12 June, 2009

Don't forget Mongolia

It's a shame that the success stories don't get the press. Mongolia is one of the success stories, and neglect of what's been going on there is anything but benign. A recent essay from ISN brings us up to speed:

Mongolia has emerged in less than two decades as a vibrant, if not complicated, democracy, and stands worthy of enhanced United States and international attention and support. With its rich cultural and historical legacy, literate population and abundant natural resources, Mongolia has achieved steady economic growth and stands as a model of reform to North Korea to the east and the autocratic Stans to the west. Mongolia also is wedged strategically between a resurgent Russia and a rising China and borders a burgeoning Northeast Asia, the world’s economic powerhouse, and an expanding and, post 9/11, strategically viable Central Asia.

In its own right, Mongolia offers the international community a view of how a successful, relatively young democracy should appear. Compared to many other nations, Mongolia has progressed remarkably well. Yet too, its fragility in consolidation, highlighted by a need for governmental capacity, institutional and media reinforcement, reminds us of the responsibility of the United States and international community to better assist Mongolia and advance it on a path it deserves high praise for pursuing.

Mongolia is an outstanding global citizen. It led the newly emerging and restored democracies effort early in the decade, hosted United Nations dialogue on human security, supported international peacekeeping efforts, sited a major regional peacekeeping initiative, and offered itself as a venue for talks on easing tensions on the Korean peninsula, notable given its good relations with both North and South Korea. Foreign Minister Batbold in Washington has emphasized this week opportunities aimed at energy and economic cooperation, as well as on Korea.


...for all the fears of democratic rollback in Russia, Central Asia and elsewhere in post-socialist systems, Mongolians have embraced choice; an active, vocal, and sensible civil society has emerged, and Mongolians value choice.

Mongolia too is increasingly active in the regional and global economies and is increasingly interconnected. Internet cafes abound, and urban cable boasts connectivity to multiple channels in some dozen countries. With a young, literate and polyglot population, Mongolia sometimes feels less like a Northeast Asian outpost and more like the Netherlands, Belgium or a Chinese or Korean small city.

In spite of these pluses, Americans have been less than steady investors. Post-transition, Mongolians expected heady US investment, but Russia, China, the European Union, Japan and Korea are more dominant investors in Mongolia. It is time to open necessary doors to stimulate the Mongolian-US economic relationship.

This week, Foreign Minister Batbold had the unfortunate task in Washington of informing US Secretary of State Clinton that Mongolia would need to re-direct $188 million in U.S. infrastructure development aid aimed at rail improvement -- part of the $285 million Millennium Challenge grant awarded in 2007 -- given Russian objections. Russia has a fifty percent stake in the railway.

This should concern Americans, as Mongolia finds itself more vulnerable to the influence associated with foreign moneys, especially from Russia and China, which jockey to secure preferential controls in vital extractive industries and within joint ventures. Mongolia struggles with these trade-offs, and to this end the United States and its foreign business community could do well by assisting Mongolia in its strategic diversification

We should remember this as Mongolia continues on its democratic path and swears in President Ts Elbegdorj, who studied at Harvard’s John F Kennedy School of Government. President Elbegdorj rides into office on an Obama-like pledge to provide Mongolians change they can believe in and grow their living standards. Remarkable too was the quick concession of his opponent, President N. Enkhbayar, who realized that not doing so might result in political violence like that that flared in July 2008. This week, Enkhbayar pardoned women and youth embroiled in last summer’s unusual violence. Both sides deserve credit for this smooth transition of democratic power.

There are natural limits to what the US can do. The geographic facts are working against the Mongolians, as they balance two major powers on their borders with expansionist tendencies and a history of dominating their lives. Yet the Mongolian students I've met (not a random sample, I admit) have been among the most intelligent and caring and sensible people I've ever known. They deserve every break they can get.

Mongolia: Successful but Fragile / ISN

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