Mongolia seeks closer ties amid major power rivalry
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Mongolia seeks closer ties amid major power rivalry

Mongolian Foreign Minister Battsetseg Batmunkh. MFA_TOGY
Mongolian Foreign Minister Battsetseg Batmunkh. MFA_TOGY

Ulaanbaatar hopes to achieve closer ties with Thailand across the board, Mongolian Foreign Minister Battsetseg Batmunkh said during an exclusive interview with Bangkok Post.

Ms Battsetseg, the third woman to be appointed to the post, is making an official visit to Thailand from today till next Wednesday.

She spoke about her life and career, how Mongolia is navigating disruptions and how she envisions closer ties with Thailand amid a raft of geopolitical challenges.

Ms Battsetseg said she had dreamed of being a diplomat since her childhood. This led to her obtaining a master's degree in international relations at the National University of Mongolia.

After graduating, she established the "Mönkhyin üseg Group" and served as the chair of its board of directors from 2007–2015. Later she served until 2016 as an adviser to the minister of finance.

From 2016–2020 she was the vice minister of foreign relations before taking on the role of foreign minister in January 2021.

"Over the years, I have gained experience working in diverse governmental organisations, [and] holding various political positions, many of which were closely tied to foreign relations and international cooperation," she said.

Mongolia's world view

The country's foreign policy was mapped out by the State Great Hural [Parliament] of Mongolia in 2011 as it aimed to pursue a peace-oriented, open, independent and multi-pillared approach, Ms Battsetseg said.

"In this regard, we maintain balanced and good neighbourly relations with our two neighbours [China and Russia], as well as close ties and mutually beneficial cooperation with our third neighbours," Ms Battsetseg added, referring to other countries in the region.

She said Mongolia is an active player in global affairs and has diplomatic relations with all 192 UN member states, as well as the Holy See, the State of Palestine and the European Union.

Mongolia is committed to promoting peace and security not only in the region but throughout the world, Ms Battsetseg said.

With its single-state nuclear-weapon-free zone status, the country's commitment to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and achieving nuclear disarmament has been widely welcomed and supported by the international community, she said.

The "Ulaanbaatar Dialogue on Northeast Asian Security" initiative was launched in 2013 to address the security challenges in Northeast Asia. This forum has now evolved into a prominent mechanism for governments, international organisations and academia to engage, exchange views and, most importantly, to find common ground for possible solutions.

"Last year, we hosted the 8th session of the Ulaanbaatar Dialogue. More than 180 delegates, representing 30 countries and over a dozen organisations, attended the event. A new addition to the conference was the 'UBD Youth Forum' that encouraged young professionals to join the dialogue," Ms Battsetseg noted.

Mongolia views the UN peacekeeping operations as one of the important means of maintaining international peace and security, she said.

In the two decades that Mongolia has participated in UN peacekeeping, over 20,000 Mongolians have served as "blue helmets" in 11 peacekeeping missions in hot spots around the world.

"Currently, we are the 19th-largest contributor to UN peacekeeping. In the Northeast and Central Asian region, we are the second-largest troop contributor after China," Ms Battsetseg said.

Promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls, especially those living in rural areas, are also high on the Mongolian government's agenda -- moves that have been taken to the international level.

Mongolia has organised a number of events to further these goals, she said, such as an international conference on strengthening the role of women in peacekeeping in June 2022 and the Female Foreign Ministers' Meeting in June 2023.

"For this year, Ulaanbaatar will host the World Women's Forum on August 22–23. The forum will focus on the importance of women's empowerment, gender equality, and their participation and leadership in addressing climate change-related issues and the attainment of the SDGs," she said, referring to the United Nation's 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

50 years of P2P exchanges

Despite Thailand and Mongolia formally establishing ties on March 5, 1974, Ms Battsetseg said their first encounter can be traced back to the 13th or 14th century, to a meeting of their envoys.

Finding common ground in Buddhism, as well as some elements of their respective cultures and traditions, the two sides were able to lay a strong foundation for the development of ties despite their geographical separation, she said.

Since the start of democratic reforms in Mongolia in 1990, both countries have witnessed progress and success in various areas of cooperation.

People-to-people exchanges climbed, highlighted by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn's visit to Mongolia in 1992 and a visit by the president of Mongolia, His Excellency Mr P O Chirbat, to Thailand in 1994.

"Many other high-level visits followed, adding momentum, enriching the scope of cooperation, and fostering friendly relations between our two countries," Ms Battsetseg said.

At the same time, the number of Mongolians travelling to Thailand is increasing as both sides have waived visas for ordinary passport holders since 2007 and launched seasonal direct flights.

Thailand is also proving a magnet for Mongolian tourists and especially medical tourists, Ms Battsetseg said.

In 2023 over 13,000 Mongolians travelled to Thailand, a notable increase from 8,000 the year before. Conversely, the number of Thai nationals visiting Mongolia in 2023 surpassed 2,000, marking a threefold rise from 2022.

Setting its sights on welcoming more global adventurers, Ulaanbaatar has declared 2023–2025 as "The Years to Visit Mongolia", under the rallying call of "Welcome to Mongolia".

For this campaign, the government eased entry visa rules for travellers from 30 countries and launched an online visa application system that allows citizens from 99 countries to apply for visas easily, ensuring a smooth experience.

This promotion has amplified Mongolia's appeal as a top-tier destination, Ms Battsetseg said, and as of December 2023 the country has been witnessing a record influx of tourists.

Also, due to the country's expanding network of air connections and enhanced road infrastructure, navigating the vast expanses of Mongolia has become more convenient.

"We seek to welcome more Thai tourists to our country so they can experience its natural beauty and the hospitality of the Mongolian people," Ms Battsetseg said.

Mutual trade and investment

Aside from the people-to-people connections, both sides are hoping to see more mutual trade and investment.

Ms Battsetseg said a body will foster regular dialogue and expand collaboration across various sectors. A five-year work plan has also been mapped out as a framework that guides cooperation in priority areas.

Moreover, the two countries have established a Joint Trade Commission which is crucial for expanding trade and economic cooperation, she said.

"It is important to keep the momentum of our dynamic cooperation [going]," she added.

The country is seeking to explore new areas of cooperation that align with Mongolia's 2050 Vision and Thailand's Vision 2030, she noted.

As Thailand strives to become a leading industrial hub, agricultural research and development that enhances both countries' capabilities in food production could be a new area for cooperation, Ms Battsetseg suggested.

She pointed out that Mongolia's expertise in livestock farming could complement Thailand's strengths in crop cultivation and processing.

Also, joint efforts to promote organic and sustainable farming practices could open up new markets for agricultural products from both countries, especially in regions with a growing demand for organic food.

"Furthermore, we could cooperate in air cargo transportation, as our direct flights from Ulaanbaatar to Bangkok are scheduled to operate year-round starting from this year. Last year alone, 53,000 Mongolians travelled to Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya, and Thailand was one of the top destinations for Mongolians," she added.

On top of that, with the increasing demand for digital technology and innovation, Mongolia is keen to collaborate with Thailand in promoting digital innovation and entrepreneurship through exchange programmes, joint hackathons, and startup incubation initiatives.

In particular, Ms Battsetseg said, collaborating in financial technology (fintech) could involve sharing expertise in blockchain technology and developing financial services tailored to the needs of both countries.

Facilitating more interactions between Mongolian and Thai businesses is essential, she said.

Fostering closer ties between the two sides' respective business communities will cause mutual trade and investment to grow, Ms Battsetseg said.

This could involve organising more business forums, exchanging business delegations, attending Mongolia's Economic Forum and the region's largest food and beverage trade show, THAIFEX, or other trade shows and exhibitions, and engaging matchmaking events to connect potential partners and facilitate collaboration, she said.

At the same time, "MonGolia, Always Moving" was launched as this year's tourism campaign.

Ms Battsetseg said that from an economic standpoint it showcases Mongolia's investment prospects while aiming to preserve the country's traditional nomadic culture.

At the same time, it serves as an open invitation to ramp up tourism and attract increased investment.

"We also look forward to finalising drafts of the pending intergovernmental agreements and treaties that will improve the legal environment. Looking ahead, I am confident that the future of Mongolia-Thailand relations is even brighter." Ms Battsetseg said.

Regional partners

Amid a series of ongoing global challenges, Ms Battsetseg said Mongolia recognises the importance of solidarity, interconnectedness, cooperation and multilateralism.

Mongolia and Thailand are committed to not only strengthening bilateral cooperation but also to working together at multilateral forums to address issues of shared concern, she added.

Since the 1990s, Mongolia has pursued a multi-pillar and open foreign policy, actively seeking to integrate into the Asia-Pacific region.

Recognising the importance of Asean's role in regional integration, Ulaanbaatar acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia in 2005.

Ms Battsetseg said it intends to actively participate in the activities of Asean and its subsidiary bodies moving forward.

Thailand is Mongolia's third-largest trade partner in Southeast Asia.

"As we commemorate the historic milestone, I would like to share a quote from the speech of King Rama IX," Ms Battsetseg said.

"'Friendship between nations is important, but what is more important is people-to-people relations, which can guarantee peace and progress'."

"I firmly believe in the significance of this statement, as it underscores the paramount importance of fostering connections between individuals as the cornerstone for achieving lasting peace and progress," Ms Battsetseg continued.

"I am confident that our relationship will continue to flourish, and I look forward to working closely with my Thai counterparts to further strengthen our partnership for the mutual benefit of our countries and people."

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