Li's Mongolia visit: The Belt/Road project assumes its working format

By Tim Collard
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, July 14, 2016
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From July 13-14, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visits the neighboring nation of Mongolia. China's relations with Mongolia have not always been straightforward, as the large landlocked nation was firmly within the Soviet orbit until 1991, but since then, every effort has been made to ensure good neighborly relations along the very extensive border - over 4,700 kilometres. And now, Mongolia has been drawn into a comprehensive multilateral forum for anchoring the nations of the region into a wide-ranging arc of prosperity - the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which was founded in 1996 to establish working relations between the European Union (EU) and ASEAN, with some neighboring countries including China, and has been growing ever since.

The bilateral relationship between China and Mongolia has been stable. President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Ulan Bator two years ago. Since then, the Mongolians have elected a new government, and this is the Chinese government's first direct meeting with Prime Minister Jargaltulga Erdenebat's new team.

The two countries' geographical proximity and the recent resurgence of China on the international stage have dictated the shape of the relationship. China has inevitably become Mongolia's biggest trade partner, accounting for more than 60 percent of its total foreign trade volume, and also Mongolia's main source of foreign direct investment.

But a partnership which is too one-sided cannot work in the long term. During the recent development of bilateral economic relations the two countries have set up intergovernmental cooperation commissions in the most promising fields, namely science and technology, mineral resources and digital interconnectivity; it is hoped that bilateral trade volumes might reach US$10 billion by 2020.

The bilateral relationship may well be able to enjoy a considerable boost from China's Belt and Road initiative, as China is keen to define the "Belt" as widely as possible, with Mongolia forming a northern sector providing a geographical link to Russia and north-eastern Europe. Mongolia has her own parallel project, the Steppe Road, and there is an obvious synergy between the two. The Steppe Road plan focuses strongly on transport infrastructure, aiming at boosting the Mongolian economy through trans-border transportation. It is hoped that Premier Li's visit, with his entourage of specialists, will lay down the practical foundations for the implementation of what the two countries have agreed in principle.

Following the bilateral meetings, China's neighborly support for Mongolia in hosting the ASEM summit will be much appreciated. It will be a major multilateral get-together on a scale which Mongolia has not previously been accustomed to hosting. And the presence of the Chinese Premier and his team will be helpful both in practical terms and in raising the status of the occasion.

As the two countries are neighbors, there is a lot to be gained from cultural contacts and visits in both directions. A million Mongolians, a third of the entire population, visited China in 2015. (China, of course, has a fairly large ethnic Mongolian population in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, so there is a clear basis for developing cultural ties.) China has also arranged to translate a number of famous Chinese films and TV dramas into Mongolian, to increase mutual understanding at a grass-roots level.

The attention paid by China to Mongolia, as demonstrated by Premier Li's visit, shows the depth of China's regional diplomatic policy - it is not only the large, powerful or geographically crucial countries which attract top-level approaches. Despite her geographical extent, Mongolia has a very small population by Chinese standards. However, like many of China's neighbor countries, Mongolia is very much in need of the improvements in infrastructure which can facilitate development. The policy of the current Chinese leadership, as shown by the formation of the Belt and Road project and the establishment of the AIIB as its primary funding mechanism, is not to exploit the poverty of China's neighbors in the pursuit of domination or hegemony, but to establish a network of partnerships forming a solid basis for development within the entire region.

Poverty and underdevelopment can cause unrest which can spill over borders to give rise to widespread insecurity. At many points along the Silk Road Economic Belt there are threats of terrorism, caused in the first place by Islamist ideology but with a background of poverty and unemployment. People who have good jobs and an economic basis for their families do not get involved in extremism and terrorism. China knows that regional and global security is best underpinned by a strong foundation of mutually beneficial economic and commercial partnerships. It is only when our neighbors are prosperous that our own prosperity can be considered secure. That is the lesson of China's Belt and Road initiative for the rest of the world.

Tim Collard is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of


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