Mongolia Needs US Help – OpEd – Eurasia Review
Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin are budding autocrats. Russia is threatens to invade and dismember Ukraine for the second time and his “peacekeeping” troops came back of Kazakhstan after supporting a corrupt government bent on one-party rule. China is accelerating its military build-up at an alarming rate posing a direct threat to Taiwan and using its advanced weaponry, economic clout and diplomatic bullying to become the hegemon of the Asia-Pacific region – more than 20% of the world’s land area. As NATO nations scramble to implement a plan to push back on Putin and the United States working with allies to counter Chinese aggression, it is time for the United States to redouble its efforts to support democracy in Mongolia.
It is hard to believe that from 1205 the Mongols, led by their leader, Genghis Khan (Genghis Khan to the Mongols), came out of the steppe of Central Asia and within about two decades conquered an empire stretching from the Caspian Sea in the west to the China Sea in the east, and from Siberia in the north to Tibet in the south. At its height, the Mongols ruled over largest contiguous land empire the world has never known. Today, it is landlocked between Russia and China.
Mongolia marked the political map of Central Asia again in 1989. Once a client state of the Soviet Union, a people’s revolution led by a group of hunger strikers threw off the yoke of the Communist Party and established a democracy of free market with Constitution which enshrines individual freedoms and guarantees human rights. The Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse and China’s economic takeoff was just beginning.
It was in this political vacuum that U.S. assistance, along with nongovernmental organizations including the International Republican Institute, Asia Society, and European counterparts, worked with Mongolian civil society and government to entrench institutions critical to the new economic and political order of Mongolia. The 1996 parliamentary elections saw the first peaceful transfer of political power in modern Central Asian history when the Mongols threw out the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party and handed the governance hammer to a coalition of parties from opposition. Since then, power has oscillated between parties at the presidential and parliamentary levels.
Although sitting between two giant and aggressive neighbours, Mongolia has emerged with a politically independent streak and serves as a regional transmission belt for democratic ideals. The country enjoys good relations with North Korea and remains an open window on an alternative political and economic process for visiting North Koreans. In 2016, the Dali Lama visited maddening China. Military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan to support US interests have upset Moscow.
Former President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, elected for two four-year terms starting in 2008, established a government fund that brought together parliamentarians from Kyrgyzstan to exchange experiences in governance. Mongolian NGOs established relationships with journalists and civil society groups in Myanmar shortly after the National League for Democracy’s election victory to discuss press freedom issues and the importance of independent media.
Successive Mongolian governments have reached out to the West as part of its “Third Neighbor” foreign policy to diversify diplomatic and economic relations and envoy more than 18,000 troops in UN peacekeeping missions. Impressive for a country of just over three million people.
Despite all these achievements, all is not well in Mongolia today. the BTI transformation index, a key measure of public attitudes towards economic and political progress, cited growing corruption in politics and particularly in the judiciary as threats to future development. Transparency International (TI) 2020 Report ranked Mongolia 118and out of 180 countries according to its Corruption Perceptions Index. In 2019, TI reprimanded the government for political interference in the judicial process indicating, “[This] political interference in the judiciary would be alarming at any time, but it is all the more alarming when it takes place in the context of corruption allegations against parliamentarians themselves. TI has also sounded the alarm over the criminalization of defamation call him “another worrying attack on media freedom threatening anti-corruption efforts.” In 2018 the media company IKON.mn reported that 110 of the 132 companies receiving a low-interest loan under a government program were politicians or their family members.
The arrest and imprisonment last year of Erdeniin Bat-Uul, the former mayor of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, has further fanned the flames of political interference in the judicial process. Seemingly pushed by pro-Russian politicians, Bat-Uul is blamed for the policies he undertook while in office; chief among them was to eradicate corruption in the city government. Mongolia’s political future and institutions are being quietly attacked by Putin and Xi as a jockey for influence and control of this critical buffer state. Subverting institutions through corruption is a powerful weapon to achieve this goal.
Democracy building takes a lot of determined and long-term effort. YOU SAID States Mongolia “struggles with a weakened system of checks and balances, a blurring of commercial and political power, and inconsistent implementation of law and government functions.” Last year, USAID provided $13 million for governance and civil society programming; everything is fine. But Mongolia needs more, and not just dollars. Frequent visits by U.S. government officials and political leaders can serve to reinforce the concept of a third neighbor, and the United States can do more to sponsor very large trade delegations to further strengthen Mongolia’s fragile economy and diversify. business partners.
More than 30 years have passed since Mongolia’s political transition. Its remote location in Central Asia and its few economic ties make it easy for the United States to overlook it. Mongolia will never be of military importance to the United States. However, it can serve as a political laboratory and a beacon of freedom in a very difficult neighborhood. The Mongols will decide which government suits them best at the polls. President Biden has made the promotion of democracy a fundamental national interest. It’s time to push back against growing authoritarianism. It’s time to double down on Mongolia.
*Mike Mitchell was director of the Mongolia program for the International Republican Institute, www.IRI.org, and consults on governance issues.