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  Japan-Mongolia Ties Strategically Important

The Yomiuri Shimbun

August 11, 2006

Mongolia has recently been in the international spotlight, not just because of its mineral resources, but also as a stage where China and Russia on one side and the United States on the other are playing a game of power politics.

This is probably why Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi decided to visit the country before he leaves office.

During his meeting with Mongolian Prime Minister Miyeegombyn Enkhbold on Thursday, the two leaders agreed to establish a "forum for dialogue" over regional situations, including North Korean issues.

With the establishment of the forum, Japan may hope Mongolia will join the international coalition against North Korea, with which Mongolia has had diplomatic relations since it was a communist state.

At the forum, the two countries, naturally, will take up for discussion moves by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which groups China, Russia and four Central Asian nations, with Mongolia taking part as an observer.

Ulan Bator draws a line

This organization has raised its profile not only over the development of energy resources in Central Asian nations, but also as an emergent "anti-U.S. league."

Last summer, Uzbekistan demanded the withdrawal of U.S. military bases from its soil, in line with a policy adopted at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. There is now only one U.S. base in Central Asia--in Kyrgyz Republic.

Mongolia has drawn a line between the organization's stance and its own. Sandwiched between the two major powers of China and Russia, and with China's economic influence rising recently, Mongolia is attempting to foster better relations with the United States, in an apparent bid to reduce its dependency on China and Russia.

The United States, for its part, attaches importance to Mongolia, which it wants to use as diplomatic leverage against China and Russia. In autumn, U.S. President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld paid separate visits to Mongolia in which they discussed ways to reinforce bilateral relations in areas including military cooperation. On Friday, Mongolia will start joint military exercises with U.S. forces on its soil.

Tokyo's help welcomed

Japan is another country with which Mongolia is hoping to reinforce its bilateral relations.

Since Mongolia became a democracy in 1990 and shifted to a market economy, Japan has been its biggest aid donor. In recognition of this, Mongolian presidents and prime ministers have visited Japan on eight occasions in the past 16 years.

For Japan, stronger relations with Mongolia are strategically significant when this country involves itself in regional developments, in step with the United States, in respect of the organization's energy policy.

Due to remarkable performances by yokozuna Asashoryu and other professional sumo wrestlers from Mongolia, sumo is said to be enjoying a boom in Mongolia. Given the pro-Japan sentiment in Mongolia, Japan to reinforce its ties with the country with relative ease.

During his meeting with Enkhbold, Koizumi presented the people of Mongolia with copies of the Japanese folktales picture books "Kasa Jizo" (Kasa Guardian Deity) and "Tsuru no Ongaeshi" (The Grateful Crane). This was in response to a request from Mongolia asking Japan to recommend some of its folktales that Mongolia could include in its primary and middle school textbooks.

If the affinity among people of both countries strengthens at a grassroots level like this, bilateral relations between Japan and Mongolia will become firmer in turn.



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