How Abe Shinzo strengthened Japan-Mongolia relations – The Diplomat
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Mongolia and Japan. But in the middle of the historic year, the political assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo came as a significant shock to Mongolia, considering the Abe administration’s immense contribution to strengthening Japan-Mongolia relations. .
From its election victory in late 2012 to Abe’s retirement in 2020, the Abe administration has exemplified its commitment and continued efforts to strengthen Japan-Mongolia relations, which finally peaked in 2015 when the two countries became strategic partners.
From a Japanese foreign policy perspective, having Mongolia as a close partner helps Tokyo deal with regional issues such as relations with North Korea. In addition, Mongolia’s democratic governance and society have strengthened government-to-government and people-to-people relations. Under the Abe administration, the number of Mongolian students and workers in Japan increased enormously.
Additionally, Mongolia poses no direct threat to Japanese territorial integrity, making it a rarity among Japan’s East Asian neighbors. Japan has ongoing territorial disputes with Russia (Kuril Islands/Northern Territories), China (Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands) and South Korea (Dokdo/Takeshima Islands).
In Northeast Asia, close ties between Mongolia and Japan, two democratic nations, create a modus operandi for negotiations, dialogues and conflict resolution. The Abe administration understood this strategic dynamic of Japan-Mongolia bilateral relations and applied it in a mutually beneficial manner.
Abe paid his first state visit to Mongolia in 2013 on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Mongolia. Abe met with then President Elbegdorj Tsakhia and Prime Minister Altankhuyag Norov. In an op-ed written for Mongolian newspapers on the occasion of his visit, Abe said Japan-Mongolia relations are underpinned by the “Three Spirits” of freedom and democracy, peace and mutual benefit. On this basis, then-Foreign Minister Kishida Fumio – currently Prime Minister of Japan – pledged in 2014 that “Mongolia and Japan will enhance mutual understanding and trust through multi-level strategic dialogue”.
Abe’s visit in 2013 resulted in an economic agreement in which Japan supported the Mongolian mining industry by establishing a line of credit for the purchase of mining machinery from Japanese companies such as Komatsu. In March 2013, Abe proposed the Erch Initiative to accelerate the Japan-Mongolia economic partnership. For Mongolia, Japan’s continued financial and technical support is fundamental to increasing the country’s economic diversification.
During his second state visit to Ulaanbaatar in 2015, Abe stressed his administration’s intention to make the visit a testament to the bond between the two countries and the development of their “strategic partnership”.
With visits in 2013 and 2015, Abe became the first Japanese prime minister to visit Mongolia multiple times in a short period of time. Abe was also the first Japanese prime minister to meet three different presidents of Mongolia: Enkhbayar Nambar, Elbegdorj Tsakhia and Battulga Khaltmaa. This showed both a commitment and a real appreciation of Japanese-Mongolian diplomacy at the highest level of governments.
The Japan-Mongolia strategic partnership has strengthened their economic relations and strengthened security and military elements. The Abe administration, often criticized for encroaching on Japan’s post-war commitment to pacifism at home, saw partnership with a non-threatening country like Mongolia as an advantage to Japan’s strategic behavior.
After Abe’s second state visit to Mongolia, the Japan Self-Defense Forces began participating in the Khaan Quest Mongolian multilateral military training for United Nations peacekeeping operations. Since 2012, Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Forces have been training the Mongolian Armed Forces in military medicine, including through mass casualty response exercises.
During Abe’s eight years in office, Japan sought to accelerate its international presence and influence. The Abe administration accelerated Japan’s status on the international stage by seeking membership in the United Nations Security Council. Mongolia supported Abe’s approach. Former Mongolian Prime Minister Saikhanbileg Chimed expressed the Mongolian government’s support for Japan’s international presence.
The Abe administration understood both the historical relevance and the contemporary necessity of advancing Japan-Mongolia relations as two democratic nations in an ever-changing region. The legacy of the Abe administration in Japan-Mongolia relations will be that it has made strategic partnership a reality, strengthening both government-to-government and people-to-people relations.
Mongolian Prime Minister Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsra and Foreign Minister Battsetseg Batmunkh visited the Japanese Embassy in Ulaanbaatar to pay their respects to Abe and sign a book of condolences. “While stressing that the foreign policy of ‘proactive contribution to peace’ implemented by the late Prime Minister has made a valuable contribution to regional cooperation and prosperity, Prime Minister L. Oyun-Erdene stressed that his efforts to further strengthen relations between Mongolia and Japan will always be remembered,” the Mongolian news agency Montsame reported.
Former President Enkhbayar Nambar and former Foreign Minister of Mongolia Tsogtbaatar Damdin also visited the embassy to sign the condolence book for Abe.