I am not even Canadian, and I don’t work for the Canadian or for the Mongolian government for that matter, though they are obviously important interlocutors for me given my interest in economic, political, and social development in Mongolia.
Yet, in the 12 years that I’ve worked as an academic focused on Japan and Mongolia in Canada, I have come to appreciate interactions with Canadian diplomats very much. In my previous experience, I found German diplomats to be largely uninterested in the work of German country experts (like me), although I am beginning to revise that impression through some interactions with the German embassy and foreign ministry recently. The US always offers such a large field of academics that contacts with the State Department are also relatively limited. Relations with Japanese diplomats posted to Vancouver have always been very good and the interactions with the Japanese embassy in Ulaanbaatar have also been interesting, but largely focused on information exchange and knowledge of each other’s activities.
By contrast, I have found Canada’s diplomatic missions to be very open to discussions about in-country developments and to an exchange of views.
The Canadian Embassy in Ulaanbaatar
The Canadian embassy to Ulaanbaatar has been a particular pleasure to work with. Set up under Ambassador Anna Biolik in 2009, the embassy has established itself as one of the most active players on the Ulaanbaatar diplomatic circuit under Ambassador Greg Goldhawk over the past four years in tandem with the efforts of Maxim Berdichevsky as Counsellor at the embassy.
In my interactions with Canadian diplomats I have come across different types as to their preferred interactions with academics. There are officials who are very academic in their own outlook and interest in countries, i.e. they seek out analytical views of developments to compare with their own. There are some officials who are somewhat indifferent to academic interests, sometimes paired with a strong focus on economic and business relations. And there are a few officials who have a somewhat conflicted relationship with academics for whatever reason.
For the past four years, Amb Goldhawk and Maxim Berdichevsky have not really fit into any of these categories, but instead have been active, supportive and welcoming in all interactions I’ve had with them on Canada-Mongolia relations, despite the constraints (not just budget) that they’ve been operating under.
It has been a particular pleasure to work with them and to be able to establish a relationship where I have been able to share my views on Mongolia, to have these taken seriously, and to know that they are being taken into account in the formulation of policy in some small way. Amb Goldhawk and Maxim have also been terrific discussion partners as they have kept such a sharp eye on events in Mongolia and their observations have thus often had a significant impact on my own understanding.
Obvious Achievements of the Embassy
Over the past several years there have been notable achievements for the embassy.
The most obvious and concrete change was obviously the move to the permanent location in Central Tower. The offices there are attractive, er, centrally located, and seem to be working out well as far as an outsider can tell.
The other outwardly visible achievements were the multiple visits by officials in both directions as well as the ramping up of a bilateral aid program for Mongolia.
Some of the most notable visits:
Mongolia -> Canada
- Prime Minister, S Batbold (Oct 2010)
- Speaker of the Ikh Khural, Z Enkhbold (March 2013)
Canada -> Mongolia
- Minister of Development, Bev Oda (Aug 2011)
- State visit by Governor General David Johnston (Oct 2013)
- Foreign Minister, John Baird (July 2014)
While the embassy building and official visits are easily seen from the outside, the substantive work of the embassy may sometimes be less immediately visible. In the case of the Canadian mission in Ulaanbaatar there are a number of areas of particular activism on the part of the embassy.
Education and especially higher education is of obvious interest to me as a university professor. Here, the first-ever Canadian education fair in Mongolia in October 2013 was a real milestone. The general push to let Mongolians know about education opportunities in Canada is surely also linked to the over 30 Mongolian students we now have at UBC.
International agreements are another obvious marker in bilateral relations and discussions around a FIPA have been on-and-off since PM Batbold’s visit to Ottawa and his initial request for the opening of trade negotiations to which the FIPA is seen as a first step. Currently, the FIPA discussions seem to have gathered some momentum again, no doubt in part through the persistence of the embassy in Ulaanbaatar, but also at DFATD headquarters and the very engaged Mongolia desk there, I imagine.
While the Canadian embassy is a small mission, I have heard much about its activities from Mongolian interlocutors. This is in part due to the Mongolian recognition of Canada as a 3rd neighbour with particular expertise in resource issues, but surely also due to the active advocacy by the embassy on issues like the ongoing development of mining regulation where Canada clearly is an advocacy leader in Ulaanbaatar.
Amb Goldhawk and Maxim’s tenure also coincide with a push onto social media by Canadian missions. Maxim has been very active in this regard on Twitter. But the embassy also has a presence on Twitter and Facebook now.
The Future of the Canadian Embassy
While Amb Goldhawk and Maxim have left Ulaanbaatar, I have not seen an announcement of a new ambassador. Obviously, I hope that this appointment will be announced soon and that relations with the embassy will be as productive and enjoyable in the future as they’ve been in the recent past.
Amb Goldhawk is now head of office in Canada’s High Commission Trade Office in Johannesburg with responsibility for Canada’s commercial interests across Sub-Saharan Africa. Maxim Berdichevsky has returned to DFATD headquarters as a Deputy Director involved in investment treaties negotiation. I wish them all the best in their new postings!