The question of whether Mongolia will join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is gaining traction ahead of a big meeting tomorrow.
The SCO is an international forum that brings together the leaders of major Asian states to talk about security, politics and economics. It was formed in 2001 in Shanghai (hence the name). Mongolia is currently an observer state, but not a full member.
Since its creation, the SCO has mostly been seen as a way for its main countries – Russia, China and India – to cooperate on military issues, such as organising exercises and collaborating on counter-terrorism efforts. Yet in recent years, the SCO has been rebranding itself as both a military and economic get-together.
Tomorrow’s meeting will be the first time that India’s leader Narendra Modi and Chinese president Xi Jinping have been in the same (virtual) room since fatal clashes along their Himalayan border earlier this year. According to the South China Morning Post, Beijing has said that the two leaders won’t be meeting on the sidelines of the summit (as leaders often do).
Ahead of the meeting, Mongolia’s Foreign Minister N.Enkhtaivan told journalists that Russia and China are both putting pressure on Mongolia to apply for full membership.
“Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed that Mongolia should join,” Enkhtaivan said. “During my official visit to Russia, this issue was suggested during a meeting with [Russian Foreign Minister] Sergei Lavrov.”
Enkhtaivan then cited President Battulga’s position that Mongolia will continue to ‘study’ the possibility.
Back in June, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov told the TASS news agency that Russia would ‘certainly support’ Mongolia if it wanted to join.
However, there are reasons why Mongolia may not want to. First, the South China Morning Post also reported that Mongolia’s relations with China are ‘tense’ over the issue of language education in Inner Mongolia. Second, the SCO is also seen as a way to counter the influence of the US, possibly through a new monetary system to counter the global importance of the American dollar.
So when the Mongolian government says it will ‘study’ the possibility, it likely means that it is considering the impact of joining the SCO on its relations with both China and the US. It will also weigh up the benefits against its own to-do list for the next few years, which include increasing exports to Russia and promoting a gas pipeline from Siberia to China.