Why the U.S. Should Build on Its Role as Mongolia’s "Third Neighbor"

COMMENTARY Asia

Why the U.S. Should Build on Its Role as Mongolia’s "Third Neighbor"

Nov 29th, 2018 2 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Anthony B. Kim

Research Manager and Editor of the Index of Economic Freedom

Anthony B. Kim researches international economic issues at The Heritage Foundation, with a focus on economic freedom and free trade.
Over the past three decades, Mongolia has been a reliable diplomatic ally of the U.S. AlpamayoPhoto/Getty Images

Mongolia, a landlocked nation of about 3 million people between China and Russia, has become an increasingly important geopolitical partner to the United States.

America’s relationship with Mongolia is not insignificant and provides many opportunities for both countries.

The United States established diplomatic relations with Mongolia in 1987. Since then, the U.S. has been firmly regarded as Mongolia’s most important “third neighbor”—a country that does not border Mongolia, but has strategic relations with it.

Over the past three decades, Mongolia has been a reliable diplomatic ally of the U.S. The country’s transition to stable democracy has been notable, too, especially among former Soviet republics.

Mongolia’s multiparty parliamentary system has yielded an open society, where political dissent is the norm, parliamentary debate is spirited, and compromise between parties is not uncommon.

That contrasts starkly with the rest of post-Soviet Central Asia, where some presidential governments have resulted in autocracies.

The State Department’s Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations for fiscal year 2019 asserts that the “primary goals of U.S. assistance to Mongolia are to ensure the United States remains a preferred partner over geographical neighbors Russia and China, and to give Mongolia greater latitude to chart an independent foreign and security policy.”

More importantly, Mongolia has been considered as an “emerging partner” and as a country with which the U.S. may cooperate to achieve a “shared vision of rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific.”

In fact, Mongolia has already demonstrated a strong commitment to working with the United States on strategic issues.

Mongolia is one of nine NATO “partner” nations, along with Japan and South Korea, in East Asia. Mongolia participates in United Nations global peacekeeping operations and has more than 1,000 peacekeepers deployed in Africa.

Mongolia sent troops to Iraq from 2003 to 2008, and currently has more than 200 troops in Afghanistan serving together with American forces.

All in all, Mongolia has maintained a constructively engaging relationship with the U.S. However, more can and should be done in enhancing bilateral interaction.

In particular, the U.S.-Mongolia economic relationship needs to evolve from one largely based on aid and various types of technical assistance to a partnership based much more on private sector-driven trade and investment.

The Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to raise the American profile and elevate its participation in the region are well-advised. However, without a distinct trade component, they are likely to amount to little more than an empty gesture.

The U.S. efforts need substance, and substance that can count in a concrete and practical way is trade.

To that end, Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and nine other members of the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced a bipartisan trade bill concerning the United States and Mongolia.

The proposed Mongolia Third Neighbor Trade Act seeks to deepen the U.S.-Mongolia trade relationship. The bill could play a practical role in ensuring Mongolia’s ongoing economic development by incentivizing targeted economic reforms.

Over the past three decades, the United States and Mongolia have made the strategic choice to forge and defend a relationship based on “shared commitment to freedom, democracy, and human rights.”

That choice must be reinforced with concrete and practical action that can further enhance the two nations’ partnership. Increased trade is the logical step forward.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal