By Julian Dierkes
I’m finally getting around to listening to The Diplomat’s podcast episode focused on Mongolia, “Northeast Asia’s Hidden Geopolitical Player“.
One of the reasons I want to discuss that podcast episode is that I enjoy The Diplomat podcast and website and appreciate that Ankit Panda does pay attention to Mongolia as one of the actors in Asian politics and international relations.
Panda and Bittner focused on Pres. Elbegdorj to some extent. Panda built on his curiosity about Elbegdorj’ status as “one of the world’s best-travelled” leaders. This is appropriate of course, as this is the last year in office for Pres. Elbegdorj, so that a discussion of Mongolia’s role in geopolitics may look somewhat different in two years or so after a new president has made his (most likely, yes, his) mark.
As Panda noted, Elbegdorj made a bit of a splash at last year’s UN General Assembly by announcing that Mongolia would seek to achieve “permanent neutrality” to bolster its Third Neighbour Policy further.
That proposal was not received with much approval in Mongolia itself, though the discussion has generally been muted rather than opposed. Note that at his address at the 71st General Assembly, Pres. Elbegdorj did not mention permanent neutrality again this September.
The opposition to this proposal has been built around hesitancy to abandon the possibility of alliances entirely. That is not because there actually is a debate about a real re-commitment to Russia as Panda and Bittner discuss a little bit. Yes, there is a generally positive attitude toward Soviet history with Mongolia and toward contemporary Russia, but that only goes so far in the population as well as the leadership. But even for foreign policy leaders who are not considering any kind of closer “alliance” with Russia (China is completely out of the question in this regard, despite the ever-growing Mongolian dependence on Chinese bridge loans to paper over its fiscal woes), the permanent part of neutrality is somewhat off-putting.
One element of foreign policy that Pres. Elbegdorj mentioned at the UN this year and that also has an impact on Mongolia’s hidden geopolitical ambitions/role is its aid program.
The International Cooperation Fund has been operational for some years now (I have coorganized activities with the ICF in the past), but Pres. Elbegdorj highlighted its work in democracy promotion in his congratulations to Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan on “their successful elections”.
Overall, Panda and Bittner provided a useful discussion.
Join me in a campaign to persuade Panda to speak of “Chinggis Khaan” rather than “Gengis” and we’ll appreciate his coverage of Mongolia even more.