By Julian Dierkes
November is shaping up to be a very busy month of diplomacy across Asia, at least from a North American perspective. It is an odd time for the Mongolian president to seemingly hold some of Mongolia’s most prominent ambassadorial appointments hostage to partisanship, especially at a time when his own foreign policy remains somewhat undefined.
International Relations Across Asia in November 2017
Pres. Trump’s visit across the region is nervously watched everywhere, especially at a time when U.S. foreign policy seems no more coherent than it was earlier in the year, but is facing a “hot-spot” in North Korean that is of particular significance to Mongolian foreign policy as well. While the highlights of the month are the APEC CEO Summit and the East Asia Summit where Mongolia is not represented in any case, these events will focus more diplomatic attention on the region as other leaders, including Canada’s PM Trudeau, are travelling to Asia.
Le PM Trudeau arrive à Hanoï pour sa première visite officielle au Vietnam, où il assistera aussi à la Réunion des dirigeants économiques de l’@APEC à Da Nang. #APEC2017 pic.twitter.com/QmP0LVYN5g
— PMcanadien (@PMcanadien) November 8, 2017
Pres. Battulga’s Foreign Policy
While the Minister of Foreign Affairs is the specific official charged with carrying out Mongolia’s foreign policy, this is an area of policy making that the president is most directly involved in. So far, we do not really have a sense of any kind of substantive emphases that Pres. Battulga brings to foreign policy. He has met with leaders in an East Asian context, but he declined to travel to the UN General Assembly in September, a trip that former Pres. Elbegdorj inevitably made. Pres. Battulga’s decision to skip the UNGA is especially surprising as Mongolia is continuing to pursue its candidacy for a UN Security Council seat in the 2022 election.
Blocking Ambassadorial Appointments
The only concrete action Pres. Battulga seems to have taken in foreign policy so far is to block the appointments of three ambassadors that have already been approved by parliament and even have received their agrément from the countries they are to be posted to.
The appointment of the ambassadors listed below was unusual already in that they were nominated by outgoing Pres. Elbegdorj in his last months in office, possibly under the assumption that he would be succeeded by M Enkhbold as president and that these appointments suited Enkhbold. But apparently, these are appointments that Pres Battulga is not happy with to represent him in key countries.
That means that Mongolia currently does not have ambassadors in Canada, Japan and the USA, three countries that are high on the list of Mongolia’s “third neighbours”.
On May 26, parliament approved
- N Chimguundari as ambassador to Canada
- D Ganbat as ambassador to Germany
- G Tenger as ambassador to Japan
- L Purevsuren as ambassador to Switzerland
- Yo Otgonbayar as ambassador to the U.S.
- A Battur to France
Of these, only Amb Ganbat has taken up his post in Berlin with the official presentation of his credentials on Sept 21.
L Purevsuren for now seems to continue to serve in Pres. Battulga’s office.
Amb Battur, also a former advisor to Pres. Elbegdorj, appears to have been approved.
The other three approved ambassadors have all received the agreement of the countries they are to be posted to (Amb Chimguundari on July 22, Amb Tenger on July 7, Amb Otgonbayar on August 31).
So far, Pres. Battulga apparently has not signed the letter of credence that these ambassadors would receive to present to the head of state of the countries they would be posted to.
There is no official statement on why this letter of credence has not been signed, but partisan reasons to seem to be at play here.
While Amb Ganbat has long been associated with former Pres. Elbegdorj and the office of the president, serving as the director of the Institute for Strategic Studies, Amb Chimguundari’s sister, N Oyundari, is an MPP MP, and Amb Otgonbayar is a former MPP MP. Since both have previous foreign policy experience (Amb Chimguundari having served in Mongolia’s embassy to France most recently, and Amb Otgonbayar with his doctorate from the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and his previous service in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and as foreign policy advisor to former Pres. Enkhbayar when he was prime minister), their formal qualifications do not seem to be in doubt.
The impression that much of this is due to partisanship or the attempt to use ambassadorial appointments as bargaining chips is reinforced by the sudden nomination of then-Director of the General Intelligence Agency, B Khurts just days after he publicly accused Justice Minister Ts Nyamdorj of all kinds of malfeasance, as ambassador to South Korea.
Khurts is well-known, nay notorious, to Mongolia-watchers as the “super spy”. He ended up tangling with the German criminal justice system after allegedly kidnapping alleged Zorig murder suspect D Enkhbat in Paris in 2003, hiding him in the basement of the Mongolian embassy in Berlin, and spiriting him – unconscious – onto a MIAT flight out of Berlin. Enkhbat later died in a Mongolian jail. Khurts ended up in German jails after having been arrested in Britain, then extradited to Germany, just as Chancellor Merkel was getting ready to visit Mongolia and his case proved to be quite an irritant. Clearly, Khurts’ credentials as director of Mongolia’s spy agency are beyond doubt, but his diplomatic career has been a little less stellar.
If Khurts’ appointment as ambassador to South Korea were to be approved while the other ambassadorships are still held hostage, this would be a bad sign for any pragmatic collaboration or at least coexistence between Pres. Battulga and the MPP government, and also for the direction of Mongolian foreign policy more generally.
Timely Turnover at Canadian Embassy
By contrast to the absence of a Mongolian ambassador to Canada, the Canadian embassy to Mongolia is fully staffed and the usual turnover of personnel there this summer was completed in a much more timely manner than had been the case in the past.
Ambo David Sproule, 4th resident Ambassador of Canada to Mongolia, has presented his Credentials to the President of Mongolia today pic.twitter.com/akjGQFpAIs
— Canada in Mongolia (@CanadaMongolia) September 18, 2017
At least the Canadian side of this bilateral relationship is thus in a strong position roughly one year before the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations on Nov 30 1973.
By contrast, the U.S. embassy may also face a protracted period of limbo after Amb. Galt leaves on November 10 and until her successor arrives.