East Asia's New Peacemaker: Mongolia?
Image Credit: Suzanna Finley/Asia Society

East Asia's New Peacemaker: Mongolia?


The past year has heightened some important security landmines in East Asia. There is the usual cycle of “provocation followed by negotiation” by a not-so reformed regime in North Korea.  More concerning however is the intractable, diplomatic tussle between Tokyo and Beijing over islands in the East China Sea. Add to this the fractured bilateral relationship between the U.S.’ two most important allies in the region – Japan and South Korea – and there appears to be too many problems to be solved by a “rebalance.”

Against this backdrop, there is an underutilized diplomatic asset that could potentially help these quarrels. As Elizabeth Economy pointed out last month on The Diplomat, and others have alluded to elsewhere, Mongolia could take on an enhanced role in mediating the region’s quarrels. The most obvious situation mentioned is the stalemate between the U.S., Japan and South Korea on one side and North Korea on the other. Economy stressed the potential benefits of Ulaanbaatar’s involvement: “While we wait for Beijing’s foreign policy to coalesce, we might look to Beijing’s north for some help. Mongolian officials have regularly hosted their North Korean counterparts for national security and economic discussions.” 

Indeed, Mongolia attaches importance to its relationship with Pyongyang and has gone out of its way to point this out to outside observers. For example, in a 2011 speech at the Brookings Institution, Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj noted the importance of Mongolia’s bond with the North: “(Mongolia has) a unique relation with North Korea. We have our embassy there, we have governmental line to connect, and every year meetings, and now we are developing an exchange program. And when they (North Koreans) come to Mongolia, they see that there is a different way of living, a different way of governance.”

Critics will argue that Mongolia’s window into North Korea may be merely cosmetic and incapable of producing tangible results. However, there is no debating the fact that Ulaanbaatar is interested in playing this intermediary role.

Mongolia currently holds the Presidency of the Community of Democracies, a global intergovernmental coalition of democratic countries that seek to promote democratic rules and strengthen democratic norms and institutions around the world. While Ulaanbaatar’s term as chair will end in April, this is a position that Elbegdorj’s government has taken great pride in as Mongolia continues to work through its own growing pains on its way to becoming a model democracy in a region that is flush with corruption. Elbegdorj has leveraged Mongolia’s history before its democratic reforms to push for changes in Central Asia. While it is hard to equate this effort with reforms (the region remains one of the most corrupt in the world), no one believed that Mongolia would suddenly change decades of ingrained corruption.

April 17, 2014 at 14:59

Better think about Badass Russia before do something to Brother Mongolia…

Dr Spock
March 23, 2013 at 23:27

Are you alright, son? I could prescribe you some Prozac. You sound like you need it.

March 21, 2013 at 22:15

The Chinese are really the ultimately condemned people. Even the Vatican – Roman Pope – condemn them.

March 20, 2013 at 23:29

Niet. The correct English spelling is Ulan Bator.

April 17, 2014 at 14:56

Улаанбаатар, Улан-батoр, Ulaanbaatar, Ulan-Bator

April 19, 2014 at 00:55

No. Ulaanbaatar is the correct one. Ulan-bator derived from Russian spelling through which the capitals name first spread to the world.

March 20, 2013 at 23:24

The combination of freakin cold weather and a meat-based diet made Mongs very strong, but not MIGHTY ! And Chink with average kungfu skills or a skinny Brazilian mestiço with decent capoeira know-how, can take them down. Besides there are 500 chinks per Mong. China could roll over Mongolia in a couple of hours. Now, MIGHTY Russia would just nuke Beijing before chinks could try the mutton dumplings on the steppe. Remember this; RÚSSIA !


Kim's Uncle
March 20, 2013 at 10:48

@ Zhou di and fox,

Why Chinese talk so tough at small countries but are so meekful and shy toward significantly size countries with real capabilities?

Does such behavior manifest from confidence or insecurity? I think it is insecurity and hurt pride!

Try to be civilized instead of looking back at past humiliation and grievances! Try to live in peace like modern day Germans and Japanese! They no longer have need for war.

March 19, 2013 at 18:17

to Fox:

What you wrote is the true Chinese intention – to grab land from its neighbors. This is why all china's neighbors are developing strong relations with US and NATO. Do you know that Mongolia has a special relationship with NATO – "Individual country cooperation and defense agreement".

China must be circled, contained and defeated as it happened in 13th, 16th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

It is the destiny of the Chinese to be SLAVES of foreign invaders and foreign MASTERS including the Japanese, Americans, British, French, germans, Mongols, and others!

March 19, 2013 at 01:54

@bat : Don't convince yourself with self delusions and fantasies.  Washington is fearful of Chinese might that they feel the need to surroud China militarily. Kinda males your  imbecilic remarks even stupider doesn't it?  In anycase, just wait till Beijing pivots to Mongolia. 5 million people – even smaller than Singapore – what are they going to do, these "mighty" Mongols, when the tanks starts rolling in?  "mighty"?  How juvenile and immature talk.

March 18, 2013 at 21:28

Let's ignore this obvious TROLL!!!

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