Charting a New Path: Understanding the Effects of Generational Shift on Politics and Economics

By Bulgan Batdorj 

Mongolians born in the 1970s and 80s experienced the country’s transition from communism to democracy in 1990 at a relatively young age. This is a generation that grew up during shaky economic times and a shifting cultural landscape. Despite lacking modern technological conveniences in their early years, they have witnessed the rapid evolution of mobile phones, among other advancements.

Today, younger generations of Mongolians are slowly but surely taking charge of the politics and economy in Mongolia. It is exciting to explore the trends and implications of this generational shift and to see how this generation will shape the future of our country.

The Reign of the “50s-60s Generation”: 1990s to 2020

The economy underwent significant changes during the 1990s as Mongolia transitioned from a centrally planned system to a market-oriented one. This shift led to the privatization of many state-owned factories. Due to the general public’s lack of understanding of stock ownership and valuation, a select few were able to acquire these factories at a fraction of their true value. In the early days of the transition, many Mongolians managed trade between Russia and China, while later on, trade routes diversified. Those who were involved in businesses related to agriculture, trade, and factory ownership gained a significant economic advantage.

In politics, the early years following the democratic revolution saw frequent changes in public figures. However, not long after, key politicians emerged, securing seats in parliament election after election. Some of these individuals came from families that held prominent positions during the communist era, with parents or grandparents serving in high-ranking roles, while others were part of the Golden Sparrows, the democratic revolutionaries in Mongolia. It is important to note that business and politics were closely associated, with many individuals holding positions in both spheres. Most of these individuals were born in the 1950s-60s, putting them in their 30s-40s during the revolution in the 1990s, which gave them the opportunity to take advantage of the changes both during and after the revolution.

In early 2021, Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrai, a member of the younger generation born in the 1980s, was appointed Prime Minister of Mongolia, marking a significant milestone in the generational shift (author’s comment: not necessarily developmental or leadership shift) in Mongolian politics and businesses.

This trend of generational shift is also visible in other spheres, such as business and sports, where a generation that was fully educated during the early democratic era is now taking charge.

The Struggle of Generational Power Transition in Politics

The generational transition in Mongolia’s political sphere has brought about its fair share of challenges for both the MPP and DP  parties. However, the DP has been grappling with internal divisions, leadership disputes, and shifting political alliances, which have cost them parliamentary seats and weakened their support base. The DP, as one of the main political two forces since the 1990s, has been crucial in balancing and shaping the political landscape.

In an attempt to unite the party, the DP elected a new leader, L Gantumur, on January 19, 2023, marking a generational shift from the 50s-60s cohort to the 70s. Another strong representation of the 70s is the HUN Party. This party, with many members representing the 70s generation and younger, positions itself as technocrats, reflecting the evolving preferences and priorities of the Mongolian electorate. The public (or emerging electorates) is growing weary of both the MPP and DP’s familiar faces and political tactics and thus is receptive to this party. The party has one seat in the parliament but is a vocal contender and opposition in the absence of the ex-opposition. Despite Mongolians jokingly referring to the 70s as the “lost generation,” this group has made a strong impact in both the political and economic realms.

New Generation of Businesses in Mongolia: A Fusion of Tradition, Innovation, and Sustainability

Shark Tank Mongolia is a reality show, that is running its fourth season and airs on Mongol TV. This is in the same format as the American, the original show, where the Sharks listen to and evaluate business pitches from Entrepreneurs seeking investment. This season four’s five sharks, most were educated in the USA all at prestigious universities and have shown an appetite for IT business.

Based on last year’s investment, the businesses that got the biggest investment are in the IT sectors for 2022 according to Bolortseren.

In addition to the booming IT industry, I would like to mention some new-generation businesses that combine traditional and modern elements. The Husug brand , for example, uses wool, felt, and leather materials and employs women and people with disabilities. Michel and Amazonka are two Mongolian sisters who create pret-a-couture clothing that showcases the fusion of traditional Mongolian styles with modern designs. Another noteworthy brand isha Lhamour, run by a western-educated founder, which makes organic skincare products using Mongolian-sourced ingredients such as seabuckthorn, yak milk, and sheep’s tail fat, while also employing marginalized people.

When you visit Mongolia next time, I highly recommend that you not only stock up on cashmere products but also explore these unique and innovative businesses that are blending Mongolia’s rich cultural heritage with modern technologies and sustainable practices.

Navigating the Challenges of the Next 30 Years

The generational transition in Mongolia is a slow but steady process that is taking place across all areas, including sports (arts, opera, ballet, movies, writers, activists, influencers, opinion makers and NGOs)  and society at large. The younger generation is gradually taking over from the old, with some doing so with elegance, while others do so with pride or resistance. The trend in the shift of leadership is towards foreign (western) educated graduates who value technocracy, sustainability, and a modern taste that values tradition.

While the struggles that Mongolia faced in the past 30 years were not easy, the challenges that lie ahead are even greater, with globalization, climate change, and extreme geopolitical shifts posing significant challenges to the country’s economic, social, and environmental well-being. To overcome these challenges, Mongolia needs a new kind of leadership that is not only connected to our two neighbours but also to the world and its people. The country needs leaders who understand the complexities of a globalized world and are committed to creating sustainable and inclusive economic growth that benefits all Mongolians.

As younger generations take on more prominent roles in politics and the economy, they (hopefully) bring fresh perspectives and innovative solutions to address the unique challenges of the 21st century. The emergence of new political forces and leaders, coupled with the potential for economic transformation, signals potentially a crucial turning point for Mongolia. This shift offers an opportunity for the country to harness the energy and the vision of the upcoming generation to build a more inclusive, prosperous, and forward-looking society.

PS: I remember that Open Society conducted a scenario exercise for Mongolia some time ago, prior to the OT project. I believe that another such exercise could be highly beneficial for the country’s next 30 years of development.

Posted in Business, Demography, Politics, Pop Culture, Younger Mongolians | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: The Jetsun Dampa in Contemporary Mongolia

This continues a first post that focused on the historical context of the identification of a reincarnation of the Jebtsundamba.

By Tsering Shakya

The Jetsun Dampa and Post-Soviet Concerns

It was not until the collapse of the Soviet Union that Mongolia, although it had been an independent state for several decades, escaped from the shadow of Soviet rule and re-emerged on the international stage.  The early campaigners for a democratic Mongolia were secularists and did not resort to past Buddhist tradition as a rallying point. They sought to create a western-inspired secular society rather than relying on past Buddhist identity. The framers of the new constitution in 1992 did not declare Buddhism as the state religion, and thus avoided conferring official recognition to Buddhist institutions. Article 9 of that constitution forbade religious institutions from intervening in political affairs and subjected religious matters to state governance, unlike former Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe, where the Church had played an important role in the overthrow of Soviet regime and establishment of democratic rule. In Mongolia, the Buddhist community therefore did not play a significant role in the new state. Nevertheless, the period saw Buddhism re-emerge in Mongolia.

In 1989, India appointed Bakula Rinpoche, a leading Buddhist lama from Ladakh, as the ambassador of India to Mongolia.  He had been a member of parliament for Ladakh in the Indian parliament and had been recognized as a reincarnate lama by the 13th Dalai Lama. From his time in Tibet, he had established good connections with Mongolian lamas. He had been India’s representative to the Asian Buddhist Conference For Peace and had made frequent visits to Mongolia, during which he is said to have given religious teachings secretly to Mongolian monks and lay devotees. In his role as ambassador, he came to represent the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism in Mongolia and played a critical role in establishing contact between Mongols and exile Tibetan lamas and monastic institutions in India, arranging for Mongolian monks to attend Tibetan monasteries in India. He facilitated the Dalai Lama’s several visits to Mongolia and, in 1995, when the Dalai Lama visited Mongolia for the second time, he was allowed to give religious sermons and to carry out the Kalachakra ceremony, considered as especially important among his followers. Thousands of Mongolians flocked to the teachings. He visited again twice in 2002 and most recently in 2016. During that last visit, there was great expectation that he would announce the reincarnation of the Jetsun Dampa and it was rumoured that a child was presented to the Dalia Lama as a possible candidate as the 10th Jetsun Dampa. That child, it was widely said, happened to be a son of a leading Mongol politician, and some even claimed that he was the son of the then Prime Minister. The Dalai Lama politely declined the recognition and avoided possible political repercussions, saying only that he was sure the rebirth of the Jetsun Dampa had taken place.

The Reception of the Jetsun Dampa

Seven years later, the reception of the news of the Dalai Lama’s public identification of the 10th Jetsun Dampa in Dharamasla, and his implicit recognition of him, has been mixed in Mongolia. Rather than a massive celebration of good news, many have taken to social media to voice scepticism or bewilderment. The 8-year-old boy was born in the US and holds US citizenship (Mongolia does not allow dual citizenship). His father, Altannar Chinchulun, is an Associate Professor at the National University of Mongolia and the author of several books on Game Theory. The mother, Monkhnasan Narmandakh, is well-known figure in Mongolia as the owner and chairman of one of the biggest companies in the country, Monpolymet Group, which has interests in Mongolia’s mining and construction industries. The grandmother is Garamjav Tseden founder of the company was a member of parliament from 2016-20. But, although sectors of the public may express scepticism, the members of the former Jetsun Dampa’s entourage who would have carried out the search for the reincarnation have done well by selecting a wealthy family. The institution of the Jetsun Dampa may have some historical prestige and precedent, but it is today an impoverished institution lacking resources; to find a wealthy family who can invest in the institution and ensure the boy’s success will be seen by others as a invaluable move.

The question of the child’s family is of least concern to the devotees. However, reviving the lineage and glory of the Jetsun Dampa lineage is challenging. The Mongolia of today is not the Mongolia of the past; Buddhism’s hold on contemporary Mongolia is diminishing. In the 2010 census 53% of the population identified themselves as Buddhist, and ten years later, in 2020, the figure had dropped to 51.7%. In the 2010 census 38.6% defined themselves as non-believers in any religion and by 2020 that figure had risen to 40.6%.  There are no signs that this trend will be reversed. If we gauge the trend from the reaction on social media, the return of the Jetsun Dampa in a wealthy family heightens public distrust. The resurrection of the religious office of the Jetsun Dampa is not a simple question of continuing a smooth transition and re-establishing continuity with the past. The socialist era from 1924-1990 devastated Buddhism in Mongolia. Without a large diasporic Mongolian community to preserve their tradition, the seven decades of socialist education destroyed Buddhism; only after 1990 was re-identification with Buddhism able to take place, leading to the revival of Buddhists practices in daily lives and also the re-building of temples and monasteries. More importantly, Mongolia renewed contact with Tibetan monasteries established in India and began sending students to study there.

Because of these decades of disruption and persecution, most Mongolians were left with only rudimentary knowledge of Buddhism. The problem of Buddhist knowledge and learning are compounded by the fact that Mongolian Buddhist literature is written in Tibetan or in old Mongol script, which most Mongolians in Mongolia (unlike those in Inner Mongolia where the old script is still in use) cannot read. Of course, knowledge of the literature and text is not essential; being Buddhist is a matter of identity, practice and tradition, and many Mongolians may continue to identify as Buddhists despite lacking access to the texts.

The Tibetans have a naïve and chauvinistic attitude towards Mongolian Buddhism; their imagination of Buddhism among Mongolians is distorted by the lack of people-to-people contact and coloured by the few devotees from Mongolia who visit India for the Dalai Lama’s teachings. Very few Tibetans travel to Mongolia or know, for example, that almost all Mongolian lamas are married, and that most temples and monasteries are managed by a family rather than by a reincarnation lineage. They may also be unaware that many Mongolians are ambivalent about the link with Tibet and that since the beginning of the 20th  century, many Mongolian intellectuals have viewed Buddhism as a partner with the Manchus in the process of colonial oppression in Mongolia since the 17th century.

Return of the Bogd Khan?

The new Jetsun Dampa will not find a harmonious Buddhist environment in Mongolia; there are many competing factors, religious groupings and factions that need to be diplomatically  navigated. These include such influential Mongolian lamas as Zava Damdin Rinpoche, also known as Luvsandarjaa Lama, who sees the close connection with Tibetans as detrimental to Mongolians’ national and religious interest and openly advocates distancing Mongolians from Tibetans

Guru Deva and Shugden Propriation in Mongolia

The 9th  Jetsun Dampa’s return to Mongolia had symbolic value, but another lama, known as Sogpo Rinpoche by the Tibetans and more commonly as Guru Deva, entered Mongolia at around that time. Guru Deva was born in Hanchen Hoshuu in Ordos, Inner Mongolia. He travelled to Lhasa at the age of 20 to receive teachings from some of the leading Gelugpa teachers there, including from two of the Dalai Lama’s tutors. After the Chinese annexation of Tibet, Guru Deva moved to India and continued his religious life at the exile Drepung monastery in South India. Later he founded a publishing house in India reprinting Tibetan Buddhist texts written by Mongolian lamas. He also became a vocal critic of the Dalai Lama’s increasing insistence on an ecumenical approach to Buddhist practice, which led him to publicly condemn the propitiation of the controversial, sectarian deity, Dorje Shugden. Guru Deva’s arrival in Mongolia in the late 1990s immediately attracted a small but devoted following because he could converse in Mongolian, and he was able to reestablish the practice of Shugden propitiation. In 2006 he sponsored the construction of a 23-metre-high statue of the Buddha in Ulaanbaatar, while the Choijin Lama temple (a state museum) houses once again a statue of the Dorje Shugden deity commissioned by the Bogd Khan in 1904 (his brother is said to have been a medium for the Shugden deity). Guru Deva passed away in 2009, and his mummified body is enshrined at the Amarbayasgalant Monastery, one of the largest temple complexes in Mongolia and a UNESCO-protected site.  Today, Amarbayasgalant Monastery stands as the stronghold of the Shugden group and as the alternative seat of Buddhism in Mongolia.

The Jetsun Dampa and the Jonang School

Contemporary Tibetan diaspora accounts describe the Jetsun Dampa as the head of the Jonang school of Tibetan Buddhism. This representation is problematic. In the 17th century, under the 5th Dalai Lama, the Jonang school was declared heretical and banned from central Tibet, and the doctrinal teachings and printing of Jonang texts were prohibited. Recently there has been an attempt to revive the tradition among the Tibetan Diaspora. A few years ago, monks belonging to the Jonang school staged a hunger strike in Dharamsala, demanding recognition of the school as a legitimate and independent school of Tibetan Buddhism. Followers of the Jonang scholar, whether Tibetans or Mongolians, are uncomfortable with references to the Jetsun Dampa as the head of their school and are not likely be accept such a claim. Neither do lamas from the Jonang school seem to be involved in the search and investiture of the Jetsun Dampa.

Raising a Jetsun Dampa

The new Jetsun Dampa thus will face a wide range of challenges as he grows up and takes on his religious tasks; investiture is the easy part. In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions, lamas’ reputation and prestige do not simply rest on recognition or the title that comes with the office – each lama must demonstrate his or her learning and spiritual accomplishment, and the mark of a lama’s greatness is the scriptural works and students they leave behind, thus establishing the teaching transmission for that lineage. The 4th was known for his new temples and specially for the creation of the Kalacakar Datsan, but, apart from the 1st Jetsun Dampa, the later incarnations are not renowned for learning or considered to have been spiritually highly realized; the sungbum or collected works of all the Jetsun Dampas since Zanabazar consist mostly of prayers rather than substantial philosophical or doctrinal works. The 10th holder of this title will have to carve out a reputation for himself through his own works and achievements.

There is, however, no indication so far that the boy has undergone the religious ceremony of hair-cutting pr taken the wows of a novice monk, which would mean that the boy will enter religious life. If no such ceremony has been conducted, it is perhaps a sign that the parents may have resisted such a commitment for their son, or that they and others may have a differing, perhaps more modern vision for the child’s future. Will the parents decide to have the young boy enter a Tibetan monastery (mostly likely in South India) and immerse himself in Tibetan Buddhist learning at an early age, or would they want him to have a more modern, secular education? The decision will not be an easy one, because, without a strong commitment to the rigours of intensive religious training, the investiture of the new Jetsun Dampa will confer only symbolic standing on the child, leaving the announcement of his discovery as merely a royalist crowning of a long-deposed monarch’s successor.

About Tsering Shakya

Tsering Shakya is a historian of Tibet and an Associate Professor at the Department of Asian Studies/ School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, BC, Canada.

Posted in Buddhism, China, Religion, Tibet, Tsering Shakya | Leave a comment

Guest Post: The Backbone of the New National Anticorruption Strategy will be the Private Sector and Civil Society

By D Tegshbayar

Mongolia’s IAAC (Independent Agency Against Corruption) announced on April 12, 2023 that it has presented a new national anticorruption strategy to be implemented up to 2030 to its parliament. This draft strategy drastically shifted its previous focus of the national anticorruption program that focused on legislative changes and punishment to objectives more fostering private sector and emphasizing collaboration with civil society and public.

According to the working group who developed a national anticorruption strategy, basic rights such as a) public’s right to information, b) government’s duty to be transparent, c) efficiency and effectiveness of public services, d) inclusiveness in societal life and services and e) digitalization features were considered in every single action which sets a new standard approach that would be taken to reduce corruption. This, as per the developers of the program, will make a national anticorruption strategy a truly worthy document to reduce corruption through human rights -based and public engagement-based approaches. A strategy also expected to help country’s macro-economic aspects in a long run.

New strategy’s shift in focus

A national strategy was due for adoption in 2023 as the previous national anticorruption program (2016-2023)’s second phase ended this year. Overall, 75 percent of the actions identified by the previous national program was successfully implemented, as explained by the external assessment during the IAAC organized meeting in February, 2023.

At face value though, after 75 percent accomplishment of a national program against corruption, public office corruption must have been lessened. According to Corruption Perception Index (CPI) generated by Transparency International, the global corruption watchdog, Mongolia ranked in 72 out of 168 countries in 2015, with scores of 39 out of 100. Very next year, in 2016, Mongolia has adopted its national anticorruption program for the year 2016-2022, in II phases. After 7 years of implementation of the national program, Mongolia’s CPI scores lowered by 6 points, felling its global ranking down to 116 out of 180 countries. Mongolia was listed among 10 countries where public office corruption is rising in Transparency International’s 2022 report which showed that actions taken before by this program were not up to international standards nor were effective to reduce country’s corruption. The CPI is assessed by 8 sources in Mongolia and in some countries, it ranges between 3 to 13 different sources, meaning expert assessment or survey results of 8 different reports are compiled to generate the estimation of Mongolia’s public office corruption perception, focusing more on implementation area of legislations and compliance with international development organizations’ recommendations.

Surely an announcement that CPI of Mongolia was reduced was not expected by Mongolian government after what they have done in terms of instigating US$1.8billion coal theft case investigation, involving over 200 high-level public officials starting from last December and commencing investigations on Development Bank’s concessional loan-related cases, involving 257 politicians and their affiliates since earlier this year. However, reports and assessments of international organizations, including the CPI, focused on an effective implementation rather than on assessment of country’s strategic actions aimed at curbing corruption from the very core. This made the government shift its focus area, having more consideration on international standards and strategies aimed at addressing development organizations’ recommendations.

After falling on the CPI, the government declared 2023 as the ‘Year of Anti-Corruption’ and announced ‘Tavan-Sh Operations’ namely 1) whistleblowing operation of corrupt officials, 2) transparency operation of public offices, 3) sweeping operation of illegal appointees from public offices 4) bird operation on bringing fled corruption crimes criminals from abroad, and 5) asset recovering operation.

Meanwhile, the IAAC started drafting the national anti-corruption strategy, the medium-term development policy, forecasting CPI scores’ improvement by 2030. The policy not only incorporates Transparency International’s general recommendations, but also examined all 9 sources of CPI in detail to identify key areas of focus through lifespan of the strategy, incorporating and mainstreaming compliance rules and recommendations of international financial institutions and development organizations such as OECD standards and minimum requirements on corporate governance and tax compliance, FATF recommendations on tackling financial crimes, recommendations of human rights shadow report UPR, etc.

‘In the private sector, instead of organizing ineffective training for companies or exercising number of vague activities that give no boost in reduction of corruption, this strategy aims at improving compliance with international standards that will assist in fund raising for companies from domestic and foreign markets. In public offices, rather than shaming a whole sector as highly, moderate or less corrupt or listing government offices in order of immorality, we need to start identifying process risks to better tackle abuse of power….said a member of the working group to develop a national strategy. The draft’s goals, objectives and actions are based on more than 40 laws, including the Criminal Law, the Anti-Corruption Law, the Law on the Regulation of Public and Private Interests in Public Service, and the Prevention of Conflict of Interest.

However, implementation becomes a key area where the government of Mongolia fails significantly. Compared to other countries, Mongolia has laws and regulations that are impressively aligned with international best practices but, it fails in obvious sections to comply with transparency, public engagement, inclusiveness, documentation or reporting requirements. Since this part is still a concern with current knowledge and awareness of public officials, IAAC’s priority actions aimed at addressing awareness raising of public officials.

About the National Anticorruption Strategy

Mongolia’s economy is based heavily on the extractive sector. The national strategy implementation of activities in phase I is targeted at extractive industry transparency, along with budget and special fund transparency. Extractive industry transparency is targeted as a priority objective as it involves risks identified by the national risk assessment in 2020.

In a second phase is more about reducing political involvement in SOEs’ governance and moving towards public trading of companies, while listing and social accountability compliance is ensured in the first phase at SOEs.

A total of 10 goals, 45 objectives, and 224 targeted activities were identified in the national anticorruption strategy. While complete activities which are yet to be open to public on D-Parliament may give more detailed information about what will be done during two-phases (I phase- up to 2026; II phase 2026-2030) a brief summary is below:

The first goal is to improve the will, effort, leadership and transparency in the fight against corruption in the political sphere.

This goal outlines the objectives aimed at improving the legal framework to prohibit all forms of vote buying during elections and non-elections; making election expense reports transparent by both political parties and candidates for all levels of elections; clarifying jurisdiction to investigate election and political crimes and violations; improving accountability and ethics of parties and candidates; and refining citizens’ oversight and audit in relation to political financing. The identified objectives are aimed at reducing election costs and fostering equal competitive opportunities in political life.

The 2nd goal comprises six objectives to strengthen the civil service and ensure it is free of corruption.

Actions aimed at eliminating conflicts of interest, creating conditions for a transparent and competitive selection and appointment of public officials; preventing abuse of power in the appointment and extending revolving-door period of civil servants; receiving provisional declarations of assets and income open to public while allowing public to review their conflict of interest prior to their appointment, and requiring inspection of expense discrepancies against earned income by interfacing tax statement with income and asset declaration statement. Ensuring public engagement and oversight over any public decision will make a valuable contribution to Mongolia’s fight against corruption. Revision of corruption risk assessment in public sector to assess operational risks to identify effective measures is addressed within this goal.

The 3rd goal includes four objectives to strengthen the effective control and participation of citizens, public organizations, and the media in anti-corruption measures.

The implementation of “Vision 2050”, Mongolia’s long-term development policy, requires measures to support government – civil society – and private sector partnership. This includes ensuring the fundamental rights of citizens, as well as genuine and inclusive participation of citizens and civil society in the development, decision-making, implementation, and evaluation of government policies. The Government will also make additional efforts to provide information that meets standards of government transparency. Protection of the whistle-blower’s rights, witnesses, journalists and victims is one of the key areas of the program. These objectives will ensure that Mongolia’s transparency and accountability are brought in line with international standards and best practices as well as support the robust development and integrity of the civil society.

The 4th goal is to create a culture of zero tolerance for corruption in the private sector.

This will introduce international best practices in ethics and compliance, reducing risks of money laundering from corruption and building a system and culture that will attract foreign direct investment through increased trust and transparency. Measures to improve the arbitration process, and to strengthen the capacity to resolve disputes between investors and others have also been included. In addition, corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards will be introduced, aligning with the goals set out in “Vision 2050”.

The 5th goal is to ensure the autonomy and independence of anti-corruption agencies and to reduce the risk of internal influence.

This goal includes measures aimed at strengthening the autonomy and independence of the IAAC, prosecutors and the judiciary and the restoration of citizens’ trust in courts. The Government will establish a unit to detect stolen assets, conduct financial investigations, protect witnesses, victims, and informants, and provide security to whistle-blowers and develop a recovered assed management policy. Risk assessments and counteractive measures for corruption will be introduced by strengthening the cooperation between the National Audit Office and the IAAC. This represents best international practice and will contribute to the end of the embezzlement of public funds.

The 6th goal is to improve the legal framework

The Extractive Industry Transparency law, law on SOEs, law on Whistle-blower Protection, law on Political Parties are among those laws to be prioritized for endorsement by this strategy. It is mandatory to examine current laws to improve terminologies, sanctioning of public officials for their wrongdoing both in terms of violation and crime. Ensuring implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption and the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force should has no exceptions. Improving the system of monitoring the crime of corruption in connection with money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion and other financial crimes; ensuring international cooperation in extradition of persons charged with corruption, recovery of assets, and increasing the number of mutual legal assistance agreements to the required level is absolutely necessary at this stage. Abolishing immunity at all level in corruption-related cases and establishing a new whistle-blower system and creating an exemption from criminal liability for those who bring evidence of bribery to the authorities are new areas of focus of this goal.

The 7th goal has been defined as improving budget, financial and audit control and reducing the risk of corruption in procurement.

Eliminating double budgeting by creating the blockchain coding for each item of budget discussion, transparency of budget planning, projection, spending, management and control to align with Transparency of Budget Index is crucial. Transparency in income and spending of special funds shall be ensured while pushing towards management by professional fund managers in compliance with international fund management is another focus area of the program. Expenditures not included in the budget, such as paying extra-budgetary expenditures from the SOEs’ budget such as public debt payment, or spending on social welfare, will be prohibited. Public’s right to know, transparency of regulation on tendering, bidding and direct procurement by public offices and SOEs will be ensured. More importantly the objectives are focused on improvement of arbitration and protection of intellectual rights. Ensuring in laws the appointment of the state audit as a plaintiff on behalf of the state will resolve many outstanding burdens accrued at court.

The 8th goal aims to create a transparent, efficient and liable control system for the governance of state-owned and local legal entities in accordance with international standards.

This goal focuses on contract law, clarifying the legal status of state-owned and local companies; reducing the number of appointments made by the state; introducing competitive selection methods based on professional capabilities; and extending contracts based on performance results. These measures have been included to prevent corruption and conflict of interest, to reduce the participation and influence of high-ranking government officials and politically influential individuals, to improve the profitability of state-owned companies, and to support businesses’ professional activities autonomously and independently from the government. In addition, implementing measures such as establishing criteria for liquidation and creation of new SOEs, gradually reducing dependence on the state by trading their shares on the stock exchange, introducing a dividend policy to the state-owned companies, and ensuring oversight of the activities of the natural resources income funds are essential.

The 9th goal will organize educational activities to create long-term cultural change in the fight against corruption.

In addition to raising public awareness of the functions of law enforcement agencies, efforts will be made to support the new whistle-blowing system and protect whistle-blowers. These educational activities are aimed at preserving and protecting children’s ethics and shaping social ethics in the long run. Mongolia will develop a culture of zero tolerance towards corruption from an early age. Educating voters is crucial in the fight against corruption thus, awareness raising on content analyzing and cyber-education by different metrics will become one of the important educational area.

The final 10th goal is the establishment of a corruption prevention system with special functions for disaster prevention, emergency operations and national security.

A legal framework will be established to declassify and disclose all procurement and expenditure not related to the strategic resources of the above-mentioned institutions and defence resources. Emergency management and organizations with special functions such as defense, police, etc. have the power to conceal huge expenses by classifying them as confidential. This carries a high risk of corruption and conflicts of interest. It is, therefore, necessary to reduce the risk of corruption and avail public with information transparency. Here, activities to ensure transparency of expenditure of state budget, foreign donation and funding management and procurement during the state of emergency or during circumstances of different level of emergency classifications will be ensured, without any negligence to public engagement and, refine accountability measures in laws. In addition, a methodology for corruption risk assessment in unforeseen situations that may arise in the future will be developed, while taking precautionary and risk prevention measures.

What now?

According to the law on Development Policy Planning and its Management and the Anti-Corruption law, this strategy should be considered equal to as other 7 medium-term development policies of Mongolia on 1. human development, 2. social development, 3. economic and infrastructure development, 4. Environment, 5. Governance, 6. regional development, and 7. national competitiveness improvement programs.

The IAAC has presented the national anticorruption strategy to parliament. The Standing Committee on Legislations will be responsible for carrying out further public discussions, its transparency and proposal to parliament, following same procedures to adopt the law. The discussion of the document is projected together with anticorruption legislations during spring session.


It is no secret that corruption, abuse of power and positions of authority, and award untoward priority to others, thereby restricting opportunities of citizens and creating inequality. This holds back the country’s development and negatively affects the evaluation of international organizations, leading to a decrease in public trust in the government. We have also failed in building capacity of boutique NGOs, specialized in specific area such as raising awareness or assessing relationship between corruption and macroeconomy, corruption and extractive sector, or corruption and human rights and inclusiveness, or corruption and environment, etc. Implementation was never a key area given focus, rather than adoption of documents. Our drawbacks do not end here.

However, endorsement of this mid-term development document based on public discussion, may give hope to shake current social and economic stagnation if the most important area of implementation of the strategy would follow contextual principles of ideas that developers intended. It is a program that will be implemented not only by the IAAC, but by all government institutions, civil society organizations and private sector companies. As a result, Mongolia could improve its assurance in international arena by showing boost in Corruption Perception Index and improving its credit risk ratings that are high due to country’s risk to corruption in public offices.

About Tegshbayar

D.Tegshbayar is an independent consultant working in Mongolia specialized in financial crimes compliance. Tweets @Davandai

Posted in Corruption, Darambazar Tegshbayar, EITI, Global Indices, Governance, Law, Mining, Mining Governance, Politics, Protest | Leave a comment

Guest Post: The Return of the Holy Emperor

By Tsering Shakya

On 8th March, the Dalai Lama gave the Chakrasamvara Empowerment, a tantric rite of initiation, in Dharamsala, in northern India; the ceremony is said to have been requested by Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar. At the ceremony, slightly lower than the Dalai Lama’s throne, was another throne or raised dais on which a young boy of 7 or 8 years sat. This was the first time this child had appeared in public and it drew the attention of onlookers. Who was the boy? Why was he sitting on a throne next to the Dalai Lama?

In due course, the Dalai Lama mentioned in passing to those present that the boy was the 10th Jetsun Dampa of Mongolia, but his public appearance was not accompanied by any formal announcement.  The fact that the boy sat on a throne next to the Dalai Lama during a tantric initiation ceremony in which he performed a role led to speculation that the ceremony was also the formal announcement or extension of the recognition of the child as the 10th Jetsun Dampa. Biographies of the previous Jetsun Dampas refer to two ritual procedures that were performed by the senior most lama in Lhasa of the Gelugpa school. The first such ritual was the “recognition” (ngos ‘dzin), and the second was the “hair cutting” (skra phud), which is accompanied by the child taking a vow as a novice monk (dge bsnyen sdom pa bzhes).   In this case, the reports of the event in India give no indication that the boy has taken religious or novice vows or that the hair-cutting ceremony had taken in private or during previous visits to Dharamsala, although a spokesman for the Private Office of the Dalai Lama later said that the boy had visited the Dalai Lama there several times in past years.

Identifying a Reincarnation

In an interview with the Tibetan-language service of the Voice of America, Yangteng Rinpoche, an official in the Dalai Lama’s Private Office, said the child had been selected from an initial list of 100,000 boys’ names from Mongolia, and that the list had been reduced in time to 13 names.

The boy has been given a religious name in Tibetan: Tenzin Jampel Choekyi Wangchuk (bstan ‘dzin ‘jam dpal chos kyi dbang phyug.) We know very little about how the recognition process took place and to what extent it involved the Dalai Lama; the spoke person of the Dalai Lama’s office implied that some secrecy was required and that some details had to be kept confidential. In general, recognition by the Dalai Lama of young reincarnate lamas happens often and hardly makes the news. In this case, the recognition attracted global media coverage, particularly in the Indian media, and included a good deal of exaggeration and misunderstanding – some of it even comical, such as one Indian television news channel that proclaimed that the boy could be the next Dalai Lama or would be responsible for selecting the next Dalai Lama.

China, the Dalai Lama, and Mongolia

Much of this speculation is prompted by the ageing Dalai Lama and the looming clash between Tibetan Buddhists and the Chinese government over the selection of the next Dalai Lama. The PRC government has already stated that the final authority for determining the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama rests with Beijing alone. It will undoubtedly choose and appoint the person it declares is the next Dalai Lama, with counter-selection by the Tibetan Diaspora, and the media and public commentators will play a significant role in the crisis of belief, values and political contestation that this conflict will produce.

The present Dalai Lama has said that he will announce his successor in due course, but has said that they will not be born in Chinese-controlled Tibet, indicating that the future Dalai Lama will be found outside China.  The suppositions that the Jetsun Dampa will be involved in the selection of the Dalai Lama or that re-establishing the Jetsun Dampa lineage is somehow designed to prevent Chinese interference in the selection process for the next Dalia Lama have no serious basis. The Chinese claim over the right to select the Dalai lama is embedded in the notion of “sovereignty” and the authority to appoint any religious leaders who assert a claim of authority within territory under the rule of the PRC government – be they Tibetan lamas or Catholic bishops, China insists that they must be approved by the Chinese government and that no external religious authority will be accepted. The PRC government does not, in fact, claim authority over all Tibetan Buddhist traditions, and with regard to Mongolia, as an independent state, China does not make any claim over whom its citizens choose as a religious leader. Of course, there is a question of political influence over religion in Inner Mongolia, but historically Inner Mongolia has less connection to the Jetsun Dampa lineage than in Mongolia. In fact, in the 1920s, Mongols among the elite in Inner Mongolia did not join the effort to create a united Mongolia because they objected to the Jetstun Dampa being anointed as the Bogd khan, or “Holy Emperor”, and opposed the merging of secular and religious authority under the Jetsun Dampa institution. Nevertheless, the PRC government does not make claims over lamas outside of PRC territory. Conjecture that the PRC is concerned about the selection of the Jetsun Dampa is at best speculation and at worst feeding global fear of “Chinese interference”.

History of the Jetsun Dampa

The global news media’s focus on the Dalai Lama’s succession and on the PRC’s interest of it has overlooked the impact of the event in contemporary Mongolia. In particular, observers have failed to notice a number of precedents that have been set. Since the establishment of the Jetsun Dampa lineage in the 17th century, only the first two were ethnic Mongols. The first was the son of Tüsheet Khan, a royal prince and a descendent of Chinggis Khan.  His religious and Tibetan name was Lobsang Tenpé Gyaltsen (Blo bzang bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan, 1635–1723).  He is today commonly known as Zanabazar.   The Mongols recognized him as the reincarnation of Taranatha (1575–1634), a Tibetan lama and scholar who had founded the Jonang tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.   The Gelug school at the time regarded his teachings as heretical, leading Taranatha to flee to Mongol territory, according to some sources, and some oral histories and legends say that he passed away in Mongolia, or even in what is today the area of Ulaanbaatar. According to Mongolian oral sources, he was a guru for Tusheet Khan and Setsen Khan, both of whom later proclaimed Zanabazar as the Jetsun Dampa. Zanabazar visited Tibet twice, first in 1649 and again in 1651. He met the 5th Dalai Lama, but his primary teacher was the 4th Panchen Lama, Lobsang Gyaltsen.

Zanabazar had significant impact on religious and cultural life among Mongols. He was not only a brilliant religious scholar and artist, who left a huge legacy behind him, but was linked to the bloodline of Chinggis Khan, thus having unparalleled importance that no other lamas could match. In today’s Mongolia, Zanabazar’s name is ubiquitous, the Bogd Khan Palace Museum displays primarily works by him, and Mongolians attribute the origins of many of the symbols of contemporary nationalism to his creations – the ‘Soyombo’, the national emblem of modern-day Mongolia, is said to have been designed by Zanabazar and today he is as much an important rallying point for Mongolian cultural nationalists as for his religious standing. The contemporary reverence and admiration for the first Jetsun Dampa does not translate into glorification of his office, however.  Zanabazar is also held responsible for losing Mongol autonomy by bringing them under the rule of the Manchus. From this perspective, for Mongolian nationalists Jetsun Dampa does not represent a heroic defender of the Mongols.

Tibetan Jetsun Dampas

After the first two Jetsun Dampas, bitter squabbling arose between various Mongol princes, and there was a fear that religious and secular authority would coalesce in one family. With Manchu intervention, all subsequent reincarnations were found in Tibet, and thus no Mongol prince was privileged by having the reincarnation taking birth in a Mongol family. From the third lineage-holder onwards until the 9th, all the Jetsun Dampas were ethnic Tibetans. This, however, brought its own problems. The child in each case was taken to Mongolia at an early age and became fully acculturated in Mongol tradition and language, but the 3rd to 7th holders of the lineage did not live long and passed away without having any major impact on Mongol culture or politics. The 4th Jetsun Dampa was recognized in 1770 by the 6th Panchen Lama, who thereby became instrumental in creating a family lineage, since the new child and the 8th Dalai Lama were both from his brother’s family. This perceived nepotism and corruption was one reason why the Manchu Emperor imposed the use of the Golden Urn lottery in 1793 for the selection of the high reincarnate lamas. Imposing the use of the Golden Urn and insisting that the child should be from Tibet meant that the Manchus were able to sever ties between the Jetsun Dampa hierarchs and the Chinggis Khan lineage, which otherwise would have provided any future Jetsun Dampa with uniquely powerful legitimation. The 5th till the 8th Jetsun Dampa were selected using Gold Urn instituted by the Manchu. The 6th died shortly after contracting smallpox, having never even travelled within Mongol territory, and the 7th Jetsun Dampa died at the age of 19 in Tibet.

The 8th Jetsun Dampa, whose Tibetan and religious name was Ngawang Lobsang Choekyi Nyima Tenzin Lodroe Wangchuk, was born near Lhasa and moved to Urga at the age of 5 with his family. His family had kinship ties to the 12th Dalai Lama. His younger brother later became an important figure in Mongolia in his own right and was recognized as the Chojin Lama Lubsankhaidav, the state oracle of the Mongols. In 1904 the 8th constructed the Choijin Lama temple (brtse phel gling in Tibetan) in honour of his brother in what is now Ulaanbaatar.

Although recognitions were carried out by the Dalai Lama, Tibetan biographies do not show the Dalai Lama and Jetsun Dampa forming teacher-student relations, which would have implied much more significant ties between the two institutions.  The 8th Jetsun Dampa did not have a good relationship with the 13th Dalai Lama. When in 1905, in the aftermath of the British invasion of Tibet, the 13th Dalai Lama fled to Mongolia, his arrival was not welcomed by the Jetsun Dampa and his court. The Jetsun Dampa refused to leave the city to welcome the Dalai lama, whom he referred to as an “uninvited guest”. When the two met, their courtiers feuded over which should have the higher throne, with the Mongol entourage insisting that the Dalai Lama should be seated lower since he was in the Jetsun Dampa’s territory. In the end, the conflict was resolved by the two lamas sitting face-to-face on Western style chairs. The Tibetan biography of the 13th Dalai Lama records that the Jetsun Dampa’s courtiers were unhappy with the amount of donations and gifts lavished by Mongol princes on the visiting Dalai Lama and depicts the Jetsun Dampa as driven by jealousy and rage by the presence of the Tibetan leader in Urga, then the capital of Mongols.

Empires to Nations

In 1911, following the fall of the Qing dynasty, the Mongol revolt and the declaration of Mongolian independence, the Jetsun Dampa was declared the new theocratic ruler of Mongolia, with the title Bogd Khan, meaning “Holy Emperor”, elevating his status of that of the political leader of newly declared independent nation as well as its prime religious figure. This elevation of the Jetsun Dampa to royal status was not welcomed by everyone. Some saw this as the creation of a theocratic state, and others questioned the Bogd Khan’s personal fitness for the office; he had a terrible reputation as a womanizer and was said to be syphilitic. There was also no escaping from the fact that he was not an ethnic Mongol. Some began to refer to the new Emperor as a “wretched Tibetan beggar”. A Swedish missionary living in Urga at that time described the brief rule of the Bogd Khan from 1911 to 1921 as “a good season in which wealth abounded [and] Mongolia prospered as never before”, but that description was deceptive, as the Bogd Khan’s Mongolia faced challenges from all sides. The newly established Republican government of China entered Mongolia and restored Chinese rule, and it was only with the help of a White Russian army fleeing Russian revolutionary forces that the Bogd Khan’s government was able to expel the Chinese garrison. The presence of anti-Soviet groups invited military intervention by the Soviets, which in turn led to the establishment of what was only the second communist revolution in the world, and the first revolutionary government in Asia. The Bodg Khan’s government was deposed, and the new People’s Revolutionary Government was established in Mongolia in 1921.

The Jetsun Dampa in the People’s Republic of Mongolia

Three years later, in May 1924, the 8th Jetsun Dampa passed away. The Buddhist clergy asked the new government for permission to search for the new reincarnation. The new government discussed the issue, with their Comintern advisors who were not averse to installing a new Jetsun Dampa, given his popularity with the masses: the lama could be a valuable conduit for spreading revolutionary messages, and the record shows that the Comintern agreed to consult with the 13th Dalai Lama. In 1926 a Comintern-sponsored delegation arrived in Lhasa and met with the Tibetan leader. Records do not show how discussions over the new reincarnation proceeded, but finally, in 1929, following instructions from the Soviets and advice from the Comintern, the new revolutionary government of Mongolia made it illegal to recognise any reincarnation of the Jetsun Dampa and the sale or distribution of his image was made a criminal offence. Following the example of Stalin’s Red Terror, most of the monasteries in Mongolia were destroyed and monks and trulkus massacred.  The followers of the Jetsun Dampa nevertheless searched for the 9th reincarnation, but only after the 1933 death of the 13th Dalai Lama, since he was politically astute and cognizant that the new government of Mongolia had outlawed such recognition. In 1935 Reting Rinpoche, the Regent of Tibet, conferred recognition on a child as the 9th Jetsun Dampa. Until 1990, the 9th Jetsun Dampa led an obscure and unremarkable life. In 1959, like thousands of Tibetans he fled to India where he lived as an ordinary Tibetan refugee; he married twice and is said to have had seven children. His presence among the Tibetan refugees was hardly noticed by the Tibetans. And without a large Mongolian Diaspora, the 9th Jetsun Dampa lacked patronage and support, and would have disappeared into obscurity had the democratic revolution of Mongolia taken place in the early 1990s. It was only then that some Mongolian lamas renewed contact with the Dalai Lama and learned of the existence of the reincarnation of the 9th Jetsun Dampa.   In the mid-1990s, he was invited by the Dalai Lama to move to Dharamsala and began preparations for his eventual journey to Mongolia. In 2010 he was allowed to move to Mongolia and was given Mongolian citizenship. However, since he had had no contact with Mongolians for most of his life, he could not converse in Mongolian. On his return to Gandantegchinlen monastery in Ulaanbaatar, he may have been revered by the monks, but he remained virtually unknown and unable to communicate with local followers, apart from a few Tibetan speakers; he was very much isolated and too beset with ill health to be an effective spiritual leader of contemporary Mongolians. He passed away in 2012.

In the 1970s Soviet Union found a new use for Buddhism: it could be instrumentalized to counter American-supported Buddhist Organizations. It therefore established a Soviet-backed international Buddhist organization headquartered at Gandantegchinlen. The organization’s first international meeting was attended by the current Dalai Lama in 1979, drawing the condemnation of the US and China.  This was the first time since 1929 that there had been an attempt to revive some Buddhist traditions in Mongolia, and it led to the re-opening of Gandantegchinlen Monastery with a small number of monks.

Tsering Shakya on the Jebtsundampa in Contemporary Mongolia

About Tsering Shakya

Tsering Shakya is a historian of Tibet and an Associate Professor at the Department of Asian Studies/ School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, BC, Canada.

Posted in Buddhism, China, Dalai Lama, Religion, Tibet, Tsering Shakya | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Mongolian Visuals – Capturing the City in Rapid Changes

By Mend-Amar Baigalmaa

In December 2019, when the decision to demolish the Natural History Museum was announced, many residents of the city fought with the slogan #SaveTheMuseum, and professionals led by G. Ochbayar—researcher of the Ulaanbaatar City Museum appealed to the court to keep the building and not to demolish it, unfortunately, the action was unsuccessful. The memories of many residents of the city who visited museums when they were kids have been destroyed by the demolition. I believe its residents of the Ulaanbaatar and their memories make are the city. This event led, my wife and I, to create the social media page Mongolian Visuals in January 2020 to share those memories through photographs, especially for the younger generation of Mongolia.

Mongolia is the 19th largest country in the world and the 7th largest in Asia, which covers an area of 1,564,116 square kilometres. And the fact that, half of the population lives in the capital of city, Ulaanbaatar, is a huge problem. To that extent, it was a shame to see a bunch tight packed buildings being built on public property such as school grounds, children’s playgrounds, and any space that was close to the city centre. And when the spaces ran out, Ulaanbaatar’s old and historic buildings were destroyed and soulless new tall buildings were built in their place.


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Short History of Ulaanbaatar

Ulaanbaatar—the city on the steppes has a history that extends back more than 380 years, and even with that extensive much of the netizens have recollection of that past. The most vivid memory most of us know only reaches back a few decades. The city is rapidly changing in front of our eyes, and our – admittedly – short collective memory is deteriorating as new changes brought about by poor urban planning have made the city increasingly uninhabitable, with increased smog and traffic congestions. When Mongolia became the second communist country in the world to declare the People’s Republic of Mongolia in 1924, the capital city Urga was renamed as Ulaanbaatar, which means Red Hero. And this Red Hero is unique because this new city enabled traditional nomadic Mongolians to adopt the settlement culture.

Subsequently, in 1946, after World War II, large-scale construction works began in Ulaanbaatar, with the construction of Sukhbaatar square and many other surrounding buildings, and the general plan of the city began to be implemented in stages to accommodate more than 500,000 residents. In the late 1980s, the communist regime collapsed in many countries, and Mongolia has not been spared. Since the democratic revolution in 1990, Mongolians have been able to own private property, travel freely abroad, and engage in multilateral free trade.


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Ulaanbaatar in transition period

When I first moved to Ulaanbaatar as two-year-old with my mom from Germany, where I was born, the city was in the process of gradually transitioning to capitalism, with new shops selling electronics, souvenirs, and hairdressers all on the first floor of its old socialist-era apartments. And I grew up during this rapid transition in the mid-’90s. The first things caught my eye from that time were that the old model buses and trolleybuses of the Soviet LIAZ, ZIU, and Czechoslovak Karosa, which were introduced during communism and were still used in Ulaanbaatar. Slowly but surely most of the soviet era buses got beaten out and was replaced by Korean Hyundai and Japanese Nissan buses. You could have still seen some old soviet buses in the city till the 2010s but there are no longer around.

One of the other things that represented this shift was how eager Mongolians were at the time to adopt western fashion and music, particularly hip-hop and alternative rock music, which spread quickly among young people and can be seen in the photos. As the listeners of this new genre of music increased, so did how people dressed, especially young Mongolians started wearing baggy jeans and clothes similar to that of Hip-hop culture in the USA, which was very much a separation of traditional Mongolian clothing of Deels and boots or just a suit tie that was common in the communist era. However, now there is almost a shift in Mongolians toward embracing Mongolian traditional clothing style.


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Sins of the Modern Revolutionist

Some of what I mentioned are still a common sight today but not the ones that should matter the most. One constant in the 1990s was that most people still lived in old communist apartment buildings, and from the apartments, you could see the ger district and smoke from coal-fired stoves bellowed hazy smog as young children went to nearby wells to get water, but in the 1990s, the ger district had actual Mongolian gers, and now most of the inhabitants have four walled houses. Apart from this, it is especially hard to find images that actually show all of this during that time, but with the few available images, they tell so much.

As a matter of fact, Mongolia had a history of successfully preserving many of its visual publications and images of communist times before the 1990s. Most of the images made in the communist era are now housed in national archives, museums, universities, and other government institutions. However, it abandoned the practice of preserving images from its past, and many images from early democratic Mongolia may have been lost. Because most of the posters from the early democratic era in the 1990s were difficult to find or were simply lost as the former institutions stopped doing what they were best at, the posters that I found were mostly kept by individuals. Many of the posters was preserved by Irja Halász, one of the first foreign press journalists to cover Mongolia’s transition from communism to democracy and later we made the book Posters of Mongolia in Transition.


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What is Mongolian Visuals

Mongolian Visuals currently has 46.6K Instagram followers and over 21K Facebook followers, with photos ranging from Mongolia and Ulaanbaatar during the socialist and democratic eras to historical buildings, culture, and fine arts. And Mongolian Visuals is registered as NGO (Non-Governmental Organization), and we have become available now to implement projects in wider areas. The main objectives of the NGO are to raise public awareness of intellectual property, especially about copyrighted images, to promote urban culture through photographs, and to categorize all the photos related to Mongolia and Ulaanbaatar.

About Mend-Amar

Mend-Amar has a background in Graphic Design and Multimedia. His research fields are mostly in urban photography and posters. Besides curating Mongolian Visuals, he is also a co-host of the podcast Live from Red Hero. He is an alumnus of the ACM (Arts Council of Mongolia) Fellowship Program, and his team successfully held a photo exhibition called Unseen Ulaanbaatar within the program. He aims to study for his master’s degree in urban culture and photography in the near future and keep going with what he does now.

Translation by: Anand Tumurtogoo

Posted in Anand Tumurtogoo, Architecture, Change, Curios, Heritage, History, Mend-Amar Baigalmaa, Society and Culture, Ulaanbaatar | Leave a comment

Guest post: Mongolia’s Success in Team Sports

By Zorigtkhuu Bat-Erdene 

On April 1, 2023, the Mongolian male basketball team repeated their historic success by winning the 3×3 Asian Cup, defeating the Australian team twice, the first time being in 2017. This remarkable achievement has sparked widespread celebration among Mongolians, as basketball holds a special place in the hearts of its people.

In addition, Delgernyam Davaasambuu has emerged as a star, earning the title of MVP in this 2023 Asian Cup game.

Breaking the mold: Success in team sports

Despite our small population, Mongolians have always had a passion for sports. Historically, we have excelled in individual sports such as wrestling, boxing, and shooting, earning medals at the Olympic Games. However, there has always been a perception that Mongolians were not as good at team sports. But in 2020, the Mongolian women’s basketball team made history at the Tokyo Olympics by participating in the 3×3 basketball game, a significant milestone for Mongolian basketball.

The success of the Mongolian basketball teams in 3×3 is undoubtedly a testament to their hard work, dedication, and passion for the sport. However, these alone may not be enough for the country to excel in team sports on a consistent basis. One of the crucial factors that enabled the recent success can be traced to sponsorship. The 3×3 games are sponsored by many organizations in Mongolia, and the main sponsor is Mongolia’s biggest national mining company Energy Resources. Often team sports require more funding than individual sports, thus Mongolia might have lacked consistent success. Although local companies and politicians always sponsored the teams, and have kept the game going domestically international games require bigger funding for training, equipment and travel costs.

Another factor is the effective management of the association. In the past, association rivalries hindered the teams’ progress, preventing them from participating in FIBA games for several years, between 2015 to 2022 (I have written about the wrestling association rivalry). However, since the associations have united under one, Mongolia has been able to compete in the pre-qualifying games for the Asian Cup 5×5 and secured spots for future qualifying games. A well-managed association allows the teams to access the resources they need to compete at the highest levels and ensures that the players are not hindered by political infighting or lack of support. This united front is necessary in ensuring that the players are supported and prepared for international competition.

Mongolian Mike

I am thrilled to see our basketball players making waves internationally. The success of Mongolian basketball players is not limited to the national team. Mongolian Mike, or Enkhiin Od Sharavjamts, the son of respected basketball player Sharavjamts, is the first Mongolian to play in the NCAA and perhaps on his way to the NBA. Additionally, several Mongolians play in professional teams abroad, while other young players follow in Mongolian Mike’s footsteps. At only 20 years old, Enkhiin Od Sharavjamts is a young and upcoming player with a bright future ahead of him.

The evolution of basketball in Mongolia

Growing up in Mongolia, basketball was always a beloved pastime for many of us. Even now, as Mongolians living in Canada, we continue to play the sport with other Mongolians in our community. Although we may not be as skilled as the younger generation, our love for the game remains as strong as ever.

Basketball was introduced to Mongolia during the 1940s when Russian and Chinese experts brought the game to the country. The Mongolian Basketball Association was established in 1962, but it wasn’t until 1994 that the association underwent a restructuring that adopted American basketball. In recent years, the skills of Mongolian basketball players have been elevated. I distinctly recall  Couch Pak, a Korean who has trained several young Mongolian players to a high level of skills, who was respected greatly in the Mongolian basketball scene. Around 2010, we started bringing in USA legionnaires, who also have helped sharpen the players’ skills. We are really seeing the culmination of many years.

Success in basketball at international games, and individual successes in places like the USA, are important for many reasons. It helps to showcase the skills and abilities of Mongolian athletes on a global scale, inspiring young Mongolians to pursue their dreams and passions. It can also help to raise the profile of Mongolia as a nation, attracting interest from investors, tourists, and potential partners. It also challenges stereotypes and misconceptions about our country, showing that we are capable of more than a plain steppe or just being associated with the legacy of Chinggis Khan (although nothing is wrong with these associations, it is a single-sided image, I think).  I look forward to the days I watch a Mongolian players play at NBA.

About Zorigtkhuu

Bat-Erdene ZORIGTKHUU is a mining professional currently working at Gibraltar mine in BC, Canada. He holds a Master of Applied Science degree in Mining Engineering from the University of British Columbia, where his research focused on Mining Local Procurement (Local Content) in Mongolia. Before pursuing his academic career, Zorigtkhuu worked for the Mongolian Mining Corporation, in Mongolia.

Zorigtkhuu’s experience in the mining industry, combined with his academic research, has given him a unique perspective on mining local procurement and its impact on the industry. He continues to be passionate about finding sustainable solutions for the mining industry and improving the lives of local communities affected by mining operations.

Posted in Cultural Diplomacy, Demography, Diaspora, Mining, Pop Culture, Population, Public Opinion, Society and Culture, Sports, Tokyo 2020, United States, Younger Mongolians, Zorigtkhuu Bat-Erdene | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Canada and Mongolia – The Enhanced Development Partnership that Never Was

By Stephen Brown

In the early 2010s, the Canadian government, under Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, developed a special interest in Mongolia. In 2014, after a flurry of diplomatic visits, Canada designated Mongolia a “country of focus” for its development assistance. This decision placed Mongolia on Canada’s list of 25 countries in which it would concentrate its foreign aid and committed Canada to building a privileged development relationship with Mongolia. But major aid never really flowed, and any signs of an enhanced partnership had fizzled out by 2022. What went wrong?

A weak starting point

Canada did not have a bilateral development program in Mongolia in 2014, when it decided to concentrate its aid there. It had only opened an embassy in Ulaanbaatar in 2008, at the urging of Canadian mining companies. It thus had limited experience and knowledge of development issues on the ground. As a result, it was poorly placed to quickly build up an aid program.

A poorly designed program

Canada wanted its aid to focus on the extractive sector in order to bring benefits to its own mining companies. Within a couple of years, Canada launched two major aid projects worth Cdn$27 million, both of which supported the extractive sector.

It is hard to build a development program almost from scratch. And there must have been a lot of pressure to get projects up and running fast. The Canadian government conducted little consultation with local actors and, rather than hold an open call for proposals, awarded the grants to a Canadian for-profit consultancy (then known as Agriteam, now Alinea International) and a Canadian NGO (Canadian Executive Service Organization [CESO], now Catalyste+).

Both projects focused on bringing Canadians to Mongolia to train local people. For instance, CESO sent 77 Canadians to Mongolia, almost all on short-term missions. This form of aid, capacity building, has been widely criticized for many decades for being expensive and not especially effective. While I was conducting interviews in Ulaanbaatar in 2018 for a research project, several Mongolians criticized the projects for bringing in only Canadians, most of whom knew nothing about the Mongolian context. One Mongolian, whose organization received Canadian “experts”, complained that “mostly one has to train them first”. Why not use the funds to hire Mongolians or people of other nationalities who have more relevant knowledge and experience? Or give the money to Mongolian organizations to organize their own activities?

It could be that these projects achieved some important results. An official evaluation would be required to provide clear answers. However, the design of the projects and their chosen aid modality suggest that they were flawed from the start. Even though the two projects have ended, the websites of Global Affairs Canada and the two organizations have trouble making a convincing case that the projects had much impact.

A confusing “theory of change”

A Canadian Embassy official in Ulaanbaatar flatly admitted to me, “We’re here because of the mining”. But it was never clear that more mining would reduce poverty, which is the legislated central purpose of Canadian aid. In theory, the Mongolian government could use the extra mining-related revenue to finance poverty reduction programs. However, its record in doing so was rather weak. Even the World Bank has warned that Mongolia has becoming overly “addicted” to mineral wealth. Had Canada wanted to help diversify the economy and pursue more promising paths to poverty reduction, the government of Mongolia had a long list of other sectors in which it was seeking assistance.

The same Canadian Embassy official stated that “The aid program is designed to help Canadian investment”. However, it was also unclear how the mining-focused aid program would actually benefit Canadian companies. Assuming it succeeded in improving the investment environment in the extractive sector, which is far from clear, Canadian companies could make more profits.

However, even before Mongolia became a “country of focus”, Julian Dierkes pointed out in a blog post that there was hardly any significant Canadian involvement in mining in Mongolia, with one notable exception – Ivanhoe, later renamed Turquoise Hill. As he noted, it was “a stretch to call Ivanhoe Mines a Canadian company in any aspect other than its mailing address and the location for its corporate headquarters”. Moreover, it has since been sold to Rio Tinto, a British-Australian behemoth. So there aren’t actually any major Canadian mining interests in Mongolia. And Canadian companies can receive support from the trade section at the Canadian embassy there. As in the past, they can obtain licences without support from the Canadian aid program.

Canada’s “flavour of the month” approach to development assistance

For decades, no matter which party is in power in Ottawa, the Canadian government tends to pursue a “flavour of the month” approach to development assistance. It frequently designates new sectors and new countries on which it wants to focus its aid. Much of this is about ministerial pet projects and branding. As a result, when a new minister or a new government takes over, priorities shift. After the Liberals, under Justin Trudeau, were elected in 2015, they de-emphasized the place of mining in the aid program and recast the overall aid program as “feminist”, with an overarching focus on women, girls and gender equality. They also eliminated the practice of maintaining an (ever-changing) list of countries of focus. As a result, both Mongolia and mining soon lost their place of privilege in the Canadian aid program.

Mongolia never was anywhere near being a top-25 recipient of Canadian aid. In 2020, it came in 46th. And Canada never became a significant donor from the Mongolian perspective. In 2020, it provided only 1% of the bilateral aid Mongolia received from Western countries, a smaller share than Hungary and Poland.

What went wrong? Ostensibly, Canada’s enhanced development partnership with Mongolia was poorly planned and executed, propelled by political and commercial interests rather than poverty reduction concerns and aid effectiveness principles. And then Canada dropped the partnership before it ever took off.

About Stephen Brown

Stephen Brown is a Professor at the School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa. Much of his research focuses on foreign aid, especially Canada’s. This blog entry draws from his article “Mining self-interest? Canadian foreign aid and the extractive sector in Mongolia”, published in the Canadian Journal of Development Studies.

Posted in Bilateral Aid, Canada, CIRDI, Development, International Relations, Mining, Mining, Mining Governance, Public Policy, Research on Mongolia, Stephen Brown | 3 Comments

Political Predictions and Why I Struggle with Making Them

By Julian Dierkes

People expect political predictions from me as a longtime Mongolia observer and country specialist. Even when I feel relatively certain of some predictions I would make, there is always that nagging doubt that strange things might happen and I will look foolish for having made the wrong prediction. Oh well, that is the nature of this game of country risk assessment and understanding of a political system, I suppose. Let me think through some current examples to illustrate.

New/Snap Elections in 2023?

You have heard the rumours! There are all kinds of constitutional change discussions afoot to enable snap elections.

My prediction: less than 10% probability that there will be a general parliamentary election this year. Phrased differently, if there were 100 alternative universes playing out political developments in Mongolian in 2023, I would expect to see elections in 10 of them.

What would I base that prediction on?

  1. I have heard those rumours before! In fact, it sometimes feels like Mongolian democracy is lurching from crisis to crisis, at least roughly since the July 1 riots in 2008. But that is actually not true when we look back. Mongolian democracy has been stable over that period. Three parliamentary elections (2012, ’16, ’20) since then, also four presidential elections (2009, ’13, ’17, ’21). Two shifts in party origins of president (MPRP->DP in 2009, DP->MPP in 2021). Several coalition governments, but also transitions of power (eg. 2016 DP->MPP). Those are not features of a democracy in crisis even when many people (esp. Mongolians) seem to experience it as such.
  2. While constitutional changes are easier to enact in Mongolia (Chpt 6 of the constitution) than in many democracies, they do require a 3/4 majority in parliament. That means that even if all MPP MPs were in favour (any efforts at amendments without the MPP would currently obviously be doomed), that would barely be enough votes for an amendment (minimum 57).
  3. Who is actually in favour of a snap election? Voters? Protesters in December did not demand a snap election, they were holding the current government to account on corruption. The MPP? I doubt it. It seems unlikely that they would increase their seat count in a new election, so why would the party favour a new election. The DP? They are in such chaos that a) it is hard to think of the party having any perspective, and b) they seem unlikely to benefit from dissatisfaction with the MPP. KhUN? Well, they only have one vote in parliament, so they could only be in favour of constitutional amendments together with the MPP and is that an alliance they want to form?
  4. Constitutional amendments? We have often heard those debated! I cannot quite take the proposals from frm Pres N Enkhbayar all that seriously since he is fairly removed from actual political decisions these days. There are enough other alternatives floating around, but I do not see one that significant numbers of decisions-makers or civil society are coalescing around.
  5. I personally do not see any urgent need for constitutional change, even though that opinion obviously counts for very little in this process. I commented on some of the proposals that were floating around in summer 2022.
  6. Finally, consideration of constitutional amendments halts all other parliamentary business. There are legislative projects that the MPP and MPs have that they want to complete with an eye toward the (regularly scheduled) 2024 election that would be derailed by another round of constitutional debates.

Oyun-Erdene Prime Minister until Summer 2024?

I’d give this a likelihood of perhaps 15%. In other words, I am not expecting L Oyun-Erdene to lead the MPP into the summer 2024 election.

Some reasons:

  1. Again, history. N Enkhbayar served a whole term (2000-04), but he is the only example of that. Khurelsukh was PM for 3 1/3 years, Oyun-Erdene has been in office for just over 2 years now, but is there any reason to think that he will break this pattern of limited terms of prime ministers? His term has not been so wildly successful to suggest that, I think. One of 15 PMs under the current constitution served a whole term? So, something less than 7%? By that reckoning, I am actually giving Oyun-Erdene some chance by pegging that at 15%
  2. Why do PMs not serve longer even when their party commands a majority in parliament as the MPP has since 2016? Factional politics (Erdenebat->Khurelsukh), personal ambition (Khurelsukh->Oyun-Erdene to enable Khurelsukh’s presidential candidacy), patronage, ie power party figures want “their” turn. I see nothing in the current configuration that suggests that this pattern has changed. Some observers think that candidates are already waiting in the wings.
  3. The MPP is fairly comfortable with this kind of turnover. That comfort was perhaps at the root of Enkhbayar’s spin-off following his failed re-election bid for the presidency in 2009, ie he was expecting to be a leader for a more sustained period, but much of the party wanted a change.
  4. Political mood. Oyun-Erdene has been a somewhat successful manager of cabinet, both as cabinet secretary as well as PM. He has some identifiable projects like Vision 2050, e-government in general, the “New Recovery Plan”, but these projects have seemingly not endeared him to voters entirely. Or, so the April and December 2022 protests would lead me to believe.

Protests this Spring?

I will give this an 80% likelihood, but no prediction on the likely size of such protests, their focus, duration or impact.


  1. Spring is protest season. Something about thawing from the long, cold winter seems to get people out on the streets, and unhappy people even more so. There are lots of examples from the democratic revolution in 1990 itself (though it got going in the winter) to the April 2o22 protests.
  2. The issues that gave rise to the April and December 2022 protests have not gone away. The issues that I mean here are some kind of general dissatisfaction with the lack of delivery on government promises, particular on employment and welfare (see 4. above on Oyun-Erdene’s chances of serving out his term).
  3. It is unlikely that the corruption cases that seemed to have prompted the December 2022 protests will be resolved in a credible way by then, but I would not assume that these cases themselves will spark protests again, though they might.

In this prediction, I give no credence to all the claims about protesters being bought. I felt somewhat vindicated last December in terms of taking protesters focus on corruption seriously, instead of dismissing these protests as political manipulation, by the way.

Challenges in Making Predictions

Lack of Evidence

Compared to many other democracies, we are working with a lack of evidence in the case of Mongolia that make predictions more of a guessing game. Despite the efforts of various polling organizations, polls map less of the political reality than would be ideal in making informed guesses.

Lack of a Herd

There are not that many people I can talk to about Mongolian politics in a disinterested analytical fashion. Some of that analysis should rely on swarm or, in the case of Mongolia, more fittingly, herd intelligence. Exchanges of views, disagreements on interpretation, etc. would all strengthen my analyses and give me greater confidence in predictions. But, there are only a limited number of people who follow developments closely enough for me to engage them in these kind of conversations.

Fragmentation of Power

I encounter non-Mongolian business people occasionally who tell me that they’ve met some important figure (vice-ministers are mentioned especially frequently in this regard) who is going to help make their project happen.

Here’s an example:

“Update” a year later (in English translation): work in progress. involving Minister N Uchral no less, him of recent “Law on Social Media and Human Rights” fame).

I can very much imagine that someone at Starlink met N Uchral or some other official who reassured them that implementation of this business venture is just an MOU away. Well, it turns out that that is not the case because political power in Mongolia is highly fragmented. The intraparty divisions and factions as well as the siloing of ministerial tasks means that even the prime minister would be hard-pressed to actually “make something happen”.

What does all of that mean for my predictions?

I have a lot of contacts in Mongolian politics who will tell me that “that this minister is about to be sacked”, or “that MP is about to be arrested”, or even, “there will be a snap election in three months”. They are not lying to me, but they are representing only one particular base or angle on decision-making. So I actively resist letting such “inside” information sway my judgement of the likelihood of events, as exciting as it sometimes seems that I have heard it from “a reliable source” and maybe even heard it first.

So, when I do make predictions, be kind. And remember that I am trying to make predictions, not endorsing developments. And I try to be transparent about what factors I am considering in making those predictions as I have in this post.

Also, question the assumptions I am making or the logic by which I arrive at my conclusions or the evidence that I am relying on.

When I get stuff wrong, be kind and keep reading my attempts at providing research and evidence-informed analyses of contemporary developments!

Posted in Constitution, Democracy, Ikh Khural 2024, Law, Politics, Reflection, Research on Mongolia | Tagged | Leave a comment

Higher Education Policy: Governance and Endowments

By Julian Dierkes

On Nov 14 2022 I was invited to speak to the parliamentary working group for draft education laws.

I was really pleased to accept this opportunity, in part because it is a chance for me to merge my research passion for contemporary Mongolia with my administrative practice as a Senior Associate Dean, Students in UBC’s Faculty of Graduate + Postdoctoral Studies.

These two focus areas of my work have also come together in many conversations that I’ve had with Orkhon Gantogtokh who is pursuing her PhD in Education Studies at UBC and has also recently written about higher education in Mongolia (see e.g. East Asia Forum)


One of the topics that I prepared to speak about was university governance. Over the years, I had heard many complaints about political appointees at Mongolian universities and their lack of academic sensitivity and understanding, but also professors’ resentment at having non-academics appointed to the presidency of their universities in particular or at not being involved in that appointment at all.

In my presentation to the UIX’ working group I had thus expected to provide an overview of UBC governance structures to compare to those relevant to Mongolian public universities. But, somewhat to my surprise, I found fairly few structural differences. The main difference is probably that the UBC Board of Governors does put together hiring committees for appointments to some of the main university positions, including those of the president and the provost. Given the participation of elected representatives of university stakeholders (in UBC’s case, faculty, staff, students, and alumni), there is more indirect participation in hiring decisions by those stakeholders.

But in principle, the UBC Board of Governors as constituted pursuant to the BC Universities Act, is subject to some significant potential political meddling, as it is alleged more regularly at Mongolian institutions. However, such  meddling occurs relatively rarely, at least when it comes to specific decisions. Once political appointees join the Board (currently serving members of the provincial and national parliament, and bureaucrats are excluded by the law), they appear to adopt a professional ethic that looks out for the institution’s interests more than the partisan interests of the current provincial government, probably recognizing that political meddling in university affairs has a pretty immediate and almost always detrimental effect on research and rankings.

In my presentation to the committee, I thus had to conclude that the governance structures of UBC and Mongolian public universities are surprisingly similar at a constitutional and structural level, so that differences are largely to be found in practices, not institutions or laws.


To my surprise, the committee then proceeded to ask me about endowments held by the university. My connection to UBC’s endowments is peripheral, though there are a number of graduate awards and fellowships that draw an endowments for funding, and my own position (Keidanren Chair in Japanese Research) is largely funded out of an endowment. But even in my work with the funding portfolio at the Faculty of Graduate + Postdoctoral Studies, I am by no means an expert on endowments.

The questions about endowments came up after I presented a snapshot of UBC’s budget. I thought such a snapshot was important to provide even though I also found this somewhat embarrassing as UBC’s annual budget of over $3b amounts to about 40% of the total Mongolian state budget. At the most general level, UBC’s budget breaks down to about $1b provincial funding, $1b in tuition income, and the remainder is made up of endowment income and other funding (research funding, largely federal, etc.).

How do endowments work?

There is a lot of detailed information on the UBC endowment available on the UBC Finance website.

Basically, however, an endowment is a financial account that is held to benefit a particular purpose where only the income from the original amount can be used for that purpose. [Obviously, the Wikipedia page on financial endowments offers much more carefully worded and comprehensive definitions than I will provide here.] Imagine setting $100 aside for a particular purpose and then restricting yourself to only spending the income (interest, investment income, etc.) from that original $100 for that purpose. That set-up is meant to be permanent, i.e. will last “forever”. There are general endowments that just return income to the overall university budget and there are very specific endowments that generate income for a specific purpose, say a lecture series, or research in a particular area.

While versions of endowments seem to be common in many different cultures (often taking the shape of endowments of religious activities, for example), the important role that endowments play for contemporary universities is peculiar to some European universities (Oxbridge most notably), but also across North America, though much more so in the U.S. than in Canada.

There are all kinds of policies that encourage philanthropic giving, esp. in the U.S., most prominently in the form of tax write-offs, i.e. deductions from taxable income for certain kinds of donations. There is also a well-established culture of philanthropic giving that may well be linked to perceptions of entrepreneurial activities vs state responsibilities.

Endowments to Support Mongolian Universities?

I would have to say that I am pretty skeptical that enabling endowments really would change the operations of Mongolian universities.

I could imagine such an impact if there was a decision, for example, to set aside some state (mining) income for such endowments. There have been several proposals/implementations of sovereign wealth funds for Mongolia. Some sovereign wealth funds are actually similar to an endowment in that they are meant to be a permanent fund generated by non-renewable income that is intended in tern to generate renewable income through investment but only the profits from that investment. One could imagine a version where a Mongolian sovereign wealth fund generates an income to support education, including endowments or budget contributions to public universities, but that strikes me as fairly unlikely. The perennial agitation for reductions in tuition fees at state universities or scholarship support might lend itself more to an endowment generated by mining activities, for example, but given the near-total reliance of the state universities on state budget, an endowment of scholarship activities would essentially amount to endowment to the universities.

So, private individual or corporate donations to Mongolian universities to support ongoing activities in perpetuity? That pre-supposes so many different aspects: tax code, an interest in or culture of philanthropic giving, an entire machinery of university investment officers and account and budget systems to spend that money, etc. And, if not linked to a sovereign wealth fund, is the likelihood of sizeable donations high enough to invest in all of these pre-requirements? Sure, I could imagine some private and corporate interest in endowing activities focused on mining or minerals at MUST, to take a somewhat plausible example, but note that vast sums are needed to make endowments work. Obviously, the financial situation is quite different in Mongolia, but typical pay-out rates in Canada have been in the range of 2-4% for the past decades of relatively low inflation. So, a donation of $1m into an endowment only generates an income in the tens of thousands of dollars. Applying that analogy to Mongolia (at different interest/inflation rates), it is unclear to me that there would be enough interest to endow, say mining engineering activities with the multiple billions of tugrik that would actually enable a sustained program of research, teaching, scholarships or whatever else the purpose is.

Sure, if it was simple to create the structures to enable such endowments, it would be good to do so, even for rare/small amounts, but that does not strike me as simple.

Note for example, that many OECD countries have recognized the extent to which the excellence of U.S. universities has been partly fuelled by endowment incomes, but even where some changes have been made in tax codes, etc. that has not unleashed massive amounts of giving into university (or other) endowments.

Endowments of Mongolian Studies at International Universities

You will not be surprised to read that I find an endowment of Mongolian research activities at universities around the world entirely plausible. I obviously occasionally fantasize about what I could do with a $1m, nay $5m endowment at UBC for example. A professorship in research on Mongolia? Research project funds for several decades? Scholarship funds for graduate students conducting research on Mongolia? A sizeable announcement would not only make UBC even more visible with research on Mongolia than even this blog can ;-), but would also establish research on Mongolia in some permanence. The difference to considering endowments for Mongolian institutions where a similar amount of money could arguably have a much greater impact, is that all the systems for endowments, including the account, investment and tax measures, are all set up at UBC already allowing for an endowment to benefit research on Mongolia in a relatively straightforward and direct manner.

If you are interested in making a sizeable donation, please do get in touch.

Posted in Education, Higher Education, Public Policy, Taxes | Tagged | Leave a comment

Aspirational Statements as Legislation

By Julian Dierkes

With the “Protecting Human Rights on Social Media Law” we have seen another round of what seems like fairly misguided legislation. Tegshbayar has already questioned the need for an expedited process and other aspects for this law. This misguidedness fits into a longer pattern on legislation that is not followed up with implementation and controversies over similar laws in recent years that touch on freedom of speech and other human rights.

Even though Pres. Khurelsukh vetoed the law and we will have to see whether parliament attempts to override that veto, it seems worth reflecting on this pattern of legislation.

Three aspects in this process struck me as noteworthy:

  1. A strong belief in legislation as effective administrative fiat that turns some laws into mere aspirational statements.
  2. Implementation of these laws is not thought about nor pursued. That is especially pernicious when it comes to legislation that touches on fundamental freedoms.
  3. Parliament does not effectively reflect any kind of public discussion of pressing issues, but the press, academia and civil society remain somewhat ineffective at providing analyses that might sway legislators who have little to do with a particular issues. The political weakness of the MPP is another challenge in that process.

Make it so by passing laws

In many political discussions, there is a strong sense that laws are the solution to social problems, policy challenges and all kinds of other situations. As long as eight years ago, Mendee looked specifically at failures in mining policy and focused in one post on such sources of failures as “Let’s-Change-It Syndrome“.

I have also written about the apparent search for perfection in policy solutions, or the challenge of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. In that context, an impression that really has stayed with me is that in workshops we conducted with the MPP youth organization, participants so often identify their favourite ideological orientation/party platform as “the party that does the right thing for the nation”, reflecting a similar belief in perfect solution, but also in the power of legislation to bring about change.

Obviously, legislation has a significant role to play in bringing about social change. However, legislation that does not also carefully consider how it will be implemented, is not likely to be very effective in that regard. Without some kind of theory of change, i.e. an understanding of the social mechanisms that might actually bring about the desired social change, that change is unlikely. And, simply telling people that a certain behaviour is bad or illegal will not necessarily change that behaviour as is clear in all kinds of criminal contexts, minor (jaywalking) or more significant. One recurring example that shows up in the current law again is drug use where belief in making narcotics illegal is stubborn in Mongolia despite decades of experience in many countries that this approach is ineffective and endangers many people.

But the strong belief in laws as the main element in social change is reflected in the many strategies, agendas, and legal/international commitments that the Mongolian government has made. Oyun-Erdene’s Vision 2050 seemed to be an attempt to recognize that and focus more on implementation, but it is not clear that this attempt is turning out to be very fruitful.

Laws not Designed to be Implemented

It seems somewhat dangerous to pass laws that touch on fundamental freedoms when they are never intended to be implemented.

This current law seems to have been designed primarily as a statement (to whom?) that troll behaviour and especially commercially-organized troll behaviour will be prosecuted. But would they actually? It seems more likely that the threat of legal action is meant to shape the social media sector into something that may be more friendly to public figures, but that there is not much of an attention to actually prosecute.

But, aspects of this law touched on some pretty basic freedoms, like freedom of speech, freedom to protest, etc. Legislators in all democracies should generally be very careful in any legislation that touches on such basic issues and perhaps especially saw in Mongolia where the supreme court has not been very active in offering interpretations of legislation that guide its application.

When the proposed law set up conditions under which the internet could be “turned off”, for example, that should be a step that should be closely circumscribed with conditions for that decision. If the law had been signed by the president or will be passed in the future, but will not actually be applied, the conditions under which something like an internet shut-off could be allowed, would not be tested by the courts. The risk that comes with this strategy is that a future bad actor could thus easily avail themselves of such a “dormant” provision in a law to take anti-democratic steps that seem to have the veneer of legislative approval. I do not suspect that any of the current actors are quietly trying to plant such mechanisms, but that is a risk that legislation poses that is not intended to be enforced.

Mongolian legislators are by no means alone in relying on legislation to make grand statements of their aspirations for a better society, but it seems like laws are not a good place for such statements.


Finally, as Teghsbayar has argued as well, the hasty passing of legislation sets a poor precedent. This is especially true of laws that touch on such fundamental freedoms as this law did.

Not only does a process of public engagement allow for different views on a law to be examined, but such engagement will also expose weaknesses in a draft. With the current proposal, a more thorough public process would have surely pointed to the lack of a structure in which the “public relations unit” that was meant to enforce the law would operate in, as a serious short-coming. That is an example where public engagement is simply part of a more solid legislative process.

The overall weakness of the ecosystem of policy analysis in Mongolia contributes to the lack of examination of laws when engagement is not facilitated by public. Ideally, the media, academics, think tanks, NGOs, and opposition parties would all comment on draft laws, and comment in public. Such commentary would force the proponents of a given law to justify some of the decisions that they have made. For example, in the current law, why are there so many provisions that are already covered by other (criminal) laws, as Tegshbayar has pointed out?

It is also curious once again to observe that the MPP does not appear to be generating legislation from some kind of central party apparatus. The technical deficiencies of the current legislation generally suggest a lack of a vetting process for proposals that may raise the quality of legislation and the likelihood of enforcement. Once again, Mongolian democracy reveals itself as a no-party state.

Posted in Democracy, Governance, JD Democratization, Judiciary, Law, Media and Press, Politics, Protest, Social Media | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: For the 3rd Time, the Mongolian Parliament Has Passed a Law in Breach of Other Laws


On January 18, 2023, the Mongolian parliament passed a “bill to protect human rights on social media” that allows to regulate social media contents. Within a little over 48 hours after the draft proposal submitted by the Minister of Digital Development and Communication to parliament, the bill was passed giving no space and time for the public to get acquainted with the draft.

This rushed process of passing a law did not occur for the first time for the Mongolian parliament. It turns out, the basis for such breaches of existing laws and human rights by parliament has been laid out over the past half-year. Three laws have already been passed by parliament in an expedited way since August 2022, all within 6 to 48 hours. Mandatory supporting studies to draft bills and public engagement, openness and transparency of drafts ensured pursuant to the law on legislations of Mongolia, effective since 2015, were disregarded in each circumstance.

Expedited procedures for passing a bill

The only circumstances when a bill can be passed in an expedited procedure by the parliament is asserted in article 21.1 of the bill on parliament procedure which specifically indicates that the bill has to be specifically to ensure the ‘national economic security’.

About a month ago, in December 2022, before the adoption of the new bill to protect human rights on social media, the parliament passed a revision to the criminal code within 48 hours eliminating prescription period for corruption-related crimes and increasing punishment commensurate with corruption, money-laundering and illegal enrichment risks. The amendment to the Constitution of Mongolia made in August 2022, however, sets the record of high-speed expedited adoption by a day, within 6 hours.

Public protest against the amendment made in the Constitution lasted for about 2 months with no response from decision-makers.

The draft bill to protect human rights on social media was submitted to the parliament pursuant to article 21.1 of the bill on parliament procedure to be discussed in an expedited manner and was passed the next day. However, human rights organizations criticized that it has no economic nor national security coverage whatsoever rather encompassing regulations pertinent to human rights concerning free speech and anonymity on social media platforms. There was no response from parliament. Five days after the adoption of the bill, the Minister of Digital Development and Communication, N Uchral posted a video explaining ‘his’ need for urgency and addressing public criticisms on the content of the bill on his Facebook page.

Unfortunately, the parliament’s hasty discussion and adoption of these laws overlooked compulsory public engagement and debates and passed without justifications to amendment or create a new law.

Content of the adopted bill

Apparently, the bill is to be effective from February 1, 2023, upon publication in the ‘State News’ magazine. So far, the official adopted version of the bill to protect human rights on social media is not to be found from the website of the Mongolian parliament but publicized on news sites.

The bill and the concept paper  define that human rights can be restricted in two ways: 1. by restricting the content in violation, and 2. by partially or completely limiting the communication network to reduce restricted content distribution in the event of public unrest. Although, the latter will be done pursuant to the accompanied law on amendment to Cyber Security and will be regulated by that procedure, justifications for such limitations should be clear in the law within legitimate parameters in consideration of human rights. This procedure to limit the communication network will be developed by the stakeholders working group and adopted by the Minister of Digital Development and Communication.

The bill has 6 chapters with 12 articles. Although it says the law will regulate all specifics of information, in detail, that could be deemed as restricted content, the bill is limited to the following vague list defined as restricted contents:

  • denigrating state symbols of Mongolia;
  • fraud or attempt to fraud using the social network;
  • promoting, urging, or pressuring to negatively affect child’s body, mind and morals;
  • encouraging or promoting violence or obscenity;
  • encouraging and promoting threats, suicide, and physical harm to people;
  • encouraging or advertising the use of narcotic drugs and psychoactive substances;
  • extremist activities, undermining national unity, disclosure of state and official secrets, terrorist acts, crimes against human security and national security, inciting and calling for crimes;
  • discriminating against an individual or a specific group based on ethnicity, language, race, gender, social origin, status, wealth, religion, opinion, sexual or gender orientation, disability, or health;
  • infringement of intellectual property rights;
  • instructing in detail to commit a crime or violation, or encouraging, inciting, instigating, promoting, or supporting the commission of a crime or violation;
  • luring, urging, inciting, or promoting children to beg, wander, or live unsupervised;
  • violating social media platform rules and terms and conditions.

Some lawyers say that crimes listed in article 6 of the bill are currently sufficiently regulated by the law on Crime Prevention (2019), law on Cyber Security (2022), Criminal Code (2016), and the law on Criminal Procedure (2017), and violations are regulated pursuant to the law on Violation (2017).

When the draft version became available, the public strongly criticized following provisions in the law that potentially could have had a direct impact on free speech:

  • clause 6.1.3. Any content tarnishing someone’s reputation shall constitute grounds for restriction,
  • clause 6.2 Following conditions shall be considered in establishing grounds for restrictions defined in clause 6.1:

6.2.5. if determined that any risk may cause on rights, lawful interest or on social or economic status of a person,

  • clause 6.3. Personal information of a public official may not be disclosed or shared on social media without prior consent,
  • limitation on anonymity

These clauses were removed upon adoption of the bill by parliament, confirms a member of the Human Rights Commission G. Narantuya in an interview, who was also a member of a working group to develop the bill. However, the final bill is yet to be open to confirm or deny the reduction.

The concept paper says the purpose of the bill is to regulate an increasing number of cyber-crimes. There are three types of justifications: 1) crimes such as online fraud, spreading false information, cyber-attack, embezzlement, extortion, organizing illegal online gambling, invasion of privacy, proliferation of pornography to minors and online abuse are predominant; 2) increased amount of loss due to cyber-crimes; and 3) a need to monitor false, abusive and other restricted contents such as illegal use intellectual property or affecting others both mentally and morally, especially on Facebook.

Clearly, an individual could have reported restricted contents to the social platform itself without any bill. The bill drafter responded to that as ‘public lack of understanding of social media platform rules and many children who use it tend to tolerate restricted contents and cyber bulling due to a language barrier’. The Minister of Digital Development and Communication said that a unit of an existing public center (Public Center to Combat Cyber Attack and Violence) shall establish whether it is a restricted content within 72 hours upon receipt of a complaint and determine if a content constitutes a crime or a violation. The powers of the unit include processing requests regarding restricted content and delivering decisions, recommendations, and requirements to social media providers.

Regulation of certain action still needs to be clarified

The bill still left many questions for the public. For example, the unit that will examine a complaint then shift to the law enforcement organization of the jurisdiction. How will the work of the police and this unit be related and what happens during the examination period with the content provider, content or the victim, is currently unclear. So, the question we may ask ‘Instead of a law, couldn’t we just have raised a public awareness on social media restricted contents and gave a general instruction on reporting violations?’.

The public also ask other questions such as ‘Would there be an official agreement between the unit and social media companies such as Twitter, Facebook, or TikTok? When will my anonymity be revealed by them to the unit?’ or ‘If an individual, not a legal entity, has 300,000 or more subscribers or followers from Mongolia on their website, social media page or platform, can such an individual register a representative office as allowed in clause 7.1.4 of the bill?’ or ‘How to ensure  restricting just a restricted contents and not the complete site in the event of negligence or violation?, etc.

However, it seems as though the main public concern will arise immediately after the effectiveness of the bill is in relation to the presumption of innocence ‘Every person accused of any crime is considered innocent until proven guilty by the court, not by a unit of a public center’. Most of the restricted contents listed in article 6 of the bill constitutes a ‘crime’ in accordance with the Criminal Code of Mongolia.

Civil society protest

The law was supposed to take effect on February 1, 2023, unless Mongolian President U Khurelsukh vetoes it. Since the day the bill was proposed to the parliament, the consortium of non-governmental organizations opened a platform to collect signatures opposing the bill. Over 6,588 people signed the petition addressed to the President of Mongolia to veto it on site and over 458 on were collected to send to the President as of January 27. On January 26, 2023, a civil society consortium publicized an open letter to the President U Khurelsukh demanding that he veto the bill.

Several press conferences were scheduled on January 27 and 28, 2023 by the civil society consortium, comprised from the most active domestic NGOs, and the Urban Civil Forum.

Recent developments

On January 27, 2023, the spokesperson of the President’s Office twitted from his personal account that ‘The President of Mongolia will veto the bill on protection of human rights on social media in whole. The President’s Office will make a statement on Monday’.

Speculations have raised by some that the announcement by the President’s spokesperson to veto the bill could mean that the President of Mongolia is intentionally aiming to win a public favour in promoting a change in the governance and political systems in the Constitution. A working group to revise the Constitution has already been set up in 2021, right after the Presidential election though the Constitution has been heavily revised in 2020 and was amended once after that by the Parliament within 6 hours in 2022 as mentioned earlier.

About Tegshbayar

D.Tegshbayar is an independent consultant working in Mongolia specialized in financial crimes compliance. Tweets @Davandai

Posted in Civil Society, Constitution, Darambazar Tegshbayar, Human Rights, Law, Media and Press, Politics, Protest, Social Media | Leave a comment

Oyun-Erdene Cabinet, Version 01/2023

By Marissa J. Smith

A cabinet reshuffle has opened the new year of 2023, in the wake of a December marked by large demonstrations that climaxed with an attempted storming of the Government Building. A major focus of these demonstrations was the revelation that as much as $12 billion of revenue from coal exports to China, the cornerstone of the Mongolian economy under the Khurelsukh/Oyun-Erdene government, had evaporated. The demonstrators also called attention to much wider problems in Mongolia, where inflation is in the double-digits and living conditions are in decline.

In an interview published by AFP, the Minister of Justice, Nyambaatar, acknowledged that “the majority believe that the reason behind the economic downturn and crisis is the corruption,” but also doubled down on government measures as a solution: “We have to improve and increase the measures that we’re taking to combat corruption, which is the issue that raises frustration among the people of Mongolia.”

The recent cabinet reshuffle indicates that these will be familiar government measures, executed by familiar government members, and that there are significant risks that demonstrator’s concerns are not being fully addressed.

More Young Deputy Ministers… But More MPP

All four new Ministers are double-deel wearers, i.e. current Members of Parliament. Except for Kh. Bulgantuya, they have been ministers in the past, and two have long been near the center of the Mongolian politics. The new Deputy Prime Minister, Ch. Khurelbaatar is already Minister of Finance and I have not seen any news that he will resign from that position. Ts. Davaasuren was previously Minister of Power in Khurelsukh’s cabinets (2017-2021) and worked in the Ministries of Finance, Economy, and Education throughout the 2000s (i.e. the tenure of N. Enkhbayar — according to Alan Sanders, he was initially expelled from the MPP when the MPRP and MPP split in 2012). Both Khurelbaatar and Davaasuren are noted by Alan Sanders as participants in the MPP’s rehabilitation of Tsedenbal in 2015.

In addition to the Cabinet reshuffle, a number of new Deputy Cabinet Ministers were appointed, and this was showcased in an official government news release. In contrast to the new Ministers (except for Kh. Bulgantuya, b. 1981), these are young people (zaluu) (except for Tsendsuren, b. 1965).

That the positions to young people are more minor ones, and the general sense of enlarging the MPP controlled government (Bulgantuya’s post, dealing with the timely issue of border ports, is new; similar to the post on traffic congestion created in August), calls to mind ongoing efforts on the part of the MPP-controlled government to increase membership of Parliament. There is widespread concern that this will lead to further control of the MPP over the Mongolian state and society.

While it can be said that many younger MPP government members have come up through the party system from a range of backgrounds, jokes about the resemblance of youthful and elder government figures are visible on social media.

“It’s too much that the father and son both become ministers. Baterdene was the Transport Minister. Now his son is a deputy minister.”

Additionally, suspicion has been aroused about the arrest of the young head of freight transport of Ulaanbaatar Railway, with commentators suggesting he is a fall guy for the wife of a former Minister of Road and Transport Development.

Response to Coal Theft Scandal and December 2022 Demonstrations Appears Uncoordinated

The government news release announcing the new cabinet members includes not just CVs, but ambitious expectations: “Increasing coal export by 45-50 percent” … “Doubling the size of the economy in a short period of time” … “Establishing new cities in the Orkhon Valley [central Mongolia, near the former imperial capital site of Kharakhorum/Kharkhorin] and Khushig Valley [site of the former international airport near Ulaanbaatar]” … “Promptly implementing proposed reforms in the health sector.” Meanwhile, the establishment of a new department and the reorganization of investigation departments under the Ministry of Justice were announced.

Again, as noted by the Minister of Justice, “the majority believe that the reason behind the economic downturn and crisis is the corruption.”

The demonstrations started just days before the MPP Party Congress, and for my own part I find credible reports that some threads of the demonstration, especially in its initial phase, were linked to competition among factions within the MPP. Should we read this Cabinet reshuffle as a move to address factionalism via the distribution of offices?

If so, this appears to run against the grain of public sentiment about corruption, which connects it to the dire state of the economy. Davaasuren’s image in particular has loomed large in my Twitter feed in the last few days.

“Davaasuren: I swear I will not take 10%!!!”

Speculation about the validity of government members’ claims about educational history have also recently been a theme. In recent months, I have heard complaints from Mongolian elites about the validity of the Minister of Digital Development and Communications’ PhD in history, and even PM Oyun-Erdene’s application to Harvard. While concerns about the legitimacy of academic credentials has been a staple of corruption discourses in Eastern Europe for many years, this is a recent development in the Mongolian context, or operating in the last year or two at a new, louder, level of discourse. At the least, the ubiquity of these narratives underscores general anxiety about the ability of Mongolia’s current government to effectively run the country. Mongolians have also made comment to me about Oyun-Erdene and Khurelsukh’s poor level of fluency in English — and throughout the latter half of the Twentieth Century until now, high proficiency in arts of operating as a cosmopolitian member of the global elite has been a must for Mongolian elites.

“I know this Davaasuren studied electrical engineering with my classmates in Kharkhov [sic]. But I don’t know whether he graduated there. Our classmates could transfer to other schools if they didn’t graduate from Kharkhov. I don’t know how he became a head of government finances.”

New members in bold:

Prime Minister – L. Oyun-Erdene
Cabinet Secretary – D. Amarbayasgalan
Deputy PM – Ch. Khurelbaatar (simultaneously Minster of Economy and Development)
Finance – B. Javkhlan
Defense – G. Saikhanbayar
Justice and Internal Affairs – Kh. Nyambaatar
General Investigation Department established, no head?
Education – L. Enkh-Amgalan
Roads and Transport – S. Byambatsogt
Environment and Tourism – B. Bat-Erdene
Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism – M. Ganbaatar
Foreign Relations – B. Battsetseg
Mining and Heavy Industry – J. Ganbaatar
Deputy Minister of Mining and Heavy Industry – O. Tsendsuren
Labor and Social Protection – T Ayursaikhan
Construction and Urban Development – Ts. Davaasuren
Health – S. Chinzorig
Deputy Minister of Health – S. Enkhbold (previous Minister of Health)
Food, Agriculture, and Light Industry – Kh. Bolorchuluun
Energy – B. Choijilsuren
Culture – Ch. Nomin
Digital Development and Communications – N. Uchral
Deputy Minister of Digital Develoment and Communications – J. Erkhembaatar
Traffic Congestion – J. Sukhbaatar
Olympism, Physical Culture, and Sports – B. Bat-Erdene
Economy and Development – Ch. Khurelbaatar

Deputy Minister of Economy and Development – G. Tuvdendorj
Chairwoman, National Committee of Border Station Revitalization – H. Bulgantuya

Deputy Prime Minister (Монгол Улсын Шадар сайд) CH. KHURELBAATAR (Чимэдийн Хүрэлбаатар) [Previous – S. Amarsaikhann]

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 Prime Minister (N. Enkhbayar), 2000-2003
Chairman of Millenium Challenge Foundation, 2003-2007
State Secretary, Ministry of Finance and Economy, 2003-2007
Minister of Fuel and Power, 2007-2008
Head, Standing Committee On Budget, 2008-2009, 2016-2017 2021-2022 Member, MPRP Little Khural, 2005-2009, 2013-2015
Cabinet Secretary, 2009-2012 Minister of Finance, 2017-2019, 2020-2021, 2022-present
Member of Parliament (Uvs), 2008-Present

Minister of Construction and Urban Development (Засгийн газрын гишүүн, Барилга, хот байгуулалтын сайд): SH. DAVAASUREN (Цэрэнпилийн Даваасүрэн) [Previous – B. Munkhbaatar]

b. 1964, Khuvsgul Province
Kharkhiv Polytechnic University, 1989
Power system automatization engineer, 1989-1992
Foreign exchange professional, Ministry of Finance, 1995-1999
Saitama University, 1998
Head of Information, Monitoring, and Evaluation Office, Ministry of Finance, 1999-2000
Head of Foreign Relations Section, Economic Planning Office, Ministry of Finance, 1999
Head of Central Finance Office, Ministry of Finance and Economy, 2000-2005
Head of Finance and Economy Office, Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, 2005-2008
Economic Advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister, 2005
Member of Parliament, 2008-Current (Khuvsgul)
Head of Standing Committee on Budget, 2009-2014
Minister of Power, 2017-2021

Minister of Health (Эрүүл мэндийн сайд) S. CHINZORIG (Содномын Чинзориг) [Previous – S. Enkhbold, now Deputy Minister of Health]

b. 1964, Ovorkhangai Province
Mongolian National University, 1986
Planning Commission, Executive Administration, Ovorkhangai Aimag People’s Deputies’ Assembly, 1986-1988
Head, Executive Administration, Ovorkhangai Aimag People’s Deputies’ Assembly, 1990-1992
Deputy Governor, Ovorkhangai Aimag, 1992-1996
Head, Ovorkhangai Aimag Citizen’s Representatives’ Council, 1996-2000
Deputy Minister, Ministry of Development and Social Welfare, 2000-2008
Deputy Head, General Planning Manager, President’s Stamp Office (N. Enkhbayar), 2008-2010
Advisor to the Prime Minister (S. Batbold), Social Policy, 2010-2012
Head, Office of Development of Social Policy, Mongolian People’s Party, 2013
Minister of Development, 2014-2015
Head of Development Goals Subcommitee, 2016-2018
Minister of Development and Social Protection, 2017-2020
Member of Parliament (Ovorkhangai), 2014-present

Chairwoman, National Committee of Border Station Revitalization (Монгол Улсын сайд, Боомтын сэргэлтийн Үндэсний хорооны дарга Хүрэлбаатарын Булгантуяа) KH. BULGANTUYA (Хүрэлбаатарын Булгантуяа)

b. 1981, Arkhangai Province
Investment Consultant, “Creative Solutions” LLC, 2006-2008
Project and Program Consultant, World Bank, 2008-2010
Project Manager, Engineering Department, Oyu Tolgoi, 2010-2011
Principal Commercial Advisor, Business Strategy Department, Oyu Tolgoi LLC, 2011-2012
Head of Business Development, Petrovis LLC, 2012-2013
Member, MPP Leadership Council, 2013-2016
Secretary, International Relations, Party Organization and Cooperation, 2013-2016
Deputy Minister, Ministry of Finance, 2016-2020
Member of Parliament (Bayanzurkh District of Ulaanbaatar), Deputy Leader of MPP Group, 2020-present

Sources of information for this post include:
Sanders, Alan J. K., Historical Dictionary of Mongolia, Fourth Edition, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2017.

Previous Oyun-Erdene Cabinet Posts on Mongolia Focus:

Oyun-Erdene Cabinet, Post-Constitutional Change
Oyun-Erdene Cabinet

Posted in Governance, Inequality, Inflation, Mining Governance, Mongolian People's Party, Party Politics, Politics, Populism, Tavan Tolgoi, Youth | Leave a comment

Summer 2023 Mongolia Field School

Interested in educational travel to Mongolia this summer? Join our informational webinar about the ACMS Mongolia Field School 2023, with the International and Mongolian instructors who will be teaching the courses in summer 2023. We will hold the webinar January 18, 2023 at 8pm EST, 5pm PST, which is January 19, 2023 9am ULAT. Click here to register for the webinar.

In the live webinar we will go over the details for each of the three Field School courses to give more information on the content and itinerary, travel details, the application process and the fellowships available. We will be ready to answer any questions you may have on the courses or program. If you are unable to attend the webinar it will be recorded and made available for viewing. Even if you are unable to attend, please register and we will send you a link to the recording as soon as it comes available.

Through the Mongolia Field School you will have the opportunity to visit areas of the country off the beaten path, experience local life and culture and conduct academic field work and educational explorations. You will join a small group that includes both international and Mongolian participants offering a chance to make new friends and connections. Everyone is welcome to apply – whether you are a student, a teacher or a lifelong learner, our program offers a unique experience where you will gain new insights and take away memories that will last a lifetime. A significant number of fellowships are available for participants thanks to the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation and other donors, with awards based on merit, diversity, and need. All applicants who apply by the March 1, 2023 deadline are given priority consideration for fellowship awards. You can apply for one course, or stay on in Mongolia and participate in up to two MFS 2023 courses (Course 1 and either Course 2 or 3).

  • Course 1: Discovering The Sonic World of The Mongolian Countryside: June 2-June 15
  • Course 2: Climate Change and Public Health: What does climate change mean for the people of Mongolia?: June 19-July 4
  • Course 3: Mongolian Buddhism, Nature, and Conservation: June 19-July 4

Full details of the program are on the ACMS website.

The priority deadline for application is March 1, 2023, and the final deadline is April 30, 2023.

Posted in American Center for Mongolian Studies, Research on Mongolia | Leave a comment

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.

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