This year marks the 60th anniversary of Mongolia and the United Kingdom’s establishment of diplomatic relations. In commemoration of this special occasion, the two governments are celebrating decades of shared principles, strengthening bilateral relations, and strong people-to-people ties.
On January 23, 1963, the United Kingdom became the first Western nation to establish diplomatic relations with Mongolia. During a ceremony commemorating the Mongolia-U.K. diplomatic anniversary, a former Mongolian ambassador to the U.K., Altangerel Bulgaa, highlighted London’s key role in opening diplomatic doors for Mongolia.
“The significance of Mongolia and the United Kingdom is that exchanging a diplomatic representative at an ambassadorial level with Western countries opened the door for trade and economic activities for Mongolia,” Altangerel said. “Equally important, France and other Western nations followed suit after Mongolia and the UK established diplomatic relations in 1963.”
Historical ties between Mongols and the British date all the way back to medieval times. The earliest recorded communiqué between the Mongols and the English is from the late 13th century, during Arghun Khaan’s reign. In 1290, an envoy of Arghun Khaan sent a letter to Edward I of England, indicating that the Mongol forces could support the crusaders in their battle.
Moreover, archival documents indicate the cultural and linguistic ties between the Mongols and the English. In the early 20th century, the English language had dominated the Western world, both language and thought influenced the intellectual circle of Bogd Khaan, Mongolia’s leader during its short-lived stint as an independent monarchy from 1911-1924.
According to Dr. Zolboo Dashnyam, the director at the Institute of International Studies of the Academy of Sciences of Mongolia, “When the Mongols drafted the first constitution, it seems that their English language abilities were not too bad, judging from the fact that they had studied and translated the constitutions of monarchies at the time, such as Great Britain.”
The long history of Mongol-British interactions demonstrate the consistency of the Mongols’ ambition to be more involved in global affairs – a tradition that modern-day Mongolia continued.
The 1960s was one of the most challenging yet ultimately rewarding decades for Mongolia’s international relations. Mongolia’s strong ties with the Soviet Union situated Ulaanbaatar in a challenging position, especially when it comes to establishing diplomatic relations with Western nations.
Thus the United Kingdom’s recognition of Mongolia as an independent state and the establishment of diplomatic relations was a significant milestone for Ulaanbaatar’s foreign policy. Two years earlier, in 1961, Mongolia had become a permanent member of the United Nations. As one of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, London’s vote was crucial to Mongolia in that effort.
Since 1963, bilateral relations between Mongolia and the United Kingdom have developed into a variety of sectors such as education, defense, mining, and recently, green initiatives.
The British education system has been adopted in Mongolia for some time. In Ulaanbaatar, the British School of Ulaanbaatar teaches students using the National Curriculum of England and Wales. Students graduate with fluent British English, and many seek to study abroad in the United Kingdom.
Moreover, the Chevening scholarship, funded by the U.K.’s foreign ministry, has directly benefited more than 200 Mongolian graduate students studying in British universities.
As Enkhjin Seded, a 2022 Chevening scholar, put it, “Studying at one of the prestigious universities in the U.K. seemed like a dream before receiving the Chevening scholarship. The Warwick Business School has been an eye-opening experience for me as I learn from professors with worldwide knowledge and experience. With Chevening, a new chapter of my life has begun.”
While educational cooperation has been successful, foreign trade, investment, and economic activities between Mongolia and the U.K. have been falling short due to many issues.
Trade and investment between the U.K. and Mongolia decreased by 52.8 percent from September 2021 to the same month in 2022. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly contributed to this sudden drop.
From Mongolia’s perspective, the unbalanced nature of trade is an issue. As of 2020, the U.K. was Mongolia’s fourth-largest export destination – but only accounted for 1.1 percent of Mongolian exports, worth just $84 million. Mongolia fared even worse in the United Kingdom’s trade books. It is the U.K.’s 133rd largest trading partner, “accounting for less than 0.1% of total UK trade,” according to U.K. government data.
The U.K.’s February 2023 Trade and Investment Report indicated that in the year leading up to the end of September, 2022, the U.K. exported nearly twice as many goods to Mongolia (at a value of 104 million pounds) as it imported from Mongolia (54 million pounds). There is a need for Mongolia to boost its exports to the United Kingdom to address the yawning trade deficit.
The Oyu Tolgoi operation run by Anglo-Australian mining conglomerate Rio Tinto is the United Kingdom’s largest contributor to Mongolia’s national economy. However, British investors and businesses remain uncertain about Mongolia’s business environment, particularly dispute resolution, corruption, and regulatory issues.
As British Ambassador to Mongolia Philip Malone told The Diplomat, “Legal certainty and the fair resolution of disputes in line with the law are high on the list of concerns for investors. The U.K. and Mongolia have a bilateral investment promotion and protection agreement which can provide a mechanism to support dispute resolution.”
But, he added, “It is a very challenging area and one the Mongolian authorities must address to realize the full foreign investor potential of Mongolia, particularly through ensuring a fully independent judiciary that is not subject to outside interference.”
In 2020, in an effort to accelerate Mongolia-U.K. trade, Member of Parliament Daniel Kawczynski was appointed as the British trade envoy to Mongolia. During the 2022 U.K.-Mongolia Business Forum, Kawczynski stated that the British government was issuing 2 billion pounds in soft loans to U.K. companies to supports exports of goods and services to Mongolia.
Beyond the economic sphere, on the occasion of the Mongolia-U.K. diplomatic anniversary, the two governments are upgrading their defense cooperation agreement, which has significance in augmenting Mongolia’s peacekeeping operations.
Malone, the ambassador, told The Diplomat that “our intention to renew the defense cooperation agreement with Mongolia” serves “to underline our commitment as a third neighbor. We have had a defense cooperation agreement with Mongolia for around ten years.
“A particular focus will be on supporting Mongolia’s peacekeeping deployments through training and capacity building and the U.K.’s participation in the annual Khaan Quest peacekeeping exercise.”
From Mongolia’s foreign policy perspective, peacekeeping operations and the successful implementation of the annual Khaan Quest exercise are major mechanisms to strengthen defense relations between Mongolia and its partners around the world.
Also, with the assistance of the British government, this year for the first time Mongolian personnel studied at the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Defense Studies (RCDS).
The U.K. certainly holds a special place in Mongolia, not only as a third neighbor, but also for being the first Western nation to establish diplomatic relations with Mongolia. In the next 60 years, Mongolia and the U.K. are aiming to strengthen trade, investment, and education while expanding to newer sectors such as green initiatives.