By Wang Wei-fang
The Jamestown Foundation
China Brief, Volume 5 Issue
May 5, 2005
9/11, there has been an emphasis on high-level exchange
between China and Mongolia, and as these discussions indicate,
terrorism prevention and cooperation on regional security
issues has gradually become the core content of the talks. By
contrast, pre-9/11 Sino-Mongolian exchange focused around
economic cooperation. For the future, Beijing and Ulaanbaatar
will work diligently together by taking further steps in
making regional security a top priority.
In January 2002 Mongolian president Nambaryn Enkhbayar, while
on an official trip to China, agreed to strengthen economic
cooperation between Beijing and Ulaanbaatar, and went even
further to condemn terrorism. The Chinese government approved
of the Mongolian condemnation and responded by proposing the
establishment of a cooperation mechanism in Northeast Asia.
While on an official visit to Mongolia in June 2003, Chinese
President Hu Jintao gave a speech to the Mongolian parliament
in which he articulated three focal points of Sino-Mongolian
relations. First on the economic front, Beijing's policy is to
push forward with cooperation between China and Mongolia.
China has already become Mongolia's biggest trade and direct
investment partner. Second in terms of security, Beijing and
Ulaanbaatar will strengthen cooperation and seek to create a
peaceful and friendly border. At the same time, the two sides
will look to strengthen coordination and cooperation on both
international and regional issues, and to defend regional
peace and stability. And lastly, Hu pointed out that the
People's Republic of China (PRC) supports Mongolia's policy
against having foreign troops deployed within its borders and
its status as a nuclear weapon and WMD-free state. In sum,
China supports Mongolian equality and the development of
friendly cooperation with global partners.
In July 2004, after Hu Jintao's official trip to Ulaanbaatar,
Mongolian President Bagabandu paid a return visit to Beijing.
While there, Bagabandi concluded the "Mongolia-China Joint
Statement," which declared the content of not only future
political, economic, and cultural exchange between the two
countries, but also advocated keeping a watch on the Korean
peninsula to see that the nuclear crisis is peacefully
resolved, an essential part of maintaining regional security.
In addition, China would support Mongolia's accession to the
Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), and demonstrate its good will
by granting Ulaanbaatar observer status in the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization's (SCO). In the future, China would
also support Mongolia's bid to become a member of the
Asia-Pacific Economic Community (APEC) and the Asia-Europe
Meeting (ASEM). As far as preventing terrorism is concerned,
both sides naturally agreed to strengthen international
cooperation to oppose it.
Mongolian Nationalism as a Potential Stumbling Block
Despite the warm cooperation between Beijing and Ulaanbaatar,
any surge in Mongolian nationalism would adversely affect the
relationship. At present, Mongolian nationalist movements may
be found in Mongolia, the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia,
and Russia's regions of Buryatskaya and Kalmykia. Based on a
common traditional culture, Mongolian nationalism quickly
resumed salience during 1989 when Mongolia was making a
political turnaround. In 1990, after the Mongolian Democratic
Party publicly put forward its argument on "Uniting the Three
Mongolias" (Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, and Mongolian
Buryatskaya), they also advocated "providing a unified spoken
and written language and a nationality which could naturally
be linked together." They also supported a union between Inner
Mongolia, Mongolian Buryatskaya, Mongolian Xinjiang, and other
regions which would in turn unite Mongolians under one "Great
Mongolia." In September 1993 the movement went even further by
convening a "Global Mongolian Clansmen Plenary Session" in
Ulaanbaatar, which in the future became the force behind the
so-called doctrine of "Pan-Mongolism" (this activity was first
supported by Japan in 1919 against the Bolsheviks and later it
was broadened and used by the Mongolian nationalist movement).
At that time, achieving Mongolian nationalist unity was a
great undertaking, and as a result, different but interrelated
Mongolian nationalist organizations were established in Inner
Mongolia (the "Inner Mongolian Nationalist Liberation
Alignment") and Buryatskaya (the "Buryatskaya Alliance") and
proceeded to divide the Pan-Mongolism movement. Later in March
1997, Mongolians from China, Mongolia, Germany, the U.S., and
other countries all convened at Princeton University for the
"Global Mongolian Clansmen Plenary Session," to discuss the
Inner Mongolian nationalist liberation movement. The
resolution was to establish the "Inner Mongolian People's
Party" (in Chinese neiren dang for "Inner People's Party")
devoted to supporting an Inner Mongolian independence
movement. After the meeting, Mongolians all over the world
used the 50 year anniversary of the establishment of the
"Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region" to stage all types of
Even though under Mongolia's direction the nationalist
movement has progressed rapidly, in fact the Inner Mongolia
Autonomous Region has only gained some 4 million adherents
(according to the fifth census completed in 2000), which only
constitutes 17 percent of the total population. In addition,
daily Sinification has hindered the success of nationalist
activity. Thus, the influence of Mongolian nationalism will
From the Chinese perspective, there is already a worry that
the democratic nature of Mongolia will foment the political
demands of clans within the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
This would cause an identity problem amongst large numbers of
Mongolians, inciting them to unite inside China's borders.
Such an event could give rise to a chain reaction which would
critically jeopardize Chinese national security, leading to
Xinjiang independence, Tibetan independence, and even Taiwan
independence. Therefore for its part, the Chinese government
has not been soft-hearted toward Mongolian independence, and
Beijing has taken strong steps to repress protests and
Another reason the Chinese are against the spread of
Pan-Mongolism is because of history: China has never abandoned
its wild goal of recapturing Mongolia, and correspondingly,
China will absolutely not permit Mongolian nationalist thought
to foment within its borders. This factor is also compelling
the Chinese government to enlarge economic aid to Mongolia to
strengthen bilateral relations, and at the same time to
strengthen Mongolia's degree of economic dependence on China,
all in order to obtain Beijing's long-term political
Considering Mongolia's economic needs, Ulaanbaatar is cautious
about contradicting its political relationship with China.
After 9/11, under the pressure of combating international
terrorism and opposing Mongolian independence, Xinjiang
independence, Tibetan independence, and others, the doctrine
of national minority movements has been given less leeway and
gradually been suppressed. Hence, so-called "Pan-Mongolism"
will have no choice but to remain behind the scenes.
Sino-Mongolian relations has de-emphasized Mongolian
nationalism and focused more on regional security cooperation.
America's Impact on the Sino-Mongolian relationship
After 9/11, both China and Mongolia each respectively had
different methods and different degrees of participating with
the U.S. in its actions against terrorism. Due to Mongolia's
strategic positioning in Northeast Asia, Ulaanbaatar fit in
well with America's new wartime strategy to project superior
force in the region. As a result, Washington has begun to push
forward many facets of political, economic, and military
Previously a socialist state, Mongolia has since succeeded in
transitioning toward becoming an Asian democracy.
Consequently, the U.S. has looked to create an important ally
in Northeast Asia by assisting Ulaanbaatar with continued
improvements in its democratic culture. Economically, the U.S.
has already become Mongolia's third largest trading partner
behind China and Russia (first and second respectively).
Beginning in 2004 and running through 2005, Mongolia has been
classified by the Bush administration as a recipient of aid,
or as a "Millennium Challenge Account." In terms of regional
military security, the U.S. in 2003 and 2004 held joint
military exercises and other cooperative projects with
Ulaanbaatar, both on the inside and outside of Mongolia.
As Ulaanbaatar's 1994 "Mongolia White Paper on Foreign
Affairs" clearly demonstrates, even though Russia and China
would receive priority status in Mongolian foreign relations,
it also showed that the U.S., Japan, Western Europe (the
so-called "Third Neighbors"), would also be a focal point of
external relations. Since Russian influence over Mongolia has
gradually dried up, the PRC has rapidly moved in to replace
Moscow as Ulaanbaatar's primary investor. China's port at
Tianjin serves as an economic lifeline for Ulaanbaatar since
Mongolian exports must be transported through it. Because of
this, China has maintained an influence over Mongolia and it
only has increased since 9/11.
Since 9/11, the U.S. has not merely broken into Central Asia
by means of fighting terrorism or by dispatching forces to
defend its interests there, but Washington has also
established military cooperation and exchange with Mongolia.
China has analyzed these actions as part of a new U.S.
military strategy for Asia designed for its needs. The Chinese
government regards the U.S. as "a potential foe" which is
threatening to deploy an encirclement strategy connecting from
Central Asia on up to Mongolia. In the future this will make
China feel more restricted and less secure. Therefore from now
on, Beijing cannot afford to overlook the importance of
developing relations with Mongolia to counter the U.S.
Wang Wei-fang is the Counselor of Research at the Mongolian
and Tibetan Affairs Commission in Taiwan. She is also
Assistant Professor at Lung-hwa University.
Translated and edited by Derek Grossman.