Crossroads Asia

US Becomes Mongolia’s 5th Strategic Partner

During a state visit, Mongolia’s president emphasized increased cooperation with the United States.

By Bolor Lkhaajav for
US Becomes Mongolia’s 5th Strategic Partner
Credit: Twitter/ U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia

Mongolian President Battulga Khaltmaa paid state visit to the United States last week, aiming to bolster the two countries’ political and economic relations into a new strategic partnership. While this is Battulga’s first state visit to the United States, the two sides held a number of high-level diplomatic exchanges preparing the groundwork, including the September 2018 Roadmap for Expanded Economic Partnership, Mongolian National Security Council Secretary Gansukh Amarjargal’s visit to Washington in November 2018, and U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s visit to Ulaanbaatar in June 2019. Each diplomatic engagement forged stronger and closer ties between the two governments.

Thus, on July 31, after the meeting between Battulga and U.S. President Donald J. Trump, the U.S. Department of State released the Declaration on the Strategic Partnership Between the United States and Mongolia. This declaration indicates Mongolia’s successful utilization of the third-neighbor policy and makes the United States the fifth country to ink a strategic partnership with Mongolia.

The Declaration on the Strategic Partnership between the United States and Mongolia is built on mutual understanding and a shared pursuit of global and regional peace and security, protecting human rights, freedom of speech, and national independence and territorial integrity. The declaration acknowledges that U.S.-Mongolia ties “have grown stronger and closer based on common strategic interests, shared democratic values, good governance, principles of sovereignty, and respect for human rights” and “that the United States of America and Mongolia have a mutual interest in cooperating more closely to ensure peace, security, and stability in the region.”

Following the signing ceremony, National Security Council Secretary Gansukh Amarjargal told The Diplomat that “Mongolia has established a strategic partnership with four other nations: Russia (2006), Japan (2010), China (2014), and India (2015). The U.S. [is] the fifth nation to sign a strategic partnership agreement with Mongolia. This declaration will create innovation, development, and diversified job markets.”

Two aspects of the declaration are critical in answering how the United States and Mongolia will boost economic cooperation through trade, investment, and development. First, the declaration calls for the utilization of the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) to help solve critical development challenges in Mongolia. In addition, the strategic partnership ultimately aims to strengthen Mongolia’s economic security by increasing the flow of foreign direct investment, supporting small and medium enterprises (SMEs), involving state-owned enterprises, and further exploring emerging new markets such as technology, science, and space exploration.

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The impetus to pursue a strategic partnership with Mongolia is also heavily supported by policymakers in Washington. As Anthony Kim from the Heritage Foundation wrote in an article published the day before Battulga’s arrival:

Mongolia is a strategic U.S. ally in the Indo-Pacific. Policymakers should recognize Mongolia’s unique potential to anchor a strong U.S. presence in the region. Washington should upgrade the current economic relationship from one based largely on aid to a partnership based on private-sector-driven trade and investment. Washington should build on John Bolton’s recent visit to Mongolia. Further Cabinet-level visits would reinforce the U.S.-Mongolian strategic security relationship.

Moreover, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Indo-Pacific Strategy report included Mongolia as one of the “democracies in Indo-Pacific,” that are “reliable, capable, and natural partners of the United States.” The report but also emphasized the burgeoning security relationship based on Mongolia’s unswerving contribution to U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan, and UN peacekeeping missions in Africa. Mongolia was mentioned 17 times in the report, compared to 15 for New Zealand, 18 for Singapore 18, and 31 for Taiwan. The state visit of the Mongolian delegation has reinforced Mongolia’s status in the Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Mongolia holds an increasingly special place in the U.S. strategy toward Asia, being the first country to embrace the Millennium Challenge Corporation. In addition, Mongolian policymakers are working together with U.S. representatives in Congress such as Representative Ted Yoho (R-Florida) and Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) on advancing Mongolia’s economic relations with the United States to a new, strategic level. Part of Mongolia’s economic strategy, the Third-Neighbor Trade Act (S.1188) was re-introduced in Congress and is expected to have a positive outcome in September.

Economic cooperation and economic security were a top priority during Battulga’s trip to the United States, and science, technology, and entrepreneurial opportunities were raised during other official meetings. Battulga’s state visit also explored cooperation opportunities in space-related projects. The president paid a courtesy visit to NASA headquarters in Washington that remembered historical accomplishments, such as Major General Gurragchaa Jugderdemid’s Soviet-led Soyuz 39 mission to space in 1981. Jim Bridenstine, the administrator of NASA, tweeted, “I was honored to host Mongolia’s President Khaltmaagiin Battulga today as our countries work to enhance our strategic partnership. President Battulga shares our excitement for sending humans to Marks & we welcome future discussions on cooperation in space exploration.”

On July 30, the day before his White House visit, Battulga spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) Global Leaders Forum on the future of U.S.-Mongolia relations. The conference was attended by the Mongolian delegation, including Foreign Minister Tsogtbaatar Damdin and Mongolian Ambassador to the U.S. Otgonbayar Yondon, as well as U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia Michael Klecheski. During the conference, the Mongolian president received several questions about Mongolia’s position toward global issues like the denuclearization of North Korea, relations with China, and poverty reduction. In his response, Battulga said that Mongolia has never considered itself a “small” country. He added that the strength of Mongolia’s contemporary foreign policy is based on three factors: continuing good neighbor relations with Russia and China; gaining a strategic place in the Asia-Pacific by contributing to security and peace dialogues; and being an active member of both global and regional economic groupings, particularly the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Erdenebat Tseveendorj, economic and industrial policy advisor to Battulga, told The Diplomat, “The meeting between the two leaders, Battulga Khaltmaa and Donald J. Trump has been in the spirit of the times. The 32 years of diplomatic relations and the newly established strategic partnership between two governments are expected to grow in a very positive direction.”

Bolor Lkhaajav received an M.A. in Asia-Pacific Studies from the University of San Francisco. She is a Nonresident Research Fellow at The Institute of Strategic Studies and currently writing a book on Mongolia’s foreign policy and security apparatus.