Mongolian FM Talks Partnerships, Foreign Policy at IPI MENA

Speaking to an IPI MENA audience on March 30, 2016, the Foreign Minister of Mongolia Lundeg Purevsuren called Bahrain “the gateway for Mongolia to the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) and the wider MENA region, including Africa.” He noted that similarities between Mongolia and Bahrain made them ideal partners.

Much like Mongolia, larger neighbors surround Bahrain, he observed. “We are similar smaller countries,” he said. “We should be active and faster in order to survive, understand each other better—we should exchange business delegations and culture.” This was the Foreign Minister’s first trip to Manama.

He encouraged Bahrain’s business community and think tanks to consider Mongolia more closely as a partner because Mongolia could be their gateway to the East Asian region.

Mongolia will host the 11th Asia–Europe Meeting Summit of Heads of State and Government (ASEM11) this July in Ulaanbaatar. The Foreign Minister said he considers his partnership with IPI very important in this regard, and extended an invitation to the summit.

From the days of Genghis Khan, Mongolia has been a leader in the diplomatic community, he said. Diplomatic immunity, a key principle of international law, has its origins in his country, he reminded participants.

He said that for a country with such a strong history in diplomacy, it must continue this legacy. With the changes enacted after the peaceful revolution of 1980, Mongolia has become a democratic nation with an open society and a market economy, he said.

The lessons learned through Mongolia’s experience of democratic transition could offer insights to other nations, he said. Mongolia’s International Cooperation Fund has shared Mongolia’s experience in democratic transition with emerging democracies like Afghanistan, East Timor (Timor-Leste), Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, and Nepal.

In particular, the resource rich country can provide a case study in economic growth—its GDP grew from 1 billion to 12 billion USD in just a decade. The country’s 17.5% growth rate even made it the fastest growing economy in the world at one time, he said. The growth rate has since settled to 4%, but Mongolia has to be twice as fast as the neighbors when it comes to economic growth, he said.

Mongolian foreign policy objectives have been consistent since it adopted its new constitution in 1992—to pursue an independent, open and multilateral foreign policy, and maintain good relations with neighboring Russia and China. The countries have engaged in trilateral summits with a focus on infrastructure-building to that end.

Next, he turned to the “third neighbor” philosophy, a part of Mongolian foreign policy that addresses building relationships with countries other than the superpowers on its borders, Russia and China. Bahrain and the rest of the GCC countries are considered as part of this doctrine, he said, as are the EU, Germany, Japan, and the US. Canada and Australia are the largest investors in the Mongolian mining industry, and thus considered prominent “third neighbor” countries.

On security affairs, he reaffirmed Mongolia’s Permanent Neutrality Policy, stating that the country would neither join a military bloc nor allow one on Mongolian territory. While their neutrality will not change, Mongolia has long supported the UN in as its efforts in South Sudan, Kosovo, and Iraq, and intends to continue to support peacekeeping.

In response to a question raised by the Indonesian Ambassador regarding Mongolia’s ambition to join the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the country’s Permanent Neutrality Policy, he said that Mongolia has already engaged with APEC—Mongolia received an invitation to its summit, and serves as a practical partner of the organization. He added that Mongolia has had experience in being neutral, citing its designation as a “nuclear-free zone,” which the permanent members of the UN Security Council have recognized.

In reply to a question regarding whether Mongolia needs to change its foreign policy towards the Gulf countries, especially regarding relations with Iran, he replied that Mongolia has an open, multilateral foreign policy for all countries, and that it has traditional ties with Iran.

Mr. Puravsuren described Mongols as a nomadic people, who are very adaptive and quick learners of culture. He said that the future of Mongolia is not in the minerals, but it is in the Mongolian people. The earliest to arrive in Mongolia will have the best chance to succeed, he said.

In response to the Jordanian Ambassador’s question about Mongolia’s plans of cultural and touristic exchange with the region, he said that Mongolia would like to introduce its history and culture to the world.

He concluded by stating that cultural diplomacy is the best type of diplomacy, and soft power should be a main focus of foreign policy.

The event was held as part of IPI’s Global Leaders Series.

Nejib Friji, Director of IPI Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Office, moderated the conversation.