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Foreign Policy Challenge

Mongolia is a landlocked country, bordering only two neighbors, Russia, and China, which makes it geographically dependent on its neighbors. The country also shares similar values in democracy and human rights with the United States.

Like many small states, Mongolia’s challenge is determining how to maneuver the great power competitions without compromising its sovereignty and undermining its institutions of democratic governance, according to Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Mongolia (FES Mongolia) – a Mongolian branch of the oldest non-profit political foundation in Germany.

Especially after the Ukraine war intensified, Mongolia was caught up in the geopolitical competition between Russia and the West.

Mongolia is highly dependent on Russia’s oil products and electricity. In addition, Russia is the only land gateway for Mongolia to connect Eurasian and European countries and an air gateway for Mongolian passengers bound for Europe. The trans-Mongolian railway is crucial for Mongolia’s trade with Europe.

After Western countries-imposed sanctions against Russia, some of Mongolia’s trade routes and air routes to Europe were closed. The country’s southern neighbor China, which accounts for the most of Mongolia’s exports, has enacted the Zero-Covid policy, as a result of which cross-border trade was significantly delayed. These dealt a major blow to Mongolia’s economy.

Under the current global circumstances, Mongolia is still facing numerous challenges to maintain its neutral status in terms of foreign policy.

Mongolia has established comprehensive strategic partnerships with China and Russia, two of the world’s great powers, and signed strategic partnership agreements with Japan, India, the United States, and South Korea.

Concerning these partnerships, FES Mongolia researchers have made interesting comparisons.

In regards to the specific concerns of these major powers, Russia aims to exert its influence on issues with geostrategic significance, such as defense, energy, and railways. China wants Mongolia to support its policies regarding Taiwan, Xinjiang, and Tibet, while also seeking Mongolia’s assurance of non-alliance in military and political matters. Japan’s focus is on Mongolia’s economic development, particularly the implementation of IMF policies in the mid-term.

Similarly, South Korea places a priority on economic cooperation with Mongolia, while also viewing Mongolia as a crucial country for its interactions with North Korea and a means of accessing Central Asia and Russia. In contrast, the United States prioritizes Mongolia’s commitment to democracy and rule of law as a basis for the partnership.

India’s partnership with Mongolia highlights international cooperation as well as collaboration against terrorism while listing all possible areas of cooperation despite the challenges of geographic distance.

China and Russia jointly pressured Mongolia to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. As a result, Mongolia became an observer in 2005. Meanwhile, Mongolia has been sending its soldiers to the UN Peacekeeping missions. The year 2022 marks the 20th anniversary of Mongolia’s participation in the United Nations peacekeeping.

The country seeks partnerships and investment from Western countries under the third neighborhood policy.
The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, visited Mongolia in 2022 and applauded Mongolia as “a symbol of peace” and an increasingly important contributor to the work of the UN.

“Mongolia may be landlocked, but its constructive foreign policy of dialogue and cooperation is central to building bridges and promoting sustainable development in the region and further afield.”

Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General


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