Mongolia – Myanmar Comparison

We are currently enjoying a visit by Dr. Aung Tun Thet to our Institute of Asian Research. Dr. Thet has worked in the UN system for a long time and is now centrally involved in policy-making in Myanmar as the chief economic advisor to the president among a number of other roles.

His discussion of the “Paths and Challenges” for reform in Myanmar had me jotting down a table that compares Mongolia and Myanmar in a number of different ways.

This follows on a number of discussions I’ve had with Mendee and Brandon who have been interested in this comparison as well as with Otogonbaatar who is currently visiting from Waseda Univ and is focused on Myanmar in his dissertation work. Brandon in particular wrote an Asia Pacific Memo on “The Politics of Mining in Mongolia and Myanmar” earlier this year. Also, President Elbegdorj was just on a state visit to Myanmar earlier in November.

After publication of this post, Brandon also wrote on Mongolia-Myamar relations for The Diplomat.

The table below is more stream-of-consciousness than a thought-out classification, so I would be delighted to hear comments/additions/disagreements about this.







Post-colonial: China resentment, neutral/amity with Russia

Post-colonial: Britain

Defeat of Japanese military (1939), but planned for inclusion in Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere

Invasion by Japan (1942) and battleground

Brief period of some post-colonial hints at democratic prospects (1911-24)

Post-colonial democracy (1948-61)


Democratic revolution

Particular state socialism then military authoritarianism and democracy out of enlightened self-interest

Democratic institutions established before resource boom

Resource boom during uncertain transition to democracy


3 mio

60 mio

High literacy

High literacy


Mongols and Kazakhs


Ethnic and civic peace

Ethnic and civic strife

Buddhism and shamanism

Buddhism, Islam and Christianity



Bordering on Indian Ocean and active shipping routes

Transcontinental train lines

Train, road, and shipping networks

Isolated between China and Russia

Many direct neighbours: Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, Thailand

Extreme cold

Susceptible to extreme weather (floods, tsunami, cyclones)

International relations

No threats

Security threats primarily domestic


Two large neighbours (CHN & RUS)

Not only two large neighbours (IND & CHN)

No regional context/NE Asia not an active regional context


Significant Japanese involvement (aid, some investment)

Significant Japanese involvement (aid, investment)


Pres Elbegdorj becoming visible internationally

U Thant very prominent as UN Gen Sec (1961-71)


WTO member since 1997

International sanctions until recently

3rd neighbour policy

“Keeping the same distance”, playing various neighbours off against each other



Charismatic democrats in polity (Elbegdorj, Bat-Uul, etc.)

Aung Suu Kyi, Thein Sein, U Nu


Military thoroughly democratized

Future role for military still unclear


Importance of regions/federalism


Mineral wealth

Mineral wealth


Ivanhoe Mines as early pivotal investor

Ivanhoe Mines as early investor


Manufacturing unlikely

Export-driven manufacturing, low cost

Food production: meat domestic, other food imported (mostly from China)

Food production: strong focus on rice


About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He toots and tweets @jdierkes
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2 Responses to Mongolia – Myanmar Comparison

  1. Pingback: The Surprising Potential of Mongolian-Myanmar Relations - Mongolian Economic Update

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