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  Mongolia and Russia-China in the new millennium


Professor, Dr.Bayasakh,

School of foreign service

National University of Mongolia




Mongolia is a land-locked country located between two big neighbors, Russia and China. It is huge, empty land and small population. It is economically weak in comparison to its neighbors. The Mongols have a truly astonishing history. Close to eight centuries ago they erupted on the world arena as if out of now here. The imperial power of Mongols of that time subdued their neighbors and ­made them follow the great Mongol policies. Mongolia's neighbors form themselves in an exclusive relationship with the empire.. This was the only period in history when Mongols were dominant in their relationship with their two neighbors. Since the mid-seventeenth century till the end of the Cold War era Mongolia became in general isolated from the outside world, with relations only with its two neighbors. This resulted in the country becoming weak, demoralized and disintegrated, almost under their dependency. It was in 1911 when, after over 200 years of struggle under the Manchu rule, the Mongols reclaimed their independence. It did not last for long, however.

Russia and China did not consider Mongolia as an independent state, and soon in 1919 Chinese General Xu Shuzheng gained control of Mongolia. After Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, in 1917, Mongolian nationalism was gaining more and more strength and, in 1921, the People's Revolution broke out in Mongolia. Mongolia's independence was recognized by the Bolshevik Russia. But even then Mongolia's situation did not improve as much as one would have expected. Mongolia fell under the burden of communism, which for seventy years cut off the nation from the rest of the world. Soviet influence was so enormous that in reality Mongolia was counted as a little more than a Sovie1 republic. Despite all this, Mongolia survived, loosing some and at the same time gaining some. Mongolia's pride and commitment to their nation withstood the constraints and pressures from neighbors as well as from ideology. The modern history of Mongolia or, in other words, Mongolia's history in the twentieth century can be referred to as the period of survival and of triumph for sovereignty. All these changes clearly suggest that Mongolia was, is and will continue to be influenced by both its neighbors.


Historically, Mongolia's ties with China have been closer than those with Russia. Russia appears on the Mongol horizon in the early and later medieval period and of course it has been very prominently there from the beginning of this century. However, direct contact and interaction with sedentary China go back to ancient times. The relationship with Russia started from the seventeenth century, while the Russians reached the Yenisei. Ten years later they were up to the Lena River. In 1644 they were on the Amur River and in the mid-seventeenth century they founded their settlements at the southern end of the Baikal Lake and Amur Basin, like Irkutsk and Khabarovsk. The latter was occupied by general Khabarov and named after him. Both our neighbors were overawed by Mongolia. Both suffered a lot during Mongolia's rise and its power for thousands of years. They were naturally interested in destroying its power. They were understandably happy at the decline of Mongolian power and ascendancy. In contrast to Russia, China was dependent on Mongolia throughout its history. Equally, expeditions and wars provoked by the northern neighbor drove Mongols southward quite often, provoking political crisis in China. This was the situation till the complete downfall of the Mongolian sovereignty in the mid-seventeenth century. Mongolia of both sides of Gobi desert and the western group of Mongols also became subjects of the Manchu Qing dynasty as well as China itself. Only most northerly group of Mongols, Buriyat Mongols, became subjects of the Tsar of Russia as a result of the Treaty of Nerchinsk, concluded between Russians and Manchus in 1689. Actually, Mongolia and Mongols were divided between their neighbors, those to the north and west came under the Russian rule and those to the south under the Manchu rule. Mongols lost their independence becoming a part of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). The situation might have remained unchanged had it not been for the birth of Mongolian nationalism. In the nineteenth century, as increasing numbers of Russian settlers moved into Buriyatia and Chinese into Inner Mongolia, Mongols in those regions responded by becoming more aware of their national identity and the need to assert it. Nationalism developed more slowly in Outer Mongolia till 1906, when the Manchu imperial government, under pressure from Chinese society, announced "a New Policy towards Mongolia", which gave Mongols permission to settle Outer Mongolia by the Chinese people, conduct trade activities and use its land for agriculture. The policy also permitted mixed marriages. Until that time the influx of settlers in Outer Mongolia was small and the corresponding pressures on the indigenous population were less marked. Nevertheless, it was in Outer Mongolia that independent Mongolia was re-established, when the Qing dynasty disintegrated and was overthrown in 1911. In the same year "Independent Mongolia' was instituted under the leadership of Bogdo Jebzundamba Khutugtu, the Living Buddha. Later the government of Mongolia announced its independence and establishment of Mongolian state to the nine big powers of that time, namely, the UK, France, Germany, USA, Japan, Denmark, Hol1and, Belgium and Austria. For various reasons they did not extend recognition to Mongolia. Only Tibet established bilateral relationship and signed a treaty with "state of Mongolia' in 1913. Mongols, under the leadership of some patriotic nobles and Bogdo, sought national independence and reunification of all Mongols and their territories. But Mongolia's two neighbors, the Tsarist Russia and the newly formed Republic of China, did not willingly give up their claims on Mongolia. From this time on, both neighbors had different positions on the Mongolian independence issue. Russian interest in Mongolia was to create a buffer zone between China and themselves. Consequently, the Russian government waged a double-track policy, which, on the one hand, encouraged the Outer Mongolian independence, on the other hand, they discouraged the reunification of all Mongols. It did not pressure China to recognize Mongolian independence. The Russians also wanted to protect the interest of the considerable number of Russian merchants and entrepreneurs who were already well established in Outer Mongolia. They also forced the Mongolian government to accept the autonomous Mongolia proposal of 1913 and to sign a so-called "trilateral treaty of Khyakhta" in 1915. However, Mongolia continued to be divided into the northern (Outer Mongolia) and southern (Inner Mongolia) sections. Later, the Russian Imperial Government itself was swept away and Mongolia temporarily lost its independence when the Chinese General Xu Shuzhen gained control in 1919. Yet, even while this was happening, Mongolian nationalism was given a new
impetus, this time under the influence of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.


The Mongolian People's Party (later renamed as the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party) was founded in 1921 and took possession of the capital, Urga. The provisional revolutionary government declared once again the "independence" of Mongolia on 11 July 1921. In the same year independent Mongolia was officially recognized by Bolshevik Russia and the Mongolian People's Republic was proclaimed on the territory of Outer Mongolia in 1924. Since the victory of People's Revolution of Mongolia in 1921, there was established a new relationship between Mongolia and newly-formed Soviet Union. During this period of more than seventy years till the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian interest in Mongolia was replaced by the Soviet involvement, and the country became locked into an exclusive relationship with the Soviet Union that it was in effect little more than a Soviet republic. The relationship with its southern neighbor during this period was almost non-existent. World War II changed this relationship with China. It was in 1946, that China belatedly recognized Mongolia's independence. When China became the People's Republic in 1949 diplomatic relationship was re-established between the two countries. Since that time, till the early sixties the trilateral relationship between Mongolia and both its neighbors, based as it was on socialism and the Marxist-Leninist ideology, was quite positive. During that "honeymoon" Mongolia signed a treaty of
mutual friendship with the PRC in 1960, and the border between two states marked in 1962. Later, when the southern neighbor had a "cultural revolution" (1966-1976), Mongolia once again closely imitated the Soviet policies and the relationship with
China was in stagnation for two decades. Mongolia of that time became an armed camp: the Soviet and Chinese troops were posted against one another along the Mongolian-Chinese border. Tensions between Ulaanbaatar and Beijing lessened when Sino-Soviet rapprochement began to evolve in the mid eighties.


The Mongolian-Chinese relationship became completely normal with the withdrawal of
Soviet troops from Mongolia in 1990-1991. It was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union that Mongolia became really independent. Tensions between Ulaanbaatar and Beijing lessened. And "buffer state" Mongolia now held a position of neutrality towards its neighbors. Nowadays, Mongolia has its "own voice" on its foreign policy and an equal relation with both neighbors. It has signed a treaty on friendly relations and cooperation both with Russia (in 1993) and the PRC (in 1994).

The economic relations of Mongolia with two neighbors are different than before. Though the re-establishment of relations with China in nearly all fields represented a new start, they developed very quickly. In particular, the development of economic relations was indeed fast. China accounted for 16.9 per cent of Mongolian foreign trade in 1996. In 2003 it totaled 34.1 per cent. Relations with Russia has at the state of stagnation till the year of 2000 and beyond since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA). Nevertheless, Russia remains one of Mongolia's leading trade partners and the trade with Russia accounted for 27.5 per cent in 1996 of Mongolia's foreign trade and 21.6 per cent in 2003. (Table 1)

Total Russia  PRC   
 1995 1996* 1995 1996* 1995 1996*   
Export 511.6 422.9 66.9 87.2 73.2 75.02   
   13.1'Y" 20.6% 14.3% 17.7%   
Import 388.7 438.3 198.3 150.1 39.4 63.99   
   51.0'Y" 34.2% 10.t °/" 14.6%   
Total Foreign 900.3 861.2 268.9 237.3 112.6 139.02   
Trade Turnover   29.87'Yo 27.5% 12.5'Yo 16.1% 

Table I. Mongolia's trade with Russia and China ( in million USD)
"Based 011 the data given on the "Statistical Bulletin of 2003", December 2003, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

In 1995 Mongolia was dependent on Russia for 50.1 per cent of its imports, particularly of petroleum and lubricants. In 1996 imports dropped to 34.4 per cent, but rose to 36.2 per cent in 1997, rise of 1.8 per cent. Since 1989 Mongolia has been negotiating with major foreign companies on prospecting for and processing of oil. Several international energy firms are already pursuing investment opportunities in Mongolia, surveying the southern, eastern and south-eastern regions of Mongolia for prospective oil deposits. Western company officials have estimated oil reserves in place it two known fields of Mongolia at 50 million barrels, of which between 10 to 30 per cent can be recovered. The Mongolian ministry of trade has emphasized that development of in-country processing of oil, as an import substitution, would be favorably considered. Starting from the first half of this year, Mongolia began to export its oil to China and the export increase will depend on resource utilization. The Mongol Petroleum Company, jointly with American, Russian and Chinese oil firms, implements projects in developing the portions of twenty two blocks in the far-east of the country. Company president Bayarkhuu says: "We can't say exactly how much our reserves are, but our estimates now suggest that there are up to 600 million barrels of oil in all of Mongolia".

In Post-Cold War era, Mongolia has created its own foreign policy concept. It can be summarized thus:

Maintaining friendly relations with the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China shall be a priority direction of Mongolia's foreign policy activity. It shall not adopt the line of either country but shall maintain in principle a balanced relationship with both of them and shall promote all-around good-neighborly cooperation. In doing so, the traditional relations as well as the specific nature of our economic cooperation with these two countries will be taken into account. In September 1992, Mongolia declared a nuclear free zone that was recognized by its two neighbors, the USA and other United Nations Security Council members. Many of us know that: Since the end of World War II, the Soviet Union alone conducted about 715 tests, of which 506 were in the atmosphere. The vast majority of these tests was conducted at the Sellipalatinsk test site.

China has conducted 41 tests at the Lop Nor test site, of which 23 were in the atmosphere. Both of these test sites are relatively close to the Mongolian border. Until 1 996 only two countries, China and France continued the nuclear weapons tests despite international concern and protests. At beginning of 1995 France announced the end of its tests and its commitment to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). China opted unwillingly for "zero option" and "opposed a test ban". In 1998 Mongolian President P.Ochirbat sent a special protest message to top leaders in Beijing, which was passed on to the Chinese President Jiang Zemin by the Mongolian prime minister P. Jasrai on his visit to Beijing during 27-30 March. Mongolia has made a point of protesting all of Beijing's nuclear tests, which are conducted at the Lop Nor test site in north-eastern Xinjii:mg province (autonomous region) near the Mongolia border. The message noted that good ties between Ulaanbaatar and Beijing were essential and expressed gratitude
far China's support of Mongolia's self-declared nuclear-free zone. The Renmin Ribao did not carry the “protest” message of the Mongolian president, but it was full of the articles on Sino-Mongolian friendship and mutual economic cooperation. Towards the end of 1996 China finally signed the CTBT. As of now all nuclear power states have stopped conducting tests. Mongolia is finally received of nuclear hazards.

As a result of the new foreign policy Mongolia signed treaties on friendly relations and cooperation with its two nuclear power neighbors, which committed the neighbors not to enter any political and military blocs, not to sign any agreement with third parties nor to allow the use of one's territory which may threaten the sovereignty and security of the other country.


Mongolia is a sparsely populated country of nearly 2.4 million people and an almost homogeneous Mongolian speaking population. As a bitter deal of history, a majority of Mongols live outside Mongolia. They inhabit in neighboring Russia and China, as well as Iran, Afghanistan and other countries. Five million Mongols live in China and around one million in Russia and several hundred thousand live in different countries. Therefore, the total population of Mongols is around 9 million. At the beginning of this century and during its first two decades there was a strong Pan­-Mongol movement among ethnic Mongols that ended only with the re-establishment of the Mongolian state in Outer Mongolia, which historically always was the center of all Mongolian states throughout her over 2000-year history. The Mongolian leader Kh.Choibalsan had tried to discuss the possibility of the reunification of all Mongols with J.Stalin at the end of World War II, but he was unsuccessful.

These pan-Mongol sentiment is very much there in Mongolia and among the Mongolian minorities in China and Russia.. According to the Proclamation of the Union of Human Rights Protection of Inner Mongolia announced on 20 February 1996, during the last fifty years under Chinese communist regime out of 5 million Inner Mongolians, 300,000 were killed and a half of million of them injured; the Proclamation also noted that they stood for independence of Inner Mongolia and support to the people of Tibet and Xinjiang. The proclamation was published in the Mongolian independent newspaper IL Tovchoo as a result, and after the detention of Inner Mongolian protesters, in December of 1995, in Inner Mongolia. Hundreds of Mongolians protested last February and March in Ulaanbaatar against what they called widespread abuse of human rights in Chinese Inner Mongolia. On 7 May 1997 in Ulaanbaatar, few dozen people also protested against the abuse of human rights in Chinese Inner Mongolia. The situation of Buriyat Mongols in general is under control. However, they are unhappy with the national policy of President Leonid Potapov of Buriyatia, who is of "Russian" origin, or "mangad" in Buriyat Mongolian language, which means "monster". Most Mongols in south-eastern Russia, the so-called Kalmyks are still trying to survive among the Russians and stand up economically under the leadership of the Kalmyk president K.llyumjinov, who is always described in negative terms in Russian newspapers, both official and unofficial.
Pan-Mongol feeling might become a movement as the "heartland" of all Mongols-present­ day Mongolia develops economically and the living standards grow higher than in neighboring countries (Russia and China). Nationalism will arise as a main ideology for all Mongols, and human rights and democracy will become a real issue for all of them. Of course, these processes will take decades. They are unlikely to become a reality in the near future.


Mongolia of the last decade of the twentieth century is a very different country from what it was even ten years ago. Now Mongolia is a democratic and market economy-oriented country with a multi-party parliament. Mongolia's relations with its two neighbors are equal and developing in the right direction. This Post Cold War era trilateral relationship will continue in a positive direction unless there is a political breakdown in Russia or there is a radical change in PRC's policy towards Taiwan. The state of bilateral relations between Mongolia's two neighbors has undergone a change since the proclamation of the joint statement of Russia and China on their position in the world, signed on 23 March 1997 by the Russian president Boris Yeltsin and his Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin in Moscow. This document aims towards multi-polarization and new world order, which was dictated by their interest of having an alliance against US's efforts to build a 1-polar world order dominated by itself.

Strategic partnership of Mongolia's neighbors is steadily and noticeably strengthening and high-level visits have become regular. In 1997 Qiao Shi, chairman of the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress, and vice-premier and foreign minister Qian Qichen and in 1999 Jiang Zemin, president of the People's Republic of China, and 2003 a new president of the People's Republic of China Hu Jintao made visits to Mongolia, and Mongolia's foreign and defense ministers officially visited China and president N .Bagabandi visited in 1998. In contrast, while there were reports of possible visits of Boris Y eltsin an_ Victor Chernomyrdin to Mongolia, none of these visits materialized. However, the foreign minister, YevgenyPrimakov, did visit Mongolia in 1997. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union its dominance over Mongolia and Eastern Europe has greatly diminished. During its absence the gap was filled by the Western world and the USA. Currently, Russia hopes to restore its influence over Eastern Europe and Mongolia. As an indication of that, the president of Russia V.Putin, he visited Mongolia in 2000, and in next year, 2001, the Russian premier M.Rasiyanov also visited Mongolia. Since these high rank visits and official talks, Russia restored her relation with Mongolia and last December on the Eve of New Year, Russian Government annulled the debt of Mongolia, which was received during the Soviet dominance totaled by around 10 billion US$. But the Mongolian Government paid some debt interest, near 250 million US$. That Russian government’s gesture, in some way, helps Russia to recover her absence in Mongolia in the last decade of the 20th century.

Throughout the twentieth century Russian and Soviet influence over Mongolia has been predominant factor in its national development. The post-Cold War era has changed Mongolia's external environment The future of Mongolia will depend not only on well-established relationships with its two neighbors on the vertical level but also on its relations with the outside world on the horizontal level: Germany and other West European countries in the west, and Japan, Korea, USA, and whole of the Pacific rim in the east. It will provide some kind of balance to Mongolia's relationship with its two nuclear neighbors.

In conclusion, Mongolia is still geopolitically important, for both Russia and China as a buffer and for the rest of the world as a SOMP (states other than major powers) country.


 1. "Annual Economic Development Report. Mongolia-l 995", National Development Ulaanbaatar, February
2. "INVESTMENT GUJDE TO MONGOLIA", Ministry of Trade and Industry, Chamber of Commerce and
Industry of Mongolia, Market Research Institute of MTl, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 28 November, 1995.
3. " 1997 - World i"n Perspective", Arena publications, London, 1997.
4. "The Mongolian Journal 6fInternational Affairs", No.2, 1995.
5. "The Japan Times", April 21,1996.
6. "The Japan Times", April 7,1996.
7. "Renmin Ribao", ApriJ 27-31,1996.
February 21-29,1996.
9. "The
Japan Times", February 2,1996.
10." The Japan Times", April 7,1996.
11. "Nezavisimaya Gazda", January 12, 1996
12. "Zasgiin Gazryn Medee" (Mongolian GovernmentNews) May 2,1997
13. Wu Qinghe, "1996: An Overview of the Post-Cold War International Situation", "Foreign Afbirs
Journal", No.43, March 1997, p.38.


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