Why Wang Failed to Win over Mongolians

Foreign Minister Wang Yi's visit to Mongolia this week was featured with demonstrations and antipathy althoughPresident Battulga, PM Khurelsukh and foreign minister Enkhtaivan kept their official line of not criticizing China. They simply asked for improving border throughput (logistical and border delays at checkpoints from the Chinese side still persist) and buying more raw commodities and agricultural products (primarily beef and lamb) from Mongolia.

Wang Yi promised to look at boosting trade but the main goal of his visit was to persuade Mongolia to chose China's sidein increasing US-China rivalry internationally. But he may have failed on that mission. 

Once Wang landed hundreds of demonstrators protested Wang's visit demanding respect for Mongolian language and culture. They chanted "Wang Yi, go away!"and they were not stopped by the authorities.

Wang's offer of a $100m grant (not debt) was interpreted by the public as a bribe to silence over language and culture issues in Inner Mongolia.

The only win for China could be that how President Battulga transformed his position. President Battulga's today complicity with China is the most striking compared with candidate Battulga.

In 2017, he campaigned and won the presidency on an anti-Chinese nationalist platform with a slogan "A Mongol Will Win," which was also a code word to discredit his opponent Enkhbold, who allegedly had a Chinese ancestry.

In the 2010s, Battulga also sponsored a controversial anti-Chinese documentary and argued against laying a direct rail line to China, for which he was publicly lambasted by then-President Elbegdorj for damaging relations with China.  

But today President Battulga kept silent on China. He even made the visit to China in February during the pandemic and offered moral support and donation of 30,000 sheep (which is yet to be delivered). But that doesn't mean he would not use anti-Chinese rhetoric again for his re-election.

In contrast, ex-president Elbegdorj turned into a fierce critic of China and its language policy in Inner Mongolia. He publicly spatted with the Chinese ambassador and posted a picture of a panda cutting off a Mongolian traditional musical instrument (horse fiddle) with a saw.

Chinese Ambassador in UB in the largest daily newspaper called out Elbegdorj as a two-faced hypocrite for supporting one-China policy before and now promoting so-called 'Southern Mongolia'.

He also threatened in the newspaper interview that China could cut off coal shipment on the eve of Wang's visit to the country, which was not received well in the country. In response, Elbegdorj suggested to expel the Chinese Ambassador and condemned the Chinese 'cultural genocide'.

Mongolia's leaders' compliance or silence with Beijing is driven by the country's growing need for Chinese finance, investment and trade at the time of the ongoing Western investor exodus.

But this seems to be not enough to turn Mongolia into a Chinese friend - a key thing asked by Wang during his visit.

Do you think it's more important than ever to help the world audience understands the dizzying political and economic changes occurring in Mongolia today? Can you look at local news stories from a global perspective? Join the conversation by contributing to Mongolia Weekly - the first-ever weekly newsletter in English offering commentaries and insights into Mongolian politics, elections, policy & regulatory changes and foreign policy trends.