Mongolia doesn’t need to join the SCO

By Mendee Jargalsaikhan and Julian Dierkes

Like Switzerland for NATO, Mongolia’s absence in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) creates a neutral spot in the Chinese-led regional grouping. But, Mongolia neither hinders any dreams of the creators nor presents any benefits to the SCO.  We argue that Mongolia shouldn’t attempt to seek a membership in the SCO for three reasons:

For one, the SCO and agendas of its members are irrelevant to Mongolia.  For China, the SCO is a multilateral framework to combat the ‘three evils’ (i.e., terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism) and a forum to secure access to natural resources, especially oil and gas. For SCO members, it is a venue to seek endorsements for their authoritarian rule and to accommodate differing priorities of Russia and China. Although sharing Chinese concerns over religious extremism, Russia assertively defends its geopolitical privileges in the former Soviet republics against rising Chinese interests. Mongolia neither possesses oil/gas nor does it experience religious extremism.

Second, the institutional structure of the SCO are still not clear to Mongolia. Decision-making processes and financial aspects are not transparent. Clearly, Beijing and Moscow have more agenda-setting power than all other Central Asian states with the regional leadership rivalry between Astana and Tashkent challenging to collaboration of the SCO members. Mongolia’s entry to the SCO would create more complexity for the country’s foreign policy objectives. Like 2005, Moscow and Beijing are seeking ways to deal with the United States; thus requires all other peripheral states to serve the Sino-Russian agenda.

Third, the SCO is still considered an ‘’authoritarian club” (except for India) and new aspirant members – Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iran – all would strengthen this authoritarian club image. Mongolia is the only democratic state in the periphery of Russia and China. All human rights, importantly political and religious freedoms, have been upheld and protected. The state hasn’t used any violence (with exception of July 1, 2008) against its population.

Therefore, joining in the SCO would bring less benefit to Mongolia, rather than constraining its space for foreign policy maneuvers and darkening the image of democracy – if one understood as a process of reaching consensus without violence and respecting human rights.  A neutral, domestically stable, and economically prosperous Mongolia has been the interests of Sino-Russia. Mongolia’s economic link to Central Asia is very unrealistic than Mongolia’s outreach to North East and Southeast Asia. 

About mendee

Jargalsaikhan Mendee is a Deputy Director of the Institute for Defense Studies of Mongolia. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of British Columbia, and MAs in International Relations from the US Naval Postgraduate School and in Asia-Pacific Policy Studies from the Institute of Asian Research of the University of British Columbia.
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