also participating in the financing of the development of the mine as a part-owner or the operation (not just the deposit which the government owns, obviously).

What was RioTinto’s response to this? Constructing a debt structure that would ensure that this debt-for-equity would hang over the government’s head for some time. Now, it turns out, 12 years later, an arrangement that does offer that equity for “free” is acceptable. Would everyone not have been served better if RioTinto had taken the care to understand why an equity stake was important to Mongolians and how to account for that desire best? Instead, there were the ever-present grumbles about “resource nationalism“, resource investors’ favourite made-up and vapid concept that blames governments for striving to maximize benefits to their citizenry, while investors certainly demand maximum return on their investment. In a similar, er, vein, is the outraged often expressed about “free carried interest”. But apparently, such an option of governments participating in a resource project via “free equity” is not so terrible, since RioTinto has just offered that up in this case.

Perhaps more energy might have been devoted to trying to understand why the government and the Mongolian public had and appear to continue to have a preference for an equity stake, rather than riling up the financial media, analysts and other investors to express their indignation at the nefarious strategies of host governments.

I have seen very little evidence of such attempts to understand the aspirations of Mongolians and its not clear whether the current offer represents some recognition that such attempts are necessary to place social license to operate on a sounder footing, or whether it is just a relatively easy negotiation ploy, offering the government a face-saving concession that may or may not be expensive to investors. Talk of “final offers” in this context does not appear to be particularly promising.

In a subsequent post, I will attempt to dream up a process that could provide a publicly accessible and credible analysis of the offers made and, ultimately, any agreements considered.


Given the speed with which current discussions have proceeded, suddenly, this post has gone through fewer revisions and edits than is my usual practice. Apologies for hasty editing mistakes or underdeveloped reasoning.


Posted in Economics, Erdenes Mongol, Foreign Investment, Mining Governance, Oyu Tolgoi, Oyu Tolgoi, Policy, Public Policy, Sovereign Wealth Fund, Taxes | Tagged | Leave a comment