US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visited Ulaanbaatar today (July 9th) as part of her Asia tour. Her statements as reported in the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times, present an interesting picture of the visit and point to some important points in the relationship between Mongolia and the United States.
Firstly, China matters. Sec. Clinton made strong statements supporting democracy and political freedoms as steps just as important to economic growth. The news reporters are very much on the right track with pointing out that this is a clear message to China that the US continues to expect political reforms in addition to liberal economic policies. This was explored at length in both articles.
Secondly, Mongolia matters. What was just barely touched on in these articles is that Mongolia’s democratic system is important not just for Mongolian domestic concerns, but also on the international stage. Mongolian democracy stands out in stark contract to it neighbors, Russia and China, as well as when compared across the larger post-communist world. Central Asian authoritarian states, such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan stand out in clear contract to Mongolia. Despite all its “robustness/rowdiness” (as terms used in other publications), the Mongolian political system is clearly democratic, though with notable problems that have been explored in this blog already.
Mongolian democracy and continuing commitment to improving its human rights situation is not only a domestic issue, but it also serves as one factor in Mongolia’s foreign policy. Looking at Mongolia’s “Third Neighbors” (India, Japan, South Korea, and the United States- to name the larger players), all are thriving democracies. While much of the attention Mongolia enjoys on the international stage relative to its small economy, is tied to the growth of the mining sector, we should not be too quick to avoid factoring in the good press that Mongolia enjoys as a result of its developing democratic system. Not only is it one country that can prove that democracy is suitable for Asian nations, but it also means that the US and other countries can interact with Mongolia as one democracy to another.
Human rights concerns and pushes for democratic reform complicate US relations with many other countries. This is one complication that Mongolia has managed to avoid, and perhaps this plays a role in US and international interest in the small country.