Guest Post: Sino-Mongolian Relations: A New Era?

By Borjgin Shurentana

On November 28, Chinese President Xi Jinping held a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People to welcome the state visit of Mongolian President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsuh. A 21-gun salute was fired on Tiananmen Square, and Khurelsuh, accompanied by Xi Jinping, reviewed the honor guard of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. China welcomed the President of Mongolia with the highest ceremony. The two sides stressed their intention to build the bilateral relations into a “model of state-to-state relations” in the “new era” (新时代). It is interesting to note that there were some changes in the definition of the southern neighbor or the state of bilateral relations by the current leaders of Mongolia in post-pandemic time. The Prime Minister of Mongolia emphasized that China is a “golden neighbor”(金不换的邻居), while the President of Mongolia stressed that the friendship between China and Mongolia is a “steel friendship”(钢铁般的友谊). These definitions are quite eye-catching because they are relatively new in the political discourse of Mongolia regarding China where the most commonly used terminology had been “eternal neighbors” (munkhiin hursh)”.

For Mongolia, affected by global COVID-19 and the tightened Chinese border-control policy, its foreign trade has been seriously hindered, its local currency exchange rate has continued to decline due to the significant reduction of foreign exchange reserves, commodity supply has been in shortage, and inflation has galloped. These have made Mongolia’s already troubled economic situation even worse. The uncertainties around the world seem to make Mongolia further realize the importance of its territorial neighbors. From Sant Maral’s survey data, one could observe a gradual decline in terms of preferences of Mongolians towards the major “third neighbors” in general in recent years. Also it is interesting to note that Khurelsuh emphasized the “Asian value” when meeting Xi Jinping in his last visit, though its not clear what he refers to by “Asian value” exactly.The proportion of the trade between Mongolia and its “third neighbors” in its foreign trade is quite small in comparison, and most of the trades need to reach each other’s markets through Chinese ports. These “third neighbors” have quite limited interest in Mongolia in terms of trade and other economic activities maybe except for cooperations on mega projects.

As Connor and Sanchir pointed out “The rentier and neo-patrimonial nature of Mongolia’s political settlement has been partially responsible for some foreign policy rhetoric and goals. To cultivate domestic legitimacy, Mongolian elites have at intervals utilized foreign policy to legitimate their aspirations.” The current MPP government has failed to improve the economic condition of the country during their time in-office. They will take full responsibility since they were given enough time and sufficient power. The only possible solution currently is to look further towards China. The MPP is already under great pressure given that the frustration of the people is accumulating to a certain level as the recent protest movements show. Hence, the MPP’s portrayal of China as a ‘golden neighbor+steel friend’ is understandable, Mongolia is showing more pragmatism in its foreign relations, focusing on economic interests.

China is facing a complex and challenging situation both at home and abroad. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a great impact on China’s economy, and its economic and social development does face difficulties and challenges. In recent years, with the deterioration of China-Australia relations and the implementation of China’s ban on coal imports from Australia, Mongolia’s role as an important coal source has been further consolidated by its possession of high-quality coal at a cheaper price. In addition, the construction of railway lines from Mongolian mining areas to the Sino-Mongolian borders the import of Mongolian minerals to China more convenient and economic. Currently, of the three new railways planned to be built in Mongolia to the Chinese border, two (Gashuun Suhait-Gantsmod, Zuunbayan-Khangi) have been built and opened to traffic within Mongolia this year. During Khurelsuh’s visit, the two sides agreed to highlight connectivity and cooperation in the energy sector as the top priority directions in the bilateral cooperation, and stressed that they should support enterprises of the two countries to expand trade in coal, iron ore and agricultural products in accordance with market principles and commercial rules, and support enterprises of the two countries to sign medium and long-term coal trade agreements. China promises to continue to support Mongolia in transit transportation, sea access and other aspects, and to help Mongolia ensure the import of important goods essential for national and people’s livelihood. China wants to solidify Mongolia’s role as a stable source of resources by providing Mongolia with a reliable expectation in the medium- and long-term regarding trade and customs clearance. The global energy crisis, challenges in foreign relations and the slowdown of its economy prompted China to further secure its energy supply given that its economy relies heavily on traditional energy resources. Moreover, China aims to peak its carbon emissions by 2030, and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. In this sense, Ecological environment, desertification prevention and control, and green development are also the main areas of cooperation stressed by the two sides. Mongolia has potential for development in terms of renewable energy which may replace traditional energy as a new field of cooperation in the longer future.

Docking the “the Belt and Road” initiative with Mongolia’s Prairie Road strategy has been mentioned repeatedly in various bilateral meetings and documents, but the implementation of specific cooperation projects has not made significant progress. China, Mongolia and Russia have established some quasi-institutionalized cooperations around the construction of the trilateral economic corridor (including China-Mongolia-Russia Summit Mechanism, China-Mongolia-Russia Think Tank Cooperation Alliance, China-Mongolia-Russia Business Forum, China-Mongolia-Russia Tourism Ministers’ Meeting)), and initially planned 30 projects for cooperation in 2016. However, none of them has been realized so far. In 2016, China halted the Egiin Gol hydropower project due to a disagreement with Russia over the impact of the dam on the ecology of Lake Baigal. (Grossman 2017) Moreover, Mongolia expects the Sino-Russian Siberian natural gas pipeline to pass through Mongolia while the eastern route of the Siberian pipeline bypassed Mongolia and directly led to northeast China. Mongolia has great enthusiasm in the China-Mongolia-Russia trilateral cooperation, or to say China’s promotion of sub-regional cooperation because it is in line with Mongolia’s interest of maintaining a balanced economic relation between China and Russia, rather than being over dependent on China. At present, centering on the construction of the economic corridor, the upgrading and reconstruction of the midline railway connecting the three countries and the laying of the new China-Russia natural gas pipeline crossing Mongolia is coming to be on the agenda.

The uncertainties and challenges caused by global development and international situations seem to have brought Sino-Mongolia relations closer, at least in terms of political level. Mongolia’s economic dependency on China is quite likely to continue to grow. Furthermore, according to the survey data, Mongolians’ perception of China has shown a trend of gradual improvements over recent years (Sant Maral Foundation), and the (IRI2016, IRI2020, also from J. Mendee’s analysis). In the future, if Sino-Mongolia relations continue to develop and there is no occurrence of accidental or sensitive events, the bilateral relationship may achieve some substantial if slow development at many aspects including mutual perceptions.

However, Sino-Mongolia relation is fragile in nature, as it is known that the general ‘affective orientation’ in Mongolia’s relations with China cannot be said to be positive. Having this ‘background affective phenomenon” (Hall and Rose 2011), once there are problems that touch the sensitive nerves of Mongolians, such as issues related to land, population, historical narratives, cultural heritage, cross-border ethnic groups, etc., it is very easy to cause widespread emotions in Mongolian society, which likely results in an immediate decline of the bilateral relations. In a recent interview with Mongolia’s Parliament TV, the Chinese ambassador to Mongolia, Chai Wenrui emphasized the enhancement of mutual trust in the bilateral cooperations as the top issue area that should be given major attention. Vice versa, issues that touch the sensitive nerves of the Chinese, such as the Dalai Lama’s visit, will also frustrate bilateral relations. Although the MPP government promised in 2016 that the Dalai Lama would not visit Mongolia again during the term of their governance, it does not mean that things will not happen again in the future.

About Borjgin Shurentana

Borjgin Shurentana is a researcher in The Center of Mongolian Studies, Inner Mongolia University in Hohhot. She received her Ph.D in international relations from Fudan University in Shanghai. Her researches mainly focus on Sino-Mongolian relations, Mongolian foreign policy, cross-border ethnic relations and political psychology in international relations.

Posted in Borjgin Shurentana, China, Foreign Policy, Inner Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, International Relations, Mongolians in China, Oyu Tolgoi, Trade | Leave a comment

Mongolia Focus 2022 in Review

By Julian Dierkes


During 2022 13,000 users viewed 27,000 pages. Both those numbers are down from 2021, perhaps not surprising in a non-election years as elections have generally led to spikes in readership.

In 2022, the top ten origin countries of readers were

  1. U.S. (27%)
  2. Mongolia (19%)
  3. Canada (9%)
  4. Germany (5%)
  5. UK (5%)
  6. China (4%)
  7. Australia (3%)
  8. India (2%)
  9. Japan (2%)
  10. France (2%)

China’s share of readership continues to grow while Russia dropped out of the top ten during this year of Russian aggression towards a neighbour.


We wrote 37 posts in the past year. That reflects a general steady output compared to previous years. In this 11th year of maintaining the blog, we have still not missed a single month of writing and we have posted a total of over 775 posts. Energy was flagging a bit by the Spring, in part because many of us had not been able to visit Mongolia since late 2019 due to COVID19-related travel restrictions, but dramatic foreign policy events and some demonstrations in Mongolia quickly re-focused our attention.

In my mind, we wrote a number of posts that will be relevant to analyses of contemporary Mongolia for some years to come.

These included posts on foreign policy

Domestic politics also caught our attention and demanded analyses

We also had another year of being able to invite a number of guest posts onto the blog that added significantly to the breadth and depth of our coverage.

Some of the posts that had been read most widely in previous years continued to be popular this year as well. The most-read posts in 2022 were:

  1. Fascist Symbolism in Mongolia, 2020, 2,500 pageviews
  2. How Popular is Russian, 2016, 950 views
  3. Mongolia and Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, 2022, 600 views

The first two are also among the all-time most read posts.

  1. Fascist Symbolism, over 9,200 views
  2. Russian as Foreign Language, over 7,200 page views
  3. Cars in Mongolia, 2018

Some of the pages we maintain as part of the blog site also continue to be popular, particularly the listing of non-Mongolian mining companies (over 1,400 pageviews in 2022) and our scorecard that bundles various global indices and their ranking of Mongolia.

Posted in Reflection | Tagged | Leave a comment

Flop 5 der mongolischen Politik

By Julian Dierkes

Ich höre inzwischen sehr gerne Podcasts, sei es um die Bundesliga zu verfolgen, kanadische Nachrichten besser zu verstehen, oder auch Entwicklungen in Deutschland nicht ganz aus dem Auge zu verlieren.

Einer meiner Lieblingspodcasts in diesem Zusammenhang ist “Das Politikteil” als Teil des Zeit-Podcastimperiums. Die Zeit Moderatoren sind selbstverständlich sehr gut informiert, haben aber auch immer gute und tiefgreifende Fragen für ihre Gäste. Wer schon mal das Politikteil gehört hat, weiss dass es dabei auch ein paar wiederkehrende Rubriken gibt, wie z.B. ein Geräusch, was Gäste mitbringen, oder aber auch die “Flop 5”.

Mit großem Schrecken musste ich in der letzten 2022 Ausgabe hören, dass die Reaktion offensichtlich die “Flop 5” abschaffen will, auch wenn noch die HörerInnenreaktion abgewartet werden soll.

Flop5 Behalten

Was gefällt mir denn an den Flop5? Erstmal mag ich Rubriken in Podcasts generell gerne, weil sie den Folgen etwas Struktur geben und regelmäßige HörerInnen belohnen.

An den Flop5 gefällt mir aber v.a. auch, dass ich mich in die GästInnen versetzen kann und meine Flop5 im Bezug auf meine Expertise auch gerne loswerden würde.

Das tolle am Politikteil ist ja a) die Tiefe, in die Gespräche gehen können, und b) die Interaktivität der Unterhaltung mit einer/m ExpertIn. Deshalb find ich aber auch, dass GästInnen etwas anbringen können sollen, da wir als ExpertInnen ja auch oft genug mit JournalistInnen sprechen, die danach alle möglichen Aspekte eines Themas hervorheben, die wir so gar nicht relevant finden, die Flops nämlich. Und es macht doch auch ein bisschen Spaß solche Klischees zu dissen, oder?


Aber, ich verstehe schon, warum über eine Abschaffung der Flop5 nachgedacht wird. Zwei Gründen fallen mir dazu besonders ein: a) machmal sind 5 zu viele, und b) oft ist es für ExpertInnen, glaube ich, schwierig zu unterscheiden, was sie an dem Gegenstand ihrer Expertise nervt, und was sie an den Diskussionen über den Gegenstand ihrer Expertise nervt.

Also, vielleicht Flop3, auch wenn sich das nicht einmal fast reimt? Und, strengere Anweisungen an die ExpertInnen sich wirklich an den Diskurs über das Phänomen zu halten, nicht das Phänomen selber?


Vielleicht ist das zu akademisch gedacht, aber die meisten ExpertInnen können auf Erklärungsansätze verweisen, die ihren eigenen gegenüberstehen. Vielleicht könnten sie diesen Ansatz benennen und sich selber kurz damit auseinandersetzen. Als Rubrik vielleicht “Das Widerspenst”? Zu klever?

Für den Fall der Abschaffung: Meine Flop5 der mongolischen Politik

Da es sehr unwahrscheinlich ist, dass das Interesse an der mongolischen Politik in Deutschland so stark ist, dass ich als Gast zum Politikteil eingeladen werde, hier deshalb schon mal sicherheitshalber meine Flop der mongolischen Politik, also fünf Ausdrücke, von denen ich mir wünschen würde, dass sie aus Diskussionen über die mongolische Politik verschwinden sollten.

1. Dschingis Khaan

Oh ja! Wenn es schon einen 1980er Schlager über einen historischen Politik des Themas gibt ist das ja ein klarer Indikator, dass dieser Aspekt nie mehr genannt werden sollte. Aber, leider, gibt es fast keinen Artikel über die Mongolei, der nicht auch einen Hinweis auf den großen Khaan beinhaltet. In diesem Zusammenhang möchte ich explizit darauf Hinweisen, dass z.B. mein Artikel für Foreign Policy im Oktober 2022 das mongolische Reich in keinster Weise erwähnt hat.

2. “Die Mongolei, ein Land zwischen Russland und China”

Oder, noch häufiger in der englischen Version, “a landlocked country between Russia and China”. Ja ja, es stimmt ja, dass die Mongolei als Binnenland zwischen Russland und China eingeschlossen ist. Und ja, dass ist für die mongolische Politik auch ein sehr wichtiger Faktor, vielleicht schon fast im Sinne eines geografischen Determinismus, zumindest was die Aussenpolitik angeht. Und ja, die meisten ZuhörerInnen/LeserInnen wissen oft ja gar nicht wo die Mongolei liegt oder dass sie nicht ein Teil Chinas ist, aber… ich bin diesen Satz einfach leid.

3. Politische Verschwörungen

Ein Großteil der Erklärungen für politische Entwicklungen die mir meine vielen mongolischen Kontakte anbieten sind letztendlich politische Verschwörungen, entweder innerhalb der mongolischen Parteien oder Komplotte die chinesische oder russische Geheimdienste und andere Akteure schmieden. Wie bei allen Verschwörungstheorien ist der Hauptfehler hier, dass diese unwiderlegbar sind. Die große Gefahr im mongolischen Kontext ist aber auch, dass diese Verschwörungen mongolischen WählerInnen jegliche agency absprechen um Veränderungen herbeizuführen. Es ist aber genau diese Möglichkeit Veränderungen herbeizuführen, die MongolInnen von BürgerInnen so vieler Länder unterscheidet, die keinerlei demokratische Rechte haben.

Verschwörungstheorien sind immer dann ganz präsent wenn es um Demonstrationen geht. Als am 5.12. z.B. Proteste ausbrachen und u.a. auch der Regierungspalast gestürmt wurde, haben viele mongolische Kontakte mich belehrt, dass das alles nur durch Präs. Khurelsukh inszeniert sein, weil er damit den Parteikongress beeinflussen wollte, der die Woche stattfinden sollte. Diese Erklärungen haben mich in dem Moment so genervt, dass ich für The Diplomat gleich einen Artikel geschrieben habe um andere Erklärungen anzubieten. Wenn man sich anschaut, wie sich die Proteste über zwei Wochen entwickelt haben, hatte ich wohl recht.

Die internationalen Verschwörungen sind ähnlich unproduktiv. Meisten glaube ich einfach nicht, dass die Mongolei den Regimes in Moskau oder Beijing wichtig genug sind um tatsächlich die Ressourcen zu investieren, die für große Verschwörungen notwendig wären. In diesem Zusammenhang war ich während meines letzten Mongolei-Besuchs im November 2022 sehr enttäuscht, dass sich keine Spione aus der russischen oder chinesischen Botschaft gemeldet haben, nachdem ich deren Kommentare zu meinen Analysen hier doch explizit eingeladen hatte.

4. Die holländische Krankheit und auch Ressourcenfalle

Fast jeder journalistische Artikel in europäischen, australischen oder nordamerikanischen Medienprodukte der letzten 15 Jahre muss über den Bergbau in der Mongolei schreiben. Klar ist das ein wichtiges Thema, für die Wirtschaft sogar das Thema, aber eben nicht das einzige Thema.

Aber nein, Mongolei ist nicht von der holländischen Krankheit befallen und das war auch nie eine Gefahr, denn dabei geht es ja v.a. um Wechselkurse und inländische Inflation, die durch die ausländischen Rohstoffverkäufe geschürt wird. Und inländische produzierende Industrie, die durch die Währungsentwicklung gefährdet wäre, gibt es ja auch nicht.

Klar, die Ressourcenfalle, also viele Rohstoffe = stagnierende oder negative Entwicklung von vielen Wohlstandsaspekten, ist eine Herausforderung, aber wiederum ja nicht die einzige Herausforderung für die Mongolei oder selbst für die Bergbauindustrie.

5. Politisches Macho-Gehabe

Das ist jetzt ein Flop weniger in der Berichterstattung über die Mongolei oder in der Analyse der dortigen Entwicklungen, sondern in der mongolischen Politik selber. Warum müssen sich mongolische Politiker (ja, hier nicht -Innen) immer in diese engen Anzüge zwängen um ihren Muskelbau vorzuweisen. Ganz unangenehmes Putin-Verhalten. Und die Sicherheitsmannschaften um Politiker herum sind da noch viel schlimmer. A) wie groß ist denn die Bedrohung von mongolischen Politikern, selbst vom Präsidenten tatsächlich. Es gibt keinen Terrorismus in der Mongolei, nicht mal die sog. Oligarchen sind hier mörderisch. Das ist doch alles nur eine große Männlichkeits- und Machtdemonstration. B) Müssen die Sicherheitsleute wirklich wir eine Karikatur amerikanischer Secret Service Leute aussehen? Der Knopf im Ohr, der hässliche Anzug, die Sonnenbrille? Muss das wirklich sein? Wie wäre es denn mal, wenn mongolische Politiker stattdessen BürgerInnennähe demonstrieren würden?

Meine Hoffnung

Liebe Politikteil-Redaktion: Ich hoffe, dass die “Flop 5” Teil der Folgen bleibt. Oder, wenn Ihr sie schon abschaffen wollt, dann ladet mich doch wenigstens mal zu einem Gespräch über die Mongolei ein. 😉

Posted in Democracy, Germany, History, Media and Press, Mining, Party Politics, Podcast, Politics, Social Media | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: The Scary Part about ‘Our Common Geopolitical Language’

By Peter W. Fong

Way back in 2018, I led a first-ever scientific expedition from the headwaters of Mongolia’s Selenge River to Russia’s Lake Baikal, one of our planet’s great environmental treasures. In those halcyon days, our international team of Russians, Mongolians, and Americans was spurred to act by Mongolia’s plans for multiple dams in the Selenge watershed, which provides more than half of Baikal’s annual inflows.

Group of six riders going up a ridge on horseback. Misty, cloudy background.

The 2018 Baikal Headwaters Expedition on their way to the headwaters of Mongolia’s Selenge River. photo@pwfong

Such plans were developed despite the potential harm to fish, wildlife, and nearby residents, most of whom are nomadic herders. And despite the region’s low suitability for sustained hydroelectric generation. (In winter, ice can form up to three-feet thick on even the fastest-flowing sections, while recent summers have been plagued by drought and flash-flooding, accompanied by high sediment loads that can prematurely degrade a reservoir’s capacity to store water.)

By the following year, one of those projects—on the Eg River—seemed to have been permanently beaten back, partly through environmental activism and partly by global geopolitics. Although the dam was to be built by a Chinese construction firm, Sinohydro, and financed by a billion-dollar Chinese loan, many of its negative effects would have been felt far downstream in Russia. In order to prevent harm to Baikal (and perhaps prolong Mongolia’s energy dependence), the Russian government convinced their Chinese counterparts to withdraw the loan.

Photos centres the Selenge river snaking toward mountains in the background, lush marshy area to the left, rocky outcrops on the right, somewhat dramatic lighting because of cloud cover.

The Selenge River, Lake Baikal’s largest tributary, in September. photo@pwfong

As any international economist might have predicted, this did not ultimately alter the flow of cross-border commerce. In 2019, China announced that a similar loan agreement had been reached for the paving of a new highway in Mongolia. The name of the construction firm? Sinohydro.

This past summer, however, the Mongolian government publicly solicited the support of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres for reviving the Eg River dam—despite the fact that Baikal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Which reminded me, once again, that no misguided hydro scheme is ever truly dead. And, coincidentally, of the time that our team spent at the confluence of the Eg and the Selenge in September 2018.

On that chilly autumn day, we helped a group of six anglers load their inflatable craft—according to the logo, a New Nice Tank Boat—onto the roof of a Japanese SUV. They were all from Erdenet, the mining town where Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky spent four years of his childhood. The anglers, five Mongolians and one Russian, had killed at least two dozen sharp-nosed lenok, a local species of trout. Some were almost twenty inches long, fat and healthy. To supplement our cache of scientific data, we collected DNA samples and length measurements from every fish.

Large sticker on the side of the raft says, "Nice Tank Boat"

A tourist company’s raft loaded upside-down atop their vehicle. photo@pwfong

One of the Mongolians owned a tourist lodge nearby. When he discovered that three of our team were Americans, he divulged that his daughter had just begun her studies in San Francisco. “Computer programming,” he said proudly.

I congratulated him on his good fortune but didn’t mention that, if the Eg dam were to be built to its published specifications, then the route to his fishing hole would be blocked by a concrete wall 73 meters high and 710 meters wide. Because the project had been in the works since 1964, I’m guessing that he already knew about that. Especially since hundreds of local residents would’ve had to be relocated before the reservoir could be filled. And also because nearby Erdenet—and its copper mine—would’ve been prime beneficiaries of the new power supply.

The planning for the Eg dam began with a Russian team, proceeded with funding from the Asian Development Bank, then continued with support from creditors in Malaysia, the Czech Republic and, eventually, China. A 2014 feasibility study suggested that winter icing could be overcome with a combination of dredging, ice booms, and a buffer dam. The same study proposed a new access road with a 320-meter steel bridge across the Selenge, as well as a museum for the archaeological artifacts rescued from the to-be-drowned site.

A more recent push for dam construction was financed in part by a World Bank initiative dubbed MINIS, a somewhat tortured acronym for the Mongolia Mining Infrastructure Investment Support Project. Other MINIS projects in the Baikal drainage included a proposal to divert water from the Orkhon River south to the Gobi Desert and a potential dam on the mainstem of the Selenge near another tributary named the Shuren.

What was the stated objective of MINIS? To “facilitate infrastructure investments to support mining and downstream processing, regardless of the funding source.” Note that this mission does not mention anything about promoting the common good or preventing environmental disaster. The World Bank, however, was committed—at least on paper—to “increasing shared prosperity and promoting sustainable development.”

Riverside photo. Horns sticking out of the mud, reddish plants growing around them.

Evidence of seasonal flooding on Mongolia’s Selenge River. photo@pwfong

In 2016, the World Bank’s own review panel concluded that [bold in original], “the potential harm that may derive from the improper implementation of the proposed sub-projects is indeed of a serious nature.” Nevertheless, feasibility studies and environmental assessments continued, with support from bankers in China and despite pushback from environmentalists in Russia and Mongolia.

There are several different ways to think about the triangular relationship among the three countries. Consider that, in 1924, Mongolia became the world’s first communist state outside of the Soviet Union. And that the preceding two decades had been eventful ones, including two nationalist revolutions. The first occurred in 1911, against Chinese rule; the second in 1921, expelling both a Chinese occupation and a force of White Russians.

Through this lens, Mongolia looks like a plucky nation contending with monstrous foreign bullies. If we peer farther back into history, however, a different chain of influence appears. In this accounting, “Russia and China were both part of the great Mongol Empire, and we see the persistence of Mongol influence on the Russian state, military, and political culture to this day.” According to the editor of Novaya Buryatia, a newspaper in Ulan-Ude, “When Vladimir Putin and Chinese leaders meet today and find common geopolitical language, and China talks of using its economic might to reestablish the old Silk Road, they are reaching back to that historical experience. It was totally different from the Western one, and it created societies that are very unlike the West right down to their political DNA.”

Photo of broad valley with river flowing right through it, perhaps confluence of two rivers or arms of rivers. On one of the sides sits an abandoned orthodox looking building.

An abandoned cathedral near Novoselenginsk, Russia. photo@pwfong

This is a defiant view, one that evades the perception of weakness by reclaiming primacy at a foundational level. But given how much the world has changed since the dam’s conception in 1964, when Mao and Khrushchev ruled on opposite sides of Mongolia’s borders, I wonder which is the more worrisome concern for a nation undeniably struggling to diversify its economy—that the government still wants to build the Eg dam? Or that they haven’t managed to build it yet?

With Egypt’s COP27 now in the rearview mirror, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the old dreams of unfettered development and the new dreams of energy independence can converge in unexpected and counterproductive ways. Yes—it’s bad policy for any country to be forced to rely on Russia for its vital energy supplies. But the alternatives should not require the twin burdens of a degraded environment and an insupportable debt with China.

About Peter Fong

—Peter W. Fong is an award-winning author whose stories and photographs have appeared in High Country News, The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and many other publications. He has been working as a flyfishing guide in Mongolia since 2006. For more information about the 2018 Baikal Headwaters Expedition, visit

Posted in Countryside, Environmental Movements, International Relations, Renewables, River Movements, Russia, Water | Leave a comment

December 2022 Protests

By Julian Dierkes

Once again, following protests in April 2022, primarily younger Mongolians took to Sukhbaatar Square in protest in early December.

I initially wrote about these protests for The Diplomat, pointing out the simmering corruption worries connected to state-owned Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi, but also the mounting frustration that younger Mongolians in particular seem to be feeling regarding the lack of delivery on promises made by successive government that also fueled protests in April 2022.

Two weeks after these protests started, they now seem to be petering out. But, they will likely remain significant as an expression of popular frustration on the one hand, but also in pushing for some more concrete action on corruption, at least in the short term.

Journalist Anand Tumurtogoo and I had a Twitter Spaces discussion on the Red Line Podcast on Dec 19 that places these protests in a larger context, but also consider some of the possible implications.


The actual trigger for these protests were announcements by the government that corruption on a grand scale was taking place with state-owned Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi (ETT). As I wrote in the piece for The Diplomat, that was an admission that had been long coming since the government had already placed ETT under some supervisory measures earlier in the Fall.

I had initially assumed that corruption allegations were focused on 2021-22 when coal exports resumed at a somewhat frantic pace after Chinese border closures had interrupted. As discussions and reactions by government representatives continued, however, more and more of the attention seemed to be focused on longstanding governance issues and allegations of corruption at ETT over the past decade. Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the effort to deflect criticism has focused on former president Kh Battulga who is also involved in the bitter fight of leadership over what remains of the Democratic Party.


It is clear that the protests were dominated by young people.

It is also clear that the protests were not orchestrated or organized even though the initial reaction I had had from Mongolians was focused on pointing at political conspiracies and political actors as instigating these protests.

Comedian Tsogtbaatar seemed to emerge as a quasi spokesperson, but did not provide central leadership to the protests.

I was interested to see that that recurring Mongolian protest tactic, the hunger strike, did not make an appearance this time. Instead, the most visible symbol of the protests ended up being a small group of protesters who camped out on Sukhbaatar Square. Given temperatures of -30ºC and below, that was surely heroic enough to catch many people’s eyes.


The government response has been primarily a bureaucratic one, i.e. “we’ll form a committee”. That is an appropriate response when it comes to corruption allegations, of course. At the same time, it is not a response that tends to be popular with frustrated youth who are protesting.

It does seem likely that this scandal will give the government an opportunity to attempt to prosecute former pres. Battulga and a number of other officials that have been identified as part of the “coal mafia”.

There is some chance that this will lead to more serious governance reform, I suppose, though chances seem relatively low given past histories of alleged corruption and cycles of protest/outrage over those.

Some of the initial reactions to the protest focused on the possibility of an attempt by Pres Khurelsukh to manipulate some kind of power relations within the MPP. I would take note that much of that speculation subsided within days when it seemed relatively clear in their un-organizedness that these protests were not orchestrated somehow. I do feel vindicated in my frustration about the never-ending insinuations of political manipulation when sometimes, voters are also simply frustrated.

Sour Taste

I do want to take note of the sour taste left by some of the Facebook posts of the immigration agency.

As best as I could guess, this may have been directed at suspicions of some kind of foreign interference. Again, not a great look that whole narrative of “foreigners are inciting demonstrations”, especially when it turns out that these seem to be mainly driven by frustrated Mongolians. Just another instance of the endless conspiracy theories and pointing of fingers undermining democracy.

P.S. Dec 19

Posted in China, Corruption, Erdenes Mongol, JD Democratization, Mining, Mining Governance, Politics, Protest, Protest, Tavan Tolgoi, Younger Mongolians | Tagged | Leave a comment

State-Socialist Legacies and Selective Perception of Propaganda

By Julian Dierkes

Every so often, my conversations, especially on visits to Mongolia which are so valuable for my thinking, touch on bigger issues that are challenging to frame as a blog post. This is one of those attempts to wrestle with the legacy of state-socialism, but also the selective citing of propaganda as a cause for current attitudes.

I approach this topic with my own set of biases, especially my refusal to ascribe a lot of causal power to such things as “national identity” or “Mentalität”. My dissertation research comparing constructions of national history in Japan and the Germanies was an attempt to find more proximate causes for differences than some kind of “shame vs guilt culture”.

Enduring Legacies of State-Socialist Propaganda in Gender Relations?

This particular version of the on-going conversation about the extent to which the state-socialist period still has an impact on today’s Mongolia started with a close and exciting conversation with an eyewitness to the revolution.

While I was able to purchase the new book from Irja Halász, she also showed me a copy of an earlier book she had published with photographs she took during the winter of 1989/90 as the only Western eye witness (armed with a camera no less) to the revolution. As we were looking through her photographs, I noticed that many of the photographs showed very few women, at least in the front row of the protesters. This might not be surprising when considering contemporary Mongolia where the country and many of its institutions are clearly run by women, yet the nominal figureheads, including government figures, are almost always men. That observation is particularly poignant in the aftermath of the dismissal of prominent female politicians like D Sarangerel for condescending remarks that appear to be unlikely to have landed a male minister in danger of dismissal.

More startlingly, in my mind, this came after 70 years of state-socialist propaganda espousing gender equality. While it is unclear how deep that propaganda really went in terms of action toward gender equality, particularly in terms of representation of women in the political leadership, it is clear that the propaganda espousing gender equality was consistent and persistent. Marie-Dominique Even has written about the topic of “Sex-equality norms versus traditional gender values in Communist Mongolia” (trans. Helen Tomlinson). She initially agrees with seeing the lack of representation of women in the revolution as a paradox,

In view of the rights acquired during the communist period, after the democratic transition of 199017 one might have expected Mongolian women to enjoy a sound social position and a capacity for action close to that of their male fellow citizens. (p. 168)

She points to some possible explanations of the paradox of a lack of representation of women in politics, for example, the channeling of women in civil society organizations rather than political parties, but ultimately identifies the persistence of very traditional gender norms that have come to the fore following the end of state-socialist gender parity propaganda.

I have yet to obtain a copy of Manduhai Buydandelger’s A Thousand Steps to Parliament – Constructing Electable Women in Mongolia, to have a look at what her take on this presumed paradox might be.

But the question I want to raise here is: when do we take state-socialist propaganda to have an impact, and when do we deny this impact?

Unless Manduhai reaches very different conclusions in her research, Even and conversations that I have had, including with Irja Halász, suggest a near-consensus that  state-socialist propaganda failed to fundamentally change gender norms in many areas.

The Case for State-Socialist Propaganda

The two most prominent questions that are often answered by the impact of state-socialist propaganda, are

  • where does the virulent anti-Chinese sentiment in Mongolia come from
  • is there some kind of state-socialist Mentalität lingering in economic affairs.

Anti-Chinese Sentiment

While anti-Chinese sentiment in some countries may be linked to China’s contemporary rise in economic and political power, its roots in Mongolia seem to go deeper. The historical resentiments from Qing era subjugation of Mongolia were reinforced by state-socialist propaganda following the Sino-Soviet split, as Franck Billé argues in his Sinophobia, for example.

In this general view that appears to be a near-consensus, anti-Chinese sentiment is thus attributed to state-socialist propaganda since the Sino-Soviet split. Here, it is argued that state-socialist propaganda has a continuing impact on contemporary thinking.

Economic Relations

Maybe economic relations is not quite the right term, but I do hear somewhat frequent references to a state-socialist Mentalität when talking about matters as welfare state provisions, business relations, or even staff relations within companies. It is difficult to a) pin down what exactly this state of mind or attitude refers to, b) how to measure it, and c) whether it has anything to do with state-socialism, even more so with state-socialist propaganda. Was it the reality of a planned economy that has shaped lives and continues to exert an impact, or was it state-socialist propaganda about a planned economy and what individual Mongolians should expect of the economy that shapes attitudes today. I have to say that I find it more plausible to think of the actual impact on lives as being primary for those born before, say, 1980, while portrayals of the economy as state-centric continue to linger on to younger generations.

So, bottom line in these three areas is something like this:

Gender Relations Anti-China Attitudes State-Centric Economy
Propaganda Impactful X ?
Propaganda Not Impactful X ?

Obviously, that is quite simplistic at this point. Ill-defined, third column not resolved, and static, where surely this would have to be a dynamic assessment or at least one with two points of time, 1990 and now.

But still, this schematic does raise questions.

Why the Difference?

What’s different about gender relations vs. anti-Chinese sentiment? The obvious difference would be that gender relations are very much “here and now”, while anti-Chinese sentiments are primarily an othering that is not confronted by social reality regularly. Again, a simplistic explanation, but certainly one that seems plausible.

Dissertations Galore!

Clearly, there are several seeds of very interesting (to me) dissertations in this short musing. I will also continue to keep an eye on when state-socialist propaganda is referred to as impactful and when it isn’t mentioned, as well as on constructions of economic policy.

Posted in Business, Dissertation Ideas, Gender, History, JD Democratization, Policy, Politics, Protest, Protest, Reflection, Social Issues, Social Movements, Society and Culture | Tagged | Leave a comment

Can Mongolia Resist Russia?

By Julian Dierkes

Repercussions of the Russian invasion of Ukraine were a major topic of conversation during my visit to Mongolia this August. I had arrived with a sense of frustration that the MPP government wouldn’t publicly take a stance to defend Ukraine, but was persuaded through several conversations to see Mongolia’s abstention on UN resolutions as a version of sticking their neck out as far as they feel they can.

I wrote an article for Foreign Policy on this general geopolitical challenge that Mongolia is facing. I found much of my conclusions confirmed by conversations in Ulaanbaatar in November.

This is the question I would like to ask here today: how was Mongolia able to resist Russian pressure in 2009 and what can we conclude about the current situation from understanding that example?

Mongolia Squeezed

One of my conversations produced a very graphic version of what Mongolia’s geopolitical position is and feels like.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Dr Battsengel Gotov (@batt1972)

Note the looming buildings that are leaving a very narrow visual field for the Mongolian flag.

Here’s another version of visualizing that situation:

Another version of this is to think back to the trash compactor that Luke Skywalker gets himself stuck in on the Death Star when the walls start moving in.

What was reinforced to me through conversations was the sense that no one would come to Mongolia’s defence in the way that Ukraine is at least receiving some support from NATO countries. That is in part because there is no access to support landlocked Mongolia, but also because it seems unlikely that Mongolia would be able to mobilize a coalition of support.

Conventional Wisdom: Resisting Russia

The general perception is that because of Mongolia’s energy dependency on Russia in particular, it would be impossible for the Mongolian government to resist any Russian government requests in a serious way. If the government of Mongolia angers Russia, energy flows might be curtailed leaving Mongolia very vulnerable, especially in the winter. This is akin to an acknowledgment that any agreement between China and Russia adds up to a loss of manoeuvring room for an independent Mongolian foreign policy. When I heard these kind of arguments, however, I wanted to consider examples of Mongolian resistance in recent times.

SCO: Resisting China

The first example that came to my mind is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It has long been assumed that the Chinese regime is applying some – though unclear how much – pressure on the Mongolian government to level up from an observer to a full member of the SCO. We have examined this issue several times in the past. L Bolor has also looked at the recent SCO Summit from a similar perspective. Yet, despite this presumed pressure, Mongolia retains its observer status.

The next example is the attempted gas station takeover in 2008 and that is the example I want to focus on below.

Giving in to Russian Demands: Uranium Mining

But to set the stage for that and from a Canadian perspective, we might also consider uranium mining. That had been a sector that Canadian investors had been active in, including Western Prospector and Khan Resources. To make a long story short, various licenses were expropriated in October 2009, presumably at the behest of the Russian government, and ultimately, the Mongolian government had to pay more than $80m to Canadian investors based on this expropriation. A bad deal for the Mongolian government, clearly. But, perhaps, retribution for resisting Rosneft attempt to integrate its fuel business in Mongolia by setting up its own gas stations as a distribution network?

The Gas Station Thing and Its Context

Without going into a great amount of detail which is difficult to reconstruct, essentially Rosneft was going to set up a distribution network for its petroleum products, i.e. a network of gas stations. All refined fuels are imported from Russia already, so the distribution network would have given Rosneft perfect vertical integration from production through distribution.

The prime minister at the time was S Bayar, notable also for getting the Investment Agreement for Oyu Tolgoi signed. Ultimately, parliament rejected the request from Rosneft to set up a distribution network and Bayar was able to point to that rejection as a face-saving way to avoid denying the application outright, but to most observers, he was the driving force behind this defiance of a Russian request. Obviously, there have been several deals on fuel supplies with Rosneft since then (see 2019 Jargal de Facto article on Rosneft dealings), so it doesn’t appear that there was much of a “punishment” for this defiance, making this an example of outright defiance of a Russian wish by the Mongolian government to consider what might happen if there were direct statements criticizing Moscow for aggression against Ukraine or a vote supporting the various UN attempts to censure Russia.

Defiant Bayar

S Bayar seems an unlikely resistor to Russian requests and wishes, how was it possible that he became the face of the most notable instance of resistance in 2008?

He had received his university education at Moscow State Univ in the late 1970s and was ambassador to Russia from 2001 to 2005. At the time, he was said to be quite close and friendly with the Russian leadership. In 2022, this biography would make him a likely member of the Russophile community in Mongolia.

I have only met Bayar very briefly once, so I don’t have any insights into his character or what might have led him to defy Russia in 2008. I have also not had a chance to look at his biography that has received praise from many directions. If any readers wanted to comment on this post drawing on Bayar’s memoirs, that would be very welcome.

Was it just self-confidence?

So, what might have prompted an apparently Russophile prime minister who was generally perceived to be in office primarily to get the OT agreement signed, to resist Russia? All the arguments about Mongolia’s energy dependence on Russia that hold today, held then. Russia was not the international quasi-pariah that it has become now, so there was no glory in defiance, third neighbours did not cheer this defiance on particularly loudly, for example. The relationship with China was also not fundamentally different. Yes, this was pre-“wolf diplomacy” and a pathway toward greater integration with the U.S. and OECD countries generally seemed more possible, but Mongolia was just as dependent on China for consumer goods imports then as it is now.

In several conversations I had, the only explanation that was offered was, “those were different times”, meaning that Mongolia was ascendent and full of self-confidence.

The conclusion of an OT investment agreement was on the horizon and that buoyed the Mongolian economy and mood. Some of the implications of negotiations over an equity stake in the operation – like the debt that would have to be carried to acquire that stake until it was finally written off by Rio Tinto earlier this year – were not yet apparent.

The MPRP had won a comfortable majority in the parliamentary election that year (45 of 76 seats), re-confirming Bayar as prime minister. The riots surrounding the election had obviously been a shock to many Mongolians and to international observers, but after that had passed by and the government was duly seated, the positive mood returned. Perhaps crucially, the MPRP did not govern on its own, despite its majority, but instead Bayar was elected prime minister by an MPRP-DP coalition. This may have been significant in defying Rosneft as Bayar was able to not only point to the will of parliament as the locus of resistance, but also implicate the DP as a coalition partner, thus presumably deflecting direct criticism of his government.

The Dalai Lama was still coming to visit Mongolia occasionally in open defiance of the wishes of the Chinese regime. There really wasn’t very much of a relationship with Russia at the time.

Implied threats or lacking self-confidence

There is no way for me to claim whether there have been quiet threats against Mongolia from Russia to prevent the government from taking the stance on Ukraine that some at least are calling for. But, if it was a sense of general confidence and optimism that made defiance of Russia possible in 2008, perhaps that is what is missing at the moment.

Obviously, overall confidence would be a parsimonious explanation, but can’t be the entire story. Alternative explanations would focus on private interactions between the Mongolian and Russian governments, but those are not available to a public analysis.

Or, does the explanation lie in less belligerence on the part of Russia/V Putin?

A final answer to these questions is hard to find, but I hope that thinking through this question might provide some inspiration for thinking about future Mongolian foreign policy, for example in the event of a further implosion of Russia or in other scenarios.

Posted in China, Foreign Policy, International Relations, Mongolia and ..., Russia | Tagged | Leave a comment

New to Ulaanbaatar November 2022

By Julian Dierkes

I’ve been keeping lists of things that are arriving to/disappearing from central Ulaanbaatar: August 2022 | December 2019 | June 2019 | April 2019 | December 2018 | August 2018 | October 2017 | June 2017 | May 2016 | December 2015 | May 2015 | May 2014 | October 2013 | October 2011 | August 2011. More informal versions of these observations also appear in the /ulaanbaatar/change/ category.

Bulgan added her observations in Spring 2022.

I’ve copied previous lists here and am adding to them. New items since previous posts appear in italics. Since this list has been growing, I’m also beginning to delete some items that I’ve had on the list for some time. Strikethrough means that these items will be off the next list.

This list was cruelly interrupted by something that was new to the world in 2020, a global pandemic and thus restrictions on travel. After not being able to visit for 32 months, I finally made it back in August 2022.

What has arrived?

  • bubble tea
  • large-scale BBQ extravaganza on the banks of the Tuul river, particularly near the ASEM Road. On summer weekends, so many cars parked right on the riverside, BBQs planted right next to them, families camping out, some literally
  • drive-home service for drivers who have been drinking. You call the service, they drop off a driver who drives you home in your car and is then picked up again. Given – fortunately – much stricter enforcement of drunk driving laws, a great service!
  • fixies
  • airport road is getting ever fancier, now there’s a giant overpass just before crossing the Tuul on the way into town. Lots of fancy on/off-ramps popping up everywhere on roads.
  • Canadian cold weather brands, Canada Goose and Arc’teryx are everywhere, fake or not
  • fully electric cars, charging stations, green license plates for electric cars, Tesla
  • electronic payment systems. There is the transit card and a number of apps issued by Mongolian banks. There are some QR-code based payment systems. Often credit card payment is approved via a fingerprint reader.
  • surveillance cameras. I recall seeing these first at large intersections, presumably to monitor traffic. Now, every other buildings seems to have haphazardly attached a CCTV camera to its facade. I do wonder how many of these are operational and where the feeds lead and if any of them are monitored.
  • street art (several years now, but I hadn’t noted this before) and newly commissioned public art
  • many more food and agricultural products from Mongolian sources available now
  • in April there had been a lot of concern about the lack of snow in the winter and the likelihood of drought. June brought some heavy rains and Ulaanbaatar turned quite green, almost lush.
  • audible pedestrian crossing signals
  • awareness of plague of small water bottles in all meetings and in homes
  • Prius-based delivery services around downtown for online orders, food, etc. Just like informal taxis, lots of Priuses (?) roaming central Ulaanbaatar to pick up/deliver orders, fleet of Prius clustered around restaurants in the evening to take diners (and drinkers?) home
  • skateboarders and electric scooters
  • several new parks: North of Winter Palace, Southeast corner of Sukhbaatar Sq, also astroturf on Sukhbaatar Square seemingly quite popular as picnic spot as well
  • When I first started visiting Ulaanbaatar in mid-2000s, streets were tree/shrub-lined. Trees disappeared, perhaps for lack of watering, but are definitely back now in the urban centre
  • Oat milk and lactose-free milk. Of course, good health reasons for both, but still a little odd in the land of meat and dairy.
  • Eye makeup with small glittering tears in the corner of an eye. Note that I am not much of a fashion correspondent, but I remember seeing this first in Japan in the early 1990s when it was called ピカピカ, I think.
  • Coffee choices. Not just Korean chains, but more local choices appearing.
  • Taste for spicy foods. Surely this has arrived via Korean food, but quite the contrast to years ago when spices seemed entirely absent.
  • Movember

  • Solar panels on commercial buildings in downtown core.

  • The development of Mongolian brand consumer products, especially food products has been happening for years and I can’t pinpoint the moment they started appearing on grocery shelves in big numbers. While I still find New Zealand butter in Mongolia strange, most of the dairy shelf is now made in Mongolia, for example.

What has disappeared, or at least nearly?

  • for-pay scales (actually, they seem to be hanging on)
  • supposedly haunted house South of Choijin Lama Temple
  • Victims of Political Persecution Memorial Museum
  • private fences encroaching on public land/sidewalks
  • It seems like (Korean) convenience store chains are replacing the small grocery stores that were ubiquitous in the downtown core. Not gone yet, but waning.

What will appear in the future

  • navigation systems
  • mental maps shifting to street names/addresses instead of landmarks
  • subway (really, I wish they had selected light rail instead, but who knows whether either will come)
  • urban renewal and historical restorations embracing district north of government house (National University of Mongolia, German embassy, etc.)
  • road signs in the countryside (and not just the very random, very occasional ones that can be found now)
  • network of cross-country riding (bike and horse) trails (though not in central Ulaanbaatar)
  • parking (meters), electric charging in parking spots/lots
  • Combined Heat and Power Plant #5 (yeah, right!)
  • hipsters discovering УАЗ (minivan and jeep)
  • giant hole blown into Bogd Khaan mountain to “drain” polluted air out of the valley (that actually is a proposal, but it will not appear! There also seems to be a proposal to blast away mountains on either end of the valley to let bad air escape!)
  • some kind of traffic routing system with overhead displays
  • Mongolia-themed coffee travel mugs
  • Mongolia-themed bicycle stands, for example roof structure of a ger as a steel strucure
  • vending machines

What will disappear in the medium-term future

I’m going out on a predictive limb here… 2-3 years is what I mean by “near future”.

Actually, since I have been predicting this as “near future” change for some years now, I guess I was wrong with all these predictions, and have changed the listing to medium-term future.

  • stretched-out hand to signal for a car ride
  • that awkward extra half-step on most stairs
  • whitening make-up.

What will disappear in the long-term future

I mean around 7 years or so. None of these seems to be coming true quite yet, so I’ve changed the name of this category from medium-term to long-term.

  • new (to Mongolia) cars that are right-hand drive
  • the neo-classical Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, with its Stalinist (if that’s an architectural style) spire [Tough call to make as the MFA building is now dwarfed by its own annex]
  • deels in the city [actually, they seem to be making a bit of a fashion comeback among young people]
  • some of the downtown university campuses
  • buildings of 4 floors or less in the urban core
  • Russian minivans (УАЗ452)
  • the Winter Palace. It won’t disappear entirely, but it is more-and-more surrounded by a very urban and very tall landscape making it look somewhat forlorn, a fate it shares with many other buildings
  • heritage buildings
  • street vendors with their little cardboard boxes of tissues, lighters, soda, perhaps rounded out by pine nuts or other offerings.
Posted in Change, Curios, Social Change, Ulaanbaatar | Tagged | Leave a comment

Atmospheric Observations

By Julian Dierkes

My August trip to Mongolia was the first visit after over 30 months of global COVID19 restrictions. I have already taken note of some of the visual and consumer changes I observed in Ulaanbaatar. But, I also want to share some of my observations of the post-COVID19 (we hope) overall mood.

Retail Businesses

One of my great surprises was that I recognized many retail businesses in downtown Ulaanbaatar. I had half-expected that small retail operations would have been most impacted by some of the restrictions in the first COVID-year, but my impression was that I recognized most stores in walking around the downtown core. I can say little about areas outside of the downtown core, or in Sainshand and Tsogttsetsii where I visited on this trip as well, simply because I don’t visit there regularly enough to have a strong sense of the cityscape and would thus notice changes at a casual glance.

I would include businesses such as restaurants, many of the souvenir/traditional goods stores around the Department Store, some of the kiosks and smaller shops along roads that I walk regularly. Obviously, this is merely an impressionistic observation, but it did surprise me. Of course, this was a happy surprise as it made feel Ulaanbaatar as familiar as on previous visits.

Young People Leaving

Many younger and older Mongolians have left Mongolia for higher education or work purposes for many years. I have met many Mongolians living in Vancouver, but also in Germany. My experience had always been that a surprising number of these Mongolians who are largely going abroad for higher education was keen in returning to Vancouver. That was certainly the case in the 2000s and early 2010s but shifted somewhere around 2015, I would guess. The most frequently named reasons are air pollution and education (in the case of those Mongolians studying abroad who have kids).

What was new to me on this summer’s visit to Ulaanbaatar was that a number of people mentioned that their younger colleagues were looking for any opportunity to leave. Not to go somewhere temporarily for work or to seek further education/training, but to actually leave Mongolia. I heard this several times and from people working in significant business operations, thus most likely offering jobs with decent pay and some advancement opportunities. Is this another version of the frustration with the lack of results of government action apparently expressed by demonstrators this April? Was this an observation that was only new to me? That’s always hard to tell as the number of conversations and the kind of people I meet are obviously limited, but it struck me as something that I hadn’t heard expressed as drastically before.

Who Is Spying on Me?

It is kind of amusing how my own interests and activities are perceived by Mongolians over the years. For example, in late 2016, I returned from a visit with the impression that many people I spoke to assumed/asserted that I was some kind of spy. In the same post, I noted that a number of people I met with in late Spring 2019 were concerned with my biases. At the time, I tried to respond to this impression by pointing to factors that enable me to retain my independence and also factors that might persuade readers of that independence, or at least look for evidence of a lack of independence.

On this visit, I had a couple of – somewhat humorous – conversations about the likelihood of foreign spy agencies, but also diplomatic missions in Ulaanbaatar, keeping some kind of eye on me. So, let me address those of you reading and reporting my analyses in various embassies, but particularly those of China and Russia: I would be very interested in hearing what you make of my analyses and how you see my position. Do you really exist, i.e. is there really someone out there who reads my posts and translates/summarizes them for the consumption of colleagues? Am I breaking the 4th wall of blogging? Will you help me in that? I must apologize, however, I’m somewhat reluctant to come visit you in your embassies, but I’m sure we can identify a nice cafe nearby.

Posted in Business, Demography, Reflection, Younger Mongolians | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: One Day in Mongolian Twitter – Inner Mongolian Girl’s Accidental Social Media Stir

By Manlai Nyamdorj

On October 14th I wrote a short thread on the surge of Inner Mongolian Twitter accounts in the Mongolian Twitter space.

A close look and interactions with some suggest that these are media professionals working for Chinese Party-state media on a mission to tell China’s stories well. While one could recognize the imbalance of reporting on China in the global media landscape dominated by Western media outlets and understand China’s efforts to match its perceived power in global discourse, the way these are done in countries with fragile media systems is alarming. Like many other developing countries with democratic institutions and a relatively free media system, Mongolia is a testing-ground for foreign – in this case Chinese – media professionals where the sky seems to be the limit.

A curious case

On October 17th, just three days later after I published the twitter thread mentioned above something remarkable happened. The twitter account Ордос охин A Girl from Ordos, with twitter handle @Otgontsetseg88 posted a video of a Khorchin Inner Mongolian girl commenting on prejudices she and other speakers of Khorchin dialect/accent endure from other Mongolians with ‘proper’ and probably more dominant versions of  Mongolian – unclear who the video was intended to.

Now, I cannot comment on the origin and the purpose of the video since it was taken from a personal douyin account – a version of tiktok that is only available in China. Since in the original video, the girl singles out her Khorchin dialect but not the ‘Inner Mongolian accent’ at large which would be target of prejudice in Mongolia, one can conclude that the video was not intended to Mongolians of Mongolia but to other Inner Mongolians of China.

The account that posted this video is, however, one of many Inner Mongolian accounts that appeared in recent months that my original twitter thread was referring to. This particular account was created in June 2022 and through my monitoring of this and a number of other accounts, I noticed that it was briefly ‘restricted’ in early September to reappear again in late September.

Then a strange thing happened. The same day at 14:58 an unnamed account with twitter handles @szzs retweeted the post followed with a series of tweets targeting actors of Mongolian comedy dramas (хошин шогийнхон) for contributing for years to the language prejudices towards Inner Mongolians that were talked about on the video. It was later revealed that this account is run by a state secretary in the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs, P.Sainzorig.

As the original video went viral by Mongolian standards with 747 retweets, 125 quote tweets and 2279 likes, all big names on Mongolia social media chimed in the discussion, including former PM Sanjyn Bayar, Demberel Sambuu and Ider-Od, among many others. As Sainzorig’s tweet was intended for comedy drama actors, the video then turned into a weapon of public condemnation of a particular type of Mongolian comedy drama as a genre and its performers past and present. This instigated collective action championed by some of the leading comedian-actors in Mongolia to clear their names, demanding an apology of which they considered a breach of the constitution in ‘discrimination by profession’. For nearly two days, the scandal dominated the Mongolian media environment, reappearing on different social media platforms.

Social Mediatized Public Discourse?

It should not be an overstatement by now to state that the media, particularly social media, plays a key role in everyday public discussion in Mongolia. Social manipulation in all forms, under different names – publicity, communications and public relations (PR) – are regarded normal processes where a portion of media professionals with an unsolved issue of financing either carry out services for different interest groups or already operate as mouthpieces of some others.

Phrases such as сошиалаар ажлаа хийнэ – public offices work through social media, сошиалаар сэвнэ – to disseminate (manipulate) information through social media both from public or private offices, хар пиар – black PR and хөлсний бичээч – hired writers/commentators are all too familiar everyday lexicon in Mongolian public discourse. In short, social media scandals are a daily phenomenon in Mongolia so much that each day is expected with one or more socially-engineered or accidental topical scandals where everyone awaits to discuss.

Beyond domestic activities, It has been asserted regularly in different circles that there are foreign influencing operations present in Mongolian media landscape, specifically from Russia – through active measures активные мероприятия with number of ‘Russian trolls’, though not much concrete work has been published and without evidence still exist in the corners of conspiracy.

The recent twitter activities in Mongolia are just one avenue of coordinated communication coming out of China through social media. Considering a very dense concentration of Mongolians on social media platforms, specifically on facebook with a whooping 103% of its total population according to one report, it is one of the go-to arenas if one decides communicate with Mongolians.

The case I presented should be seriously considered as one of direct communications from foreign party state media professionals, engaging with Mongolian public, stirring up public debate to the level of generating social scandal and in effect undermining the ‘public sphere’ that is necessary for healthy democratic public discussion. One should also note that Mongolia is not the only country to receive increased information outflow to its direction. In the past months, some reports have appeared tackling the similar issues of increased information circulation on Xinjiang influencers by Australian Strategic Policy Institute as well as on China’s media presence in Kyrgyzstan by OSCE, among others.

Our hero, a girl from Ordos has doubled her audience since the incident, reaching 4,846 followers and continues to engage with Mongolian public with all sorts of Inner Mongolian popular culture items as of October 23rd.

About Manlai

Manlai Nyamdorj (@manlaibaatr) is a PhD candidate at University of Trier. He writes on Mongolia at

Posted in China, Inner Mongolia, Manlai Nyamdorj, Mongolians in China, Social Media | Leave a comment

Challenging Supermajority

By Julian Dierkes

Following the 2020 parliamentary and 2021 presidential election, there were some fears that the MPP’s electoral wins and occupation of all three highest offices would lead to some kind of one-party domination.

Most readers will recall then-Pres Battulga’s April 2021 warnings that Mongolia was about to descend into militarized one-party rule. Marissa and I didn’t think so at the time, and it doesn’t quite look like a one-party state at the moment. In fact, from all conversations that I’ve had this summer into the fall from afar and in Mongolia, with members of all parties and other observers, it seems that the MPP is struggling to make policy despite its huge parliamentary majority and occupation of the office of the president. By all accounts, this is what’s behind the late-August cabinet reshuffle as well, a move that has brought many MPs into cabinet again, but does not seem to be directed at any particular areas of policy-making.

Substantive Void at the Core of the Party System

What’s the challenge? One of the fundamental challenges that Mongolian democracy has been facing for some time, i.e. there are no politics in politics. The MPP has no ideological core and Mongolians did not vote for it on the basis of proposed or likely policies. This holds for all three individuals in offices, Pres. Khurelsukh, PM Oyun-Erdene, and Speaker Zandanshatar, but also for the party at large. If you have no direction nor political goals and neither does your party, then perhaps it is not so surprising that a super-majority is challenging to operate.

This is not limited to the MPP, of course. It’s hard to even say anything about the DP anymore. Kh Battulga and S Erdene both seem intent on sacrificing the party on the altar of their… what? Not political goals. After all, Battulga spent four years as president without a single identifiable policy goal. Erdene and his shenanigans involving party votes and stamps seem to be built primarily around his personal ambition despite a clear signal from voters in the 2021 presidential election that he is simply not electable. Some seem to hope that a more substantive, ideologically-motivated DP might arise from the ashes, but I’ll wait to see that to be convinced.

KhUN? Hints at liberalism and social democracy (not coincidentally, the two orientations that the DP and MPP pay some lip service to occasionally), but no coherent position beyond, “we’re different and potentially competent”, has emerged.

Practical Challenges

The 2019 amendments’ experiment of attempting to strengthen the power of the PM by limiting the number of MPs in cabinet and thus also promoting technical expertise, seems to have been deemed a failure. As I have argued in examining current proposals for further constitutional reform, we really haven’t had an opportunity to get a sense of the impact that these changes might have had, as they are being abandoned/amended again already. In the case of the maximum number of MPs in cabinet (double deel), this amendment had been struck down by the courts, but PM Oyun-Erdene could have still applied it. Instead, he re-populated his cabinet with MPs even for ministries where there was no obvious urgency driven by policy-challenges or underperformance of the minister.

Party Discipline

What is behind this and the lack of any agenda that is being pursued by the Oyun-Erdene government? In previous electoral cycles, party discipline had always been seen as a strength of the MPP. Once a leadership battle had been settled, the party leadership would be able to promote individuals within the party to become candidates for office and to count on them for support of legislative ambitions. That support was – apparently – rooted in the recognition that only a united party would be strong enough to stave off challenges from an opposition.

The fact that the current opposition poses no challenge has exposed the essential emptiness at the core of the MPP. Just like the DP’s fundamental raison d’être is to be opposed to state-socialism, authoritarianism, so the MPP is focused on being in power. But, in power for what? to do what?

What the PM thus seems to be struggling with and attempted to address in his cabinet reshuffle was the sense that MPs had few reasons to support his agenda. Party discipline goes out the window when the margin of the majority is so large that MPs may be looking out for their own re-election rather than supporting a government agenda.

There are two further factors that exacerbated this apparent breakdown of party discipline in parliament: weak ministers and the lack of resources that MPs have.

Ineffectual Non-MP Ministers

The intention behind the double deel constitutional amendment had been to make the role of ministers less political and more substantive. The hope was that the jockeying for a ministerial post (and the spoils that might come with that in terms of patronage, etc.) could be undercut by emphasizing ministerial competence. However, in the current parliament at least, the reputation of non-MP ministers has mainly been that they’re moderately competent, but entirely ineffective as they lack a parliamentary power base.

Would this be different if there were more opposition MPs? That’s hard to imagine since that opposition would be unlikely to side with a government minister only because she was competent. But, with a smaller majority in parliament, the PM might be able to lean on MPs to support the government and thus give leeway to ministers for substantive policy-making. That is not what the situation up until this summer was perceived as, however. MPs largely leaned back and ignored ministerial proposals and projects.

MPs’ Pet Projects

The extent to which MPs engage in pet projects has always been quite notable. One of the most obvious examples of this would be current speaker of the UIX, Zandanshatar’s deliberative polling. This was something that Zandanshatar picked up during a research stay at Stanford Univ where it is being pushed as an element of or upgrade to democracy. There’s much that recommends deliberative polling as an attempt to involve a greater number/variety of citizens (i.e. not professional politicians) in fundamental decisions. Yet, the implementation of such deliberative polls only makes sense when a majority of parliamentarians see the virtue of such a format and intend to support the results that it might deliver. And, the public would need to understand deliberative polling and be on board. Not only was the polling experiment conducted in Mongolia deemed flawed by some thoughtful observes like legal scholar O Munkhsaikhan, but it doesn’t seem like anyone other than Zandanshatar himself was particularly interested or even remotely committed to this exercise.

This appears to be relatively typical of parliamentarians’ initiatives; they rarely amount to much more than pet projects. MPs are thus often responsible for the actual drafting of legislation (though the Min of Justice also gets involved in some of the detailed work) and they do so not only without coordination from central party bodies (recall the lack of ideology or policy agenda I discussed above) or any apparent support for such initiatives. In a parliament with a super-majority they might then act as free agents on behalf of “their” projects and look for support directly from other MPs who might in return be seeking support for their projects.

Given this tendency towards legislative pet projects, it is perhaps no surprise that so many plans, agendas, and laws are poorly implemented as they may have been shaped in an MPs office without much benefit of consultation with the ministries/agencies implicated.

Of course, PM Oyun-Erdene’s Vision 2050 was supposed to combat this lack of implementation and out-of-control growth of pet project legislation. But then, he doesn’t seem to have the internal party power to really reign in his MPs and rally them to a government cause, though the recent cabinet shuffle may be an attempt to do just that.

One-Party Dominance?

All kinds of things might still happen during the remaining 20 months until the next parliamentary election, including a change of prime minister, but it does seem to me that in the current institutional context of Mongolia, a supermajority is not the obvious route to a one-party dictatorship.

Posted in Constitution, Democracy, Democratic Party, JD Democratization, Mongolian People's Party, National Labor Party, Party Politics, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Mongolia’s New PM-In-Waiting: Who Is D Amarbayasgalan?

By Amar Adiya

New Cabinet Chief Dashzegviin Amarbayasgalan is increasingly emerging to be a likely successor to Prime Minister Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene in the future, i.e., post-2024 election. As new ministers are settling into their roles following August cabinet reshuffle, Amarbayasgalan has been seen practically everywhere speaking and weighing in on pressing issues. He also made clear that No.2 in the Cabinet is him, not Deputy PM Amarsaikhan.

Many people were surprised by Amarbayasgalan’s nomination to Oyun-Erdene’s Cabinet 2.0. President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh is said to have pushed Amarbayasgalan into the government after the latter skipped to join the administration following his party’s landslide wins in 2016 and 2020.

According to the Mongolian People’s Party’s (MPP) leadership transition plan, Amarbayasgalan appears now to be a top choice to succeed Oyun-Erdene in post-2024 if the party wins the election.

The rumor suggests Oyun-Erdene’s next career step is anticipated to be that of a parliament speaker, which is considered the second highest post in Mongolia’s political hierarchy, with the top job being that of a president though constitutional reforms can change that order.

Who is Amarbayasgalan?

So, who is Dashzegviin Amarbayasgalan? Amarbayasgalan, 41, was born and raised in Govi Altai province (western Mongolia) and began his career in the early 2000s with his elder brother’s printing business. He studied political science and was educated as a telecommunications engineer. In the late 2000s, Amarbayasgalan entered politics, winning local elections in Ulaanbaatar. He rose to prominence as the campaign manager for the MPP in the 2016 general election with Khurelsukh’s backing.

Amarbayasgalan’s ideas are completely aligned with the MPP’s key message, as well as Oyun-New Erdene’s Revival Policy and Vision-2050. Both Amarbayasgalan and Oyun-Erdene aided Khurelsukh when the latter was managing the party in 2008-2012 as a secretary general.

Amarbayasgalan may favor China in international policy because of his past position as party secretary general and close contacts with the Chinese Communist Party during the MPP’s centennial anniversary. But he’s unlikely depart from the current foreign policy direction.

Amarbayasgalan has a far more convincing and elegant speaking style than Oyun-Erdene. His words are more powerful, and his messages are more focused. But he has also avoided media and public appearances.

Many people praise him for his ability to broker an agreement between powerful factions inside the MPP. He also cultivated an image of not only competent, but also affable and reasonable in dealing with wide ranging politicians. One of his accomplishments as an MPP secretary general is regarded to be reinforcing the party to social democratic principles and conceptualized those in the new party chapter.

Earlier this year, he also received broad support from other political parties for new constitutional reforms, particularly reintroduction of proportional electoral system and expansion of parliament size.

As Khurelsukh and Oyun-Erdene, Amarbayasglan strongly believes in a parliamentary system, which helps improve governance, ensures regulatory stability and promotes more accountability, transparency and participation of wider population in major economic decision-making.

Amarbayasgalan represents a rising millennial wave of politicians, including PM Oyun-Erdene, Justice Minister Khishgeegiin Nyambaatar, PM’s senior advisor Ayushiin Ariunzaya (former labor minister), Digital Development Minister Nyam-Osoryn Uchral and new governor of Khovd Enkhbatyn Bolormaa. They are expected to wield more real political power by 2024 as they represent Mongolia’s largest demographic.

About Amar Adiya

Amar Adiya writes and edits Mongolia Weekly, an English newsletter on political analysis and business intelligence every week. He is also a regional director at Washington-based strategic advisory firm BowerGroupAsia.

Posted in Amar Adiya, Mongolian People's Party, Party Politics | Leave a comment

Untold 25: A Better World for All Children

By Degi Bolormunkh

Our guest today is Ms. Tuyajargal, the founder and president of Merciful World NGO. She shares some interesting stories about her personal life and the meaningful works done by the Merciful World NGO. She provides many insights based on her rich experience of helping children with special needs.

Founding of the Merciful World NGO

Ms. Tuyajargal is a journalist by profession and a mother of three children. Her middle son, who was born in 2005, had been found to have special needs in 2007 and needed all-round care. Going to hospitals and looking for a kindergarten for her son was tough. As a socially active mother who experienced the hardships faced by families with children with special needs, she wanted to do something to help. So, she founded the Merciful World NGO in 2009 and has been working at the organization since. Their first work was setting up a kindergarten class in a local kindergarten that provides equal education for children with disabilities. The main purpose of the Merciful World NGO is to help children with disabilities to grow up to be independent individuals within society who can take care of themselves well and help others. There are around 12,000 children with disabilities in Mongolia whom they hope to help. Currently they are operating a children’s development center called Enerel, founded four years ago with a sponsorship from MCS Estates LLC. To help fund the development center, they also set up a stuffed toy factory called Honey.

Photo: Ms. Tuyajargal, second from the left (courtesy Facebook page of “Merciful World” NGO)

Importance of Supporting the Caregivers

The Merciful World NGO is also working on influencing the policy and legal environment regarding children with disabilities and their caregivers. Ms. Tuyajargal emphasizes that supporting the caregivers is essential to support the development of children with special needs. In the early days of the organization, she recalls that they used to receive many calls from families asking for help with financial hardships. She acknowledges that compared to the weak state support provided then for families with children with disabilities, things have gotten much better in terms of financial assistance from the government. Based on a study they conducted, they found that many of these families are engaged in making handmade crafts such as traditional felt making or jewellery while taking care of their child or children and, their main challenge is selling their crafts to earn income. Since 2011, they were looking for ways to support the families and caregivers to solve this situation when the first order came in from a charity foundation founded by Jackie Chan, asking if the families could make 500 stuffed toys. The order was successfully carried out despite having little experience with the process of making stuffed toys. After this experience, there were talks to not pursue this line of production because of the extensive work and input required to make each toy. However, they decided that manufacturing stuffed toys was the best option to pursue considering that from a sale of one toy the profits can be divided among four people based on their different roles in the process such as tailoring, stitching, stuffing, and decorating. Most orders came from organizations such as museums, hospitals, or companies, who wanted to support their initiative. From 2011 this ‘micro-household factory’ with 120 people had grown to the size of a factory under the name Honey in 2018. Due to the pandemic, there are many unforeseen challenges such as the decrease in sales and cuts in income. Ms. Tuyajargal reflects on this initiative as a major success in terms of financing the operations of the Enerel Development Center while providing financial support for caregivers and families whose incomes has been supplemented by the project. Interestingly, Ms. Tuyajargal shares that the origins of stuffed toys can be traced back to the 1900’s to a German woman with disability.

Photo: Stuffed toys made in the Honey factory (courtesy Facebook page of “Merciful World” NGO)

Building the First Inclusive Child Development Center in Mongolia

Ms. Tuyajargal shares that having a Child Development Center for children with special needs was a long-time dream and she and her team would advocate for support and meet with government officials and parliamentary members every year. Despite the law stating that all children regardless of disability or other factors have an equal right to education, the reality is not so accommodating.  For children under six years of age, the special needs classes or programs can be incorporated into local kindergartens, but for those over six years of age, there is no place to go for public education. The MCS Estates Company has generously provided them with a place to run their Enerel Child Development Center, which Ms. Tuyajargal says was “a dream come true”. As they provide comprehensive services for all the needs of the children who come to the center, they are the only one of their kind in Mongolia. The center has two main groups, one is for children that need physical treatment or care and the other is for children with mental disorders who are trained from an early age to become workers at the stuffed toy factory with occupational training. On average, there are 12-15 children in group one and 10-12 children at the center every day. Based on their limited resources, including the availability of teachers and space, they are working at full capacity. Support from the government has been minimal and despite laws stating that there should be support from the state, there is no substantial response.

Photo: Enerel Development Center (with the permission of Tuyajargal)

Photo: Enerel Development Center (with the permission of Tuyajargal)

Government Support Needed to Foster Key Professions

One of the biggest challenges Ms. Tuyajargal identifies in the country is the shortage of professionals in Mongolia, specifically, in professions such as Occupational Therapy. Due to the lack of such essential professionals in the country, many problems arise that stem from it. The most essential person who can help a child with special needs is an occupational therapist. She underscores that there are various government support services and projects that focus on providing employment opportunities for people with disability. Yet, there is little support for education and training for professional fields such as occupational therapy and other care workers who can make a substantial difference in helping people with disability to lead a better life. With this strong conviction, Ms. Tuyajargal is studying to become a professional occupational therapist herself. In terms of having their concerns heard by the government, people with disabilities and organizations advocating their rights and needs have a strong voice in Mongolia. However, Ms. Tuyajargal feels that when government or officials change, the dialogue has to start all over again and there needs to be improvement in substantive support. They hope to establish more development centers around the country in the next few years but are mostly dependent on the government support for expansion. Ms. Tuyajargal shares a story about how when they went to the local clinic during the pandemic, she noticed how some people would treat or even look at her son differently, and resolutely states that she will keep doing her work alongside her dedicated team.

Author: Degi Bolormunkh is a young professional with a multi-disciplinary education and a diverse background. She is a recent graduate from the Master of Management program at the UBC Sauder School of Business. She completed her B.A. in Combined major of Political Science and Philosophy with a minor in International Relations from the University of British Columbia. She has lived in multiple countries and has developed a keen interest in issues surrounding DEI, social and political inequality, and good governance.

The Untold podcast and blog post are made available by the generous support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mongolia. We also want to thank our editor Riya Tikku.

Posted in Education, People with Disabilities, Podcast, Social Issues, Younger Mongolians | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Sukhgerel Dugersuren: Criminal or Marmite Character?

By Jennifer Lander

Contrary to popular opinion and the slogans of international organisations, democracy and economic development do not always make for easy bedfellows. One of the basic elements of democracy has to do with the function of law under an independent judiciary: law should no longer simply be a mask for state interests but a genuine space where different interests and rights can be adjudicated as impartially as possible.

In that sense, democracy is supposed to be good for economic development because it protects contractual relationships, transactions and other market activity from unlawful interference, thus creating a stable environment for the economy. However, democracy can also challenge the terms of economic development because the civil and political rights of citizens are also supposed to be protected by that very same mechanism: the rule of law.

Because the rule of law cuts both ways – protecting contracts as well as civil rights – there are times when democracy and economic development seem to be at odds. In these times it is not uncommon to see national governments trying to limit civil rights in order to “get the economy back on track”.

Enter our current case in point: the investigation of Sukhgerel Dugersuren, a high-profile civil society leader who has been deeply involved over the past two decades in monitoring the environmental and social impacts of large-scale mining and infrastructure projects. In early August, the General Intelligence Agency (GIA) began an investigation of Sukhgerel’s alleged role in “sabotaging” the country’s economic interests through “illegal cooperation with foreign agents/agencies” (Articles 19.4 and 19.6 of the Criminal Code). These are serious allegations and could lead to imprisonment if Sukhgerel is found guilty.

Here are two simple questions that I hope will shed a little more light and a little less heat on this controversial moment in a controversial figure’s career.

Why Now?

The first is a question of timing: why now? Sukhgerel has been working consistently as an advocate on socio-environmental issues since the early 2000s when the mining boom started in Mongolia. People may not agree with her politics or her assessment of the impacts of mining, hydropower and other energy projects, but she isn’t doing anything new. In fact, Sukhgerel has been extremely consistent in her advocacy approach, which is notable for its almost obsessive lawfulness: her modus operandi is to sift through every governing rule that applies to a given development project, whether that be national legislation, international law or standards, or corporate social responsibility commitments. Her June article on the Erdeneburen hydropower plant is just such an example of detailed legal analysis.

If Sukhgerel hasn’t been doing things differently, then what has changed?

In August, a few days after her investigation was announced by the GIA, the Chinese Foreign Minister arrived. The Erdeneburen hydropower plant was on the table for discussion. Coincidence? I think not. My research suggests that there is a consistently positive correlation between heightened national economic insecurity and increasingly erratic crackdowns on civil society. It was a similar story in 2013, when Mongolia’s mining economy began to tank and the most outspoken leaders of the River Movements were detained and imprisoned in a dubious judicial process.

Just as there have been “boom and bust” cycles affecting Mongolia’s economic returns from natural resource exports, there have been parallel “boom and bust” cycles in the central government’s relationship with sub-national administrations and civil society organisations. I think we are seeing another one of these cycles, where Mongolia’s political economy is profoundly shaping its constitutional balance and adversely affecting civil society.

Why Sukhgerel?

Sukhgerel is particularly high profile, and her “fine legal toothcomb” approach is something which makes her very tiresome in the eyes of corporations, investors and government ministries wanting to accelerate economic activities. Equally, she is very admired in the eyes of impacted communities and transnational advocacy networks. If the government succeeds in taking Sukhgerel out of the picture through criminalisation, they will simultaneously take a prominent thorn out of the side of economic interests and effectively threaten those who support her.

The problem is that by targeting Sukhgerel, the government is punishing a particularly civil and lawful mode of engagement with the impacts of development projects. While Sukhgerel may be famously combative in her tone, she notably doesn’t organise violent protests. She attends well-known international conferences, she promotes well-recognised campaigns on taxation and environmental impact assessment. In short, she is part of a well-known chorus of concerned civic leaders working on the social and environmental impacts of development projects globally.

She may be unpopular because she believes in prioritising social and environmental principles over economic activities, but that’s nothing surprising. Large-scale development projects are inevitably controversial, especially in democracies where people have sufficient freedom to raise their voice and promote their views. Sukhgerel is someone who sees more costs than benefits, and she is entitled to hold that opinion and seek to influence the governance of the sector as an informed civilian, particularly given that all she seems to spend her time doing is appealing to the very standards that companies, investors and governments say they are committed to.

So are Sukhgerel’s advocacy activities annoying for some actors? Sure. Are they disruptive for some projects? Potentially. Are they criminal? No.

So what is this all really about?

My concern is that this criminal investigation is not really about whether Sukhgerel is a “traitorous saboteur” of Mongolian economic interests. Frankly, that allegation seems extremely far-fetched (heavily edited Youtube videos and email screenshots on Twitter are not “evidence” in any sense of the word). The real issue is the democratic cost of the government’s current erratic attempt to reassure its economic partners that nothing – not even the fine legal toothcomb of Sukhgerel Dugersuren – will delay or disrupt economic projects. There is a heavy irony to all of this, in the sense that the government itself has routinely delayed and disrupted strategic economic projects over the past ten years, much to the ire of investors. But this time the government has the chance to blame someone else, and they are taking it.

Sukhgerel makes a particularly efficient scapegoat because she is a classic “marmite character” in Mongolia’s economic development sector (to borrow a British idiom). Marmite, if you don’t know of it, is a salty yeast spread for toast or sandwiches eaten in the UK, and people either love it or loathe it. There is no middle ground with Marmite, just like there is no middle ground with Sukhgerel: people tend to be either for or against her.

But being a “marmite character” is not a criminal offense. If no real evidence of “traitorous sabotage” turns up out of the blue (as I strongly suspect it won’t), then this criminal investigation is effectively a scare tactic to punish the very mode of civic engagement that Mongolia’s democratic constitution has been designed to protect. It scapegoats someone who has unfailingly, infuriatingly and tenaciously turned to lawful means to challenge economic activities by using the very standards baked into development projects themselves.

If this investigation is to have any credibility from a legal perspective, it must be very transparent, independent and stringently follow the rules of admissible evidence and fair trial. Innocent until proven guilty, right? The rule of law, if it is real and not just rhetoric, has to protect everyone, even marmite characters.

About Jennifer Lander:

Dr Jennifer Lander is a Visiting Research Fellow in Law at De Montfort University in the UK. She currently leads a project funded by the British Academy examining the implications of new dispute resolution mechanisms in Mongolia’s mining sector for practices and paradigms of citizenship. Her book Transnational Law and State Transformation (Routledge, 2020) explores some of the broader issues raised in this blog in detail. You can follow her for an occasional tweet at @jennylander4 or contact her directly at

Posted in Environmental Movements, Jennifer Lander, Law, Politics, Protest, Protest, Renewables, Security Apparatus | Leave a comment

Oyun-Erdene Cabinet, Post-Constitutional Change

By Marissa J. Smith

The “double-deel” rule, part of the Constitution, whereby only the Prime Minister and four cabinet ministers may also be MPs, has just been overturned. There are now ten new members of the Cabinet, eight of whom are current Members of Parliament.

Several former ministers are now either deputy ministers or in other posts (Ariunzaya is now senior advisor to the Prime Minister and Yondon is general director of the Erdenet Mining Corporation). It is of note that Nyamdorj, long time minister of justice and most lately, Cabinet Secretary, is now without a position (including a seat in Parliament).

Nyamdorj has been replaced with Amarbayasgalan, the young (b. 1981, age 41) general secretary of the Mongolian People’s Party. Uchral, now heading the Ministry of Digital Development and Communications, is also young (b. 1985, age 37). On the other hand, many of the new Cabinet members are returnees — Ch. Khurelbaatar (Minister of Finance in Khurelsukh’s Cabinet prior to the resignation and presidential campaign), Byambatsogt (former Minister of Justice), Choijilsuren (former Minister of Finance), and Bat-Erdene (former Minister of Defence), Sarangerel (former Minister of Health, Minister of Environment). Bolorchuluun is old enough to have worked as an agronomist in Dornod province during the state socialist system, and several others studied in the Soviet Union.

This brings the full roster, including continuing ministers to:

Prime Minister – L. Oyun-Erdene
Cabinet Secretary – D. Amarbayasgalan
Deputy PM – S. Amarsaikhan
Finance – B. Javkhlan
Defense – G. Saikhanbayar
Justice and Internal Affairs – Kh. Nyambaatar
Education – L. Enkh-Amgalan
Roads and Transport – S. Byambatsogt
Environment – B. Bat-Erdene
Foreign Relations – B. Battsetseg
Mining and Heavy Industry – J. Ganbaatar
Labor and Social Protection – T Ayursaikhan [D. Sarangerel]
Construction and Urban Development – B. Munkhbaatar
Health – S. Enkhbold
Food, Agriculture, and Light Industry – Kh. Bolorchuluun
Energy – B. Choijilsuren
Culture – Ch. Nomin
Digital Development and Communications – N. Uchral
Traffic Congestion – J. Sukhbaatar
Olympism, Physical Culture, and Sports – B. Bat-Erdene
Economy and Development – Ch. Khurelbaatar

The Mongolia Focus post on Oyun-Erdene’s first Cabinet may be found here.

New Cabinet members:


Cabinet Secretary (Хэрэг эрхлэх газрын дарга): D AMARBAYASGALAN (Дашзэгвийн Амарбаясгалан) [Previous – Ts. Nyamdorj]

b. 1981, Taishir, Govi-Altai province
Communications Engineer, graduated from Mongolian State University of Science and Technology in 2002
State Academy of Management, graduated 2008
Political Scientist, graduated from Mongolian National University in 2012
Member, Citizen’s Representative’s Khural (Bayanzurkh), 2008-2016
President, Social Democratic Youth Association, 2009-2014
Member, MPRP Little Khural, 2010
MPP Leadership Council, 2015
General Secretary, Mongolian People’s Party, 2016-Present

Minister of Road and Transport Development (Зам, тээврийн хөгжлийн сайд): S. BYAMBATSOGT (Сандагийн Бямбацогт) (former MP, ran 2020, not elected) [PREVIOUS – L. Khaltar – now Deputy Minister]

b. 1974, attended secondary school in Khovd
Economist and manager, Institute of Finance and Economics, graduated 1998
Master’s degree in business studies, Maastricht university
MPRP Social Democratic Mongolian Students Association, 2006-2008
MPRP/MPP Little Khural, Member, 2005, 2007, 2010
MPP Leadership Council, 2013
Member of Parliament (Khovd), 2008 – 2020
2016, Minister of Justice and Home Affairs

(not to be confused with S. BAYARTSOGT)

Minister of Mining and Heavy Industry (Уул уурхай, хүнд үйлдвэрийн сайд):  J GANBAATAR (Жамбалын Ганбаатар) [PREVIOUS – G. Yondon – appointed Director of Erdenet Mining Corporation]

b. 1973
General Director, Orgil Shopping Center, 1996-2015
Citizen’s Representative Khural (Bayangol), 2008-2012
Member of Parliament (Bayangol), 2016-Present

Minister of Labour and Social Protection (Хөдөлмөр, нийгмийн хамгааллын сайд): T Ayursaikhan (Т Аюурсайхан) (MP)

Member of Parliament 2016-Present
Deputy Speaker of Parliament 2020-Present

Replaced D SARANGEREL (Даваажанцангийн Сарангэрэл) (MP) [PREVIOUS – A. Ariunzaya – appointed senior advisor to Prime Minister] on Oct 21 2022

b. 1963
Broadcaster, Omsk, graduated 1983 and Rostov, graduated 1990
Editor, Mongolian National Broadcaster, 1990-1994
Director, TV5, 2003-2005
Secretary, MPP, 2011-2012
Member of Parliament, 2012-Present
Minister of Health, 2017
Minister of Environment, 2020

Minister of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry (Хүнс, хөдөө аж ахуй, хөнгөн үйлдвэрийн сайд): Kh BOLORCHULUUN (Хаянгаагийн Болорчулуун) (MP) [PREVIOUS – Z. Mendsaikhan]

b. 1964, completed 10-year middle school in Dornod province
Agronomist, graduated 1987
Director, Khishig Agro Company, 1992-1997
Director, Dornod Guril [Flour] Company, 1997-2012
Member of Parliament, 2012-Present

Minister of Energy (Эрчим хүчний сайд): B CHOIJILSUREN (Баттогтохын Чойжилсүрэн) (MP) [PREVIOUS – N. Tavinbekh – now Deputy Minister]

b. 1970, Tes, Uvs province
Automation and telemechanics, Urals Higher Polytechnic, Sverdlovsk (Yekaterinberg), graduated 1993
MPRP/MPP Little Khural, 2005-2015
Member of Parliament, 2012-Present
Minister of Finance, 2016

ADDITIONS – NEW (at least since 1/2021) CABINET POSITIONS:

Minister of Digital Development and Communications (Цахим хөгжил, харилцаа холбооны сайд): N UCHRAL (MP) (Ням-Осорын Учрал) [State Secretary B. Bolor-Erdene is now Deputy Minister]

b. 1985 in Ulaanbaatar
Degree in law, Ikh Zasag International University, 2007
MBA, University of Gloucestershire, 2010
Master degree in history, Mongolian University of Education, Master of History, 2012
Doctorate degree in history, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 2013
General Director, Royal Academy and Royal International Institute, 2010-2016
Member of Parliament, 2016-Present

Minister, Chairman of National Committee on Traffic Congestion (Хот хариуцсан сайд) – J SUKHBAATAR (Жамъянхорлоогийн Сухбаатар)

b. 1975, Darkhan-Uul province
Law degree, Mongolian National University, graduated 1997
Secretary and general manager, General Election Committee, 2001-2006
General Secretary, MPRP, 2016
Member of Parliament (Darkhan), 2008-2012, 2020-Present

Minister for Olympism, Physical Culture and Sports (Спорт, олимпизм хариуцсан сайд) – B BAT-ERDENE (Бадмаанямбуугын Бат-Эрдэнэ)

b. 1964, completed 10-year middle school in Khentii
Law degree, Higher Military School, graduated 1990
Naadam wrestling champion, 1988-2000
Member of Parliament, 2004-Present
Member, MPRP Little Khural, 2005-2009
Presidential candidate, MPP, 2013
Minister of Defense, 2016

Minister of Economy and Development (Здийн засаг, хөгжлийн сайд) – Ch KHURELBAATAR (Чимэдийн Хүрэлбаатар)

b. 1968, Ulaangom, Uvs Province
Leningrad Higher School of Economics, graduated 1991
University of Sydney, graduated 1998
Lecturer, economics and econometrics, 1998-2000
Advisor, economic affairs, to President Enkhbayar, 2000-2003
Chairman of Millenium Challenge Foundation, 2003-2007
Minister of Fuel and Power, 2007-2008
Member, MPRP Little Khural, 2005-2009, 2013-2015
Minister of Finance, 2017-2021
Member of Parliament (Uvs), 2008-Present


Deputy Prime Minister (Шадар сайд): MP S AMARSAIKHAN (С. Амарсайхан)
Born 1973, Nalaikh, Ulaanbaatar
Linguist and Lawyer, Fresno College (California) 1996;
English Metropolitan College, 1998
Los Angeles College, 2000
Master’s degree in law from Southwestern University
Staff at Science and Information Technology Center 1992-1994
Attache at the Embassy of Mongolia to PRC, 2000-2004
Manager of Investment and Foreign Trade at American Trade and Development, 2004-2007
CEO, President and Director of BOD, Oyunii Undraa Group LLC 2007-2017
Member of the Citizen Representative Council 2012-2020
Head of the budget, finance and economic committee of the Citizen Representative Council 2016-2017
Chairman of the Citizen Representative Council 2017-2019
Mayor of Ulaanbaatar 2019-2020
Member of Parliament 2020-Present

Minister of Environment and Tourism (Байгаль орчин, аялал жуулчлалын сайд): B BAT-ERDENE (Бат-Өлзийгийн Бат-Эрдэнэ)
Born 1977 in Ulaanbaatar
Korean Translator, degree in history, graduated Mongolian National University, 1999
Doctorate degree in history, Mongolian National University, 2013
General Director, “Silk Road Travel” LLC and “Air Ticket” LLC, 2003-2012
General Secretary, Social Democratic Mongolian Youth Union, 2012-2015
Head of Erdenet Development and POlicy Research Institute, 2017-2020

(Replaced N. Urtnasan in January 2022.)

Minister of Defense (Батлан хамгаалахын сайд): G SAIKHANBAYAR (Гүрсэдийн Сайханбаяр)
Born 1968 in Ulaanbaatar
Graduated from Defense University (Цэргийн нэгдсэн дээд сургууль) 1985
Public Administration and Development Institute under the Government of Mongolia, 1989
National Defense University of PRC, 2002
The Military Academy of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, 2014
Specialist officer, Department of Training, Cultural Promotion and Discipline, and Head of the working group on Information, cultural promotion disciplinary work, 1994-2000
Deputy head and Head, Department of Public Administration and Management at the Ministry of Defense, 2000-2012
Head (Үүргийг түр орлог гүйцэтгэгч) of the Department of Strategic Policy and Planning at the Ministry of Defense, 2014 – 2020

Minister of Foreign Affairs (Гадаад харилцааны сайд): B BATTSETSEG ( Батмөнхийн Батцэцэг)
Born in 1973 in aimag center of Bayankhongor province
Graduated secondary school, Darkhan
Graduated from International Relations School at MUST in 1996
Directors of publishing houses Az Khur LLC, and Munkhiin Useg LLC 1996 to 2004
Institute of Finance and Economy 2000; Maastricht University of Management in 2005
Unit Director at Foreign Investment and Foreign Trade Agency, 2005-2007
Chairman of the board, Munkhiin Useg 2007-2015
Advisor to MPP Secretary-General, 2010-2011
Administration office, and Head of Foreign Relations and Cooperation Department of MPP 2010-2012
Director of the Board of Directors of Munkhiin Useg Publishing 2020 to Jan 28, 2021
Advisor to the Minister of Finance 2015-2016
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs 2016-2020

Minister of Finance (Сангийн сайд): MP B. JAVKLAN ( Б.Жавхлан)
Born 1975 in Darkhan
Economist, graduated from MUST in 1997
University of California, Riverside, 2008
Indiana University, 2009
Controller, Mongolbank 1997-1999
Plenipotentiary Mongolbank Representative to Agricultural Bank 1999-2000
Senior Controller, Mongolbank, 2000-2004
Deputy Director of the Trade and Development Bank 2004-2007
Elected to MPP Little Khural, 2013
MP since 2016 to Present
Head of Parliamentary Subcommittee for Local Leadership, 2016-2020
Deputy Vice President of the Bank of Mongolia 2010-2016
Chairman of the Standing Committee on Budget of the State Great Hural of Mongolia 2020-Present

Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs (Хууль зүй дотоод хэргийн сайд): KH NYAMBAATAR (Хишгээгийн Нямбаатар)
Born 1978, in Ulaanbaatar
Teacher, Orkhon University 2000-2007
Lawyer, Mongolian Defense Lawyer’s Association
Advocate at the Mongolian Bar Association 2005-2008
Legal Adviser at the Songinokhairkhan District Governor’s Office 2008-2009
Head of the Public Administration Department at the Songinokhairkhan District Governor’s Office 2009-2012
Acting Director of Governor’s Office, Songinokhairkhan, 2011-2012
Chairman of Songinokhairkhan District Citizens’ Representatives’ Khural 2012-2016
Deputy Chairman, Songinokhiarkhan District MPP Committee
Vice President of MPP SDM Youth Association 2015 – ?
Member, Ikh Khural (Songinokhairkhan) 2016-2020
2016(?) income declaration — 30 million MNT income, savings of 15 million, shares in Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi and Best Drilling
(Sanders 2017, 633)
Chairman of the State Great Hural’s Standing Committee on Legal Affairs 2019-2020
Member of Ikh Khural, 2020 – 2024 (Songinokhairkhan)

Minister of Construction and Urban Development (Барилга, хот байгуулалтын яам): B MUNKHBAATAR (Бэгжавын Мөнхбаатар)
Born, 1975, Ulaanbaatar
University of Science and Technology 1993
Mongolian State University, East London University business school 2004-2006
Mongolian Social Democratic Students’ Association 1998-2001
Senior Political Worker, Ulaanbaatar Committee of MPP 2001-2002
Deputy head, State Administration, Management, and Cooperation Department, Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture 2002- 2004
Head, External Relations Department, Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture 2002 – 2004
Director, City Policy and Planning Strategy Office, Ulaanbaatar Governor’s Secretariat 2006-2008
Chairman, Council of the Ulaanbaatar Section of the Mongolian Social Democratic Youth Association 2008
Governor, Bayanzurkh District 2008
Deputy Governor of Ulaanbaatar (one of four) 2008 – 2012
Deputy Governor of the Capital City in charge of Construction, Urban Development and Infrastructure 2008-2012
MPRP Little Khural 2009 – ?
Chairman, UB MPRP Committee 2009 -2012
Member, MPRP Leadership Council 2009
Candidate, Ikh Khural Election, MPP, Bayanzurkh and Nalaikh 2012
Deputy Minister of Population Development and Social Welfare 2014-2015
Member, Little Khural of MPP 2010 – 2016(?)
(Sanders 2017, 601)
Board Member, Oyu Tolgoi LLC in 2016-2018
CEO of Erdenes Oyu Tolgoi 2016 – 2018
Deputy Minister of Construction and Urban Development 2018-20

Minister of Education and Science (Боловсрол, шинжлэх ухааны сайд): MP. L ENKH-AMGALAN (Л. Энх-Амгалан)
Born 1970 in Khuvsgul; graduated secondary school in Murun
Economist and IT Engineer, Graduated from the University of Saint Peterburg in 1992; Dakota University [sic] in USA the in 1996; and Hangdon University in 2002
Director-General of Interpress LLC 1995-1996
Editor in Chief at Il Tovchoo Newspaper, Montsame Agency 1992-1995
Vice President of MCS Group, Board of Directors of Unitel Group 1996-2012
Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mongolia, 2011-2012
Member of Executive Committee of the MPP, 2012-Present
Member of Parliament since 2012-Present
Chairman of the Standing Committee on Education, Culture and Science, Deputy Speaker of the State Great Hural, 2016-2017
Deputy Speaker of the State Great Hural 2017-2020
Chairman of the Standing Committee on State Structure of the State Great Hural from 2020

Ministry of Culture (Соёлын сайд): CH NOMIN (Чинбатын Номин)
Born 1983, Ulaanbaatar
Daughter of Chinbat, Director of Gatsuurt Company (gold mining and agriculture)
University of East Anglia in 2003, Economics and Accounting 2006;
Director of External Relations of the Gatsuurt Group, 2006-2007
Manager, Terelj Hotel (owned by Gatsuurt), 2007
Director of “Terelj Suikh” LLC 2008-2011;
Harvard Business School 2018;
Executive Director of Mongol TV 2011-to Present

Minister of Health (Эрүүл мэндийн сайд): S ENKHBOLD (С. Энхболд)
Born 1979 in Ulaanbaatar
Graduated from Health Sciences University in 2004; 2006; 2020
Masters in Medical Science, Nagoya, Japan
Director of the Imaging and Radiology Department at the State Central Hospital #1 2007-2019
Director of the State Central Hospital #2 since 2019-present

Sources of information for this post include:

“New members of cabinet appointed,” Montsame

“Шинэ сайд нарын амлалт,”

“ЗГ: Л.Халтар, Н.Тавинбэх нар дэд сайдаар томилогдов,” news.mN

Current Members,


Alan J. K. Sanders’ Historical Dictionary of Mongolia, Fourth Ed., Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017)

“Дашзэгвийн Амарбаясгалан,” Википедиа нэвтэрхий толь (

“Ням-Осорын Учрал,” Википедиа нэвтэрхий толь (

“БОАЖ-ын сайдад Б.Бат-Эрдэнийг томилохоор болжээ,”

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