Friday, July 29, 2005

Why I Love America

A few nights ago, we had our friend (an American) over for dinner. Of course, the conversation went on and on about US policies in foreign countries. Our friend kept insisting and trying to convince us that America is doing everything wrong by trying to "help" other countries and by “telling other countries what to do.”

After much listening him and Nabetz talk, I could not but ask them to be quiet for a little bit. The first thing that came to my mind was to ask our friend whether he had ever lived (not traveled, not visited, but lived!) in a communist country or in a country with totalitarian regime? Of course, he hadn’t it (otherwise he would not talk like he did). And rivers of feeling flooded my being when I thought of how appreciative I am to what America believes in and to what America tries to carry out throughout the world. Politics is not my arena of strength, so I will not go into details about American foreign policy. However, I know that America believes in Democracy and believes in making the world free.

I grew up in a Communist country and came to US when I was 22 years old. And I could not believe my eyes when I saw how free and care-free people could live. On my first day of college in America, the professor asked me to write an assay about what I wanted to be in five years. I had never thought about what I want to be in five years! In Mongolia, we never wrote a paper on "what I want to be" or "how I see myself in 10 years". In communist Mongolia, you were always told what to be and what to do.

But the main reason I love America is for giving the world freedom, which comes with the true meaning of democracy. In 1990, Mongolia opened up for the first time. And one of the first things that came with democracy was the freedom of religion. We all grew up under the influence of Buddhism, because there was nothing else offered. (All religion, even Buddhism, was strictly controlled by the communist regime). The people usually would go to the temple to worship idols, and offer a little of what they had (usually money) or invite over the monks (lamas) and spread a feast for them. However, in the early 90's many different missionary groups came to Mongolia and began to preach. For the first time we had a chance to openly ask questions and to choose to believe for ourselves.

Often I wish that many Americans would go out and live in a third world country. Many of them, of course, would “break” in the harshness and unfairness of life there. But some might return full of inward strength and with deep appreciation that a country like America exists!


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Welcome, Corner Readers

How flattered we are that a quick comment to Mr. Derbyshire on his post re: barbarism vs. civilization would result in a link to this lowly blog from no place other than The Corner. We are deeply honored.

More than anything, we hope that this blog gets people thinking about, travelling to, and investing in, Mongolia. The Land of the Eternal Sky is making rapid progress out of the mess that the Soviet Union made of it, and the backwardness from which it had hitherto been. We're here to chronicle that progress and to give the world a place to watch it happen.

Thanks to the Derb for posting, and and to you, gentle reader, for stopping by.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Historic Day

On this day in 1991, Secretary of State James Baker (US) became the first Western diplomat to address the Mongolian parliament. (source via Google News)

Perhaps more interestingly, James Baker had previously visited Mongolia briefly on August 2, 1990, which happens to be the day on which Sadam Hussein invaded Kuwait. At the time, he was at a USA-USSR summit. Gwendolyn Stewart, in her yet to be published Russia Redux, picks up the fascinating story, in which Mongolia plays, admittedly, only a cameo.
The atmosphere of the entire ministerial "summit" was good-natured and rather casual. For Baker and Shevardnadze, it was their sixteenth meeting in eighteen months.

Arms control was the official focus of their working sessions in the nearby half-million strong city of Irkutsk, with Afghanistan and Cambodia also prominent on the agenda. There was bargaining over the Soviet desire for another Bush-Gorbachev summit that year. The get-together broke up on its second day, August 2, 1990, with a morning press conference featuring the two foreign ministers standing above us on a veranda in Irkutsk, and with the sudden, startling news just afterwards that Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait. The Iraqi ruler's move put paid to all the questions the reporters had been so focused on a moment before. Now it was: How would Moscow respond to U.S. military action against its Iraqi ally? Baker dutifully made his scheduled way a few hundred miles to the capital city of Ulan Bator on an abbreviated mission to Mongolia, yet another "emerging democracy," then flew back to Moscow to nail down a joint statement with Shevardnadze. They met at the Moscow airport August 3 to visually and viscerally fix into people's minds the jointness of their actions.

James Baker has gone so far as to pronounce August 2, 1990, "The Day the Cold War Ended," and to assert that "the world as I had known it for my entire adult life would no longer exist." Since he was one of the principals, he may be forgiven for thinking that the real end of the Cold War came on his watch. Even Bush's National Security Adviser, Brent Scowcroft, who was not there, and not un-competitive, also acknowledges its significance. The Baker-Shevardnadze joint declaration condemning the invasion, he writes, "dramatically put the two superpowers on the same side of a major crisis for the first time since the Cold War began." The prospective payoff was the possibility of UN resolutions against Iraq, free of the risk of Soviet vetoes.
Interesting what one happens across on the Internet, no?


Monday, July 25, 2005

Further Thoughts on China

In answer to a bit of skepticism voiced by a frequent and faithful commenter, I thought I’d write out more fully my thoughts about the US-China situation and Max Boot's comments on it. My argument (if indeed that's what it is) is not airtight, but it should give you a sense of where I'm coming from and why, to boot, I didn't give Boot the boot.

I fully own that some of the stuff Boot wrote about seems a bit iffy and smells strongly of what might be conspiracy theorism. But I think that Boot is right about the direction China isheaded. In fact, I think that eventually it's going to come to push and shove between China and the USA. We're talking about the general idea here.

It's not like we haven't seen this kind of conflict, even in recent history. The Soviet Union, anyone? Admittedly, China is a vastly different beast with vastly different intentions. But that doesn’t mean that it won't still be a threat of international proportions. Let me explain.

First, from what I’ve read and been told, China has never really had any designs on empire ...beyond it's own region, that is. Today as yesterday, China is at heart an introspective nation that basically wants to do it's own thing and be left alone. It's been like this for thousands of years and I can't imagine things changing. The problem is that while China hasn't changed, the world around it has. To simplify grossly, China used to have its own sandbox and could do pretty much as it wished without any greater power interfering (or being interfered with, for that matter). When Europe started to project it's power into the region in the 18th and 19th century, Chinese aspirations began to be limited by international actors, and the Middle Kingdom, which since time out of memory had generally been able to maintain it's own sphere of uncontested influence (Mongols, etc. notwithstanding), no longer held total sway its backyard.

Despite the change of international dynamics, China's ambitions today remain as they always have been: regional dominance/empire and a desire to not be bothered by outsiders. Now, couple this deep, traditional aspiration with its growing demand for resources and economic influence with which is can fuel it's recent industrial and economic growth and what you get is an empire hungry country that now must, somewhat paradoxically, look abroad in order to (and before it can) fulfill its domestic dreams.

Right now the United States happens to be, on balance, helpful to China as China seeks to realize its economic and industrial purposes. In fact, until last week, the Yuan was pegged to dollar, meaning that China's economic future was tied to US economic success. While the US is assisting China's growth today, however, it is also in many ways stifling it--especially with regard to empire building (or at least hegemony-retention). Hence, when the US completely outgrows its usefulness to China and China no longer relies on the US as it has in the past, it should be no surprise to anyone that China will desire to eliminate USinternational influence, which by that point will the biggest hurdle between China and it's dreams. When that tipping point comes in the China-US relationship, why should anyone be surprised if the way that China elects to get the US out of its way is to engage in warfare, conventional or otherwise, perhaps even in the way that Boot describes? I, for one, would not be surprised in the least. War has a long and illustrious history in the conflict resolution department.

By all accounts, that tipping point is fast approaching. One of the indications, I think, is the recent change in China’s monetary policy. No longer is the Yuan pegged to the US dollar. Instead, it’s pegged to a “basket” of international currencies. This is an indication that China’s starting to get it’s economic sea legs and feel a bit more independent from the US in terms of economic prosperity. And then there’s China’s major military buildup and increasingly bellicose stance toward the US over the past few years. The news in the past few weeks has been full of the new military threat that China is presenting to the world. Now China’s generals are rattling sabers and polishing the red button. Could it be that China’s getting ready to rumble once the time is right? To me the answer is clear.

I think it high time we face the music and begin to realize it's very, very possible that the dragon is getting ready to turn the tables and slay the knight. China doesn’t want US territory. China doesn’t really want anything beyond its historic sphere of influence, which is to say, East (and some Central) Asia. All it cares about is ending the limitations that the one remaining superpower in the world is creating for China’s Asian empire. Once the US is defeated and sent home licking its wounds, no one (let alone any superpower) would be left to stop China from doing whatever it has a mind to in Asia (goodbye, Taiwan). And the ancient dream of an undisturbed Chinese empire could be fulfilled.


Thursday, July 21, 2005

Speaking of the Turks

There's what looks to be a great new book about them and the Turkic people as a whole by Hugh Pope and a fascinating review of the book here (via The Corner).


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Turkish Delight (Second Helping)

More on the family reunion that is Turkish-Mongolian relations (from Turkey's Zaman online newspaper:
Turkey revives its historic relations with Mongolia to have closer ties with Central Asian countries.

Turkey will assist in the economic development of Mongolia. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan conducted a visit to Mongolia together with State Minister Besir Atalay, Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Hilmi Guler and Minister of Agriculture Mehdi Eker. Erdogan and his entourage were welcomed by Mongolian Minister of Education Punstag Tsagaan at Ulan Bator Airport. "Welcome to your motherland esteemed prime minister!" Tsaagan said. Erdogan first held meeting with his Mongolian counterpart Tasahia Elbegdorj. The two countries signed industrial, commercial and technological cooperation agreements and an agreement regarding the appropriation of land for embassies was also signed.

Erdogan expressed pleasure to be in the country of the Mongolian sovereign Cengiz Han (Genghis Khan). The parties discussed military, economic, commercial and tourism issues. "May our relations continue not only at business level but also at cultural level and may my visit become the start of a new era and synergy between our countries," declared Erdogan.

The Turkish Prime Minister referring to the importance of the deep historical ties between the two countries said these relations should be reinforced in many aspects. Turkey aims to increase its mutual trade volume from three million dollars to $50 millions, Erdogan added. This medium term target is highly important for Mongolia. The country's budget is $500 million and it has a population of only 2.7 million. The Turkish Prime Minister encouraged fellow businessmen to invest in organized industrial zones specifically for the leather manufacturing and production that will be established in Ulan Bator.

Mongolian Prime Minister Elbegdorj informed Erdogan about the Genghis Khan Complex that they plan to build and asked, "support from friends". Erdogan responded positively to his Mongolian counterpart regarding this request.

Erdogan and his delegation will travel to the Karakurum province, where the Orhun Inscriptions (ancient Turkish Monuments with Turkish inscriptions) stand. The foundation of a 46-km long highway that will be built connecting Karakurum and Kultigin and Bilke Kagan Monuments was laid. Turkey will meet all construction costs of the five million dollar project in addition to building a museum and collecting artworks, historical artifacts belonging to the Mongolian's ancestors for protection and preservation in the museum. Construction of the highway and the museum is expected to contribute Mongolia's tourism.


The Southern Threat

Oh, and let's keep an eye out south of the border, too. This article is mainly about Sino-American relations, but a China that's looking at sinking the US probably woudn't be that safe to resource-rich Mongolia just up the road.
Cols. Qiao and Wang write approvingly of Al Qaeda, Colombian drug lords and computer hackers who operate outside the "bandwidths understood by the American military." They envision a scenario in which a "network attack against the enemy" — clearly a red, white and blue enemy — would be carried out "so that the civilian electricity network, traffic dispatching network, financial transaction network, telephone communications network and mass media network are completely paralyzed," leading to "social panic, street riots and a political crisis." Only then would conventional military force be deployed "until the enemy is forced to sign a dishonorable peace treaty."

This isn't just loose talk. There are signs of this strategy being implemented. The anti-Japanese riots that swept China in April? That would be psychological warfare against a major Asian rival. The stage-managed protests in 1999, after the U.S. accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, fall into the same category.

The bid by the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Co., to acquire Unocal? Resource warfare. Attempts by China's spy apparatus to infiltrate U.S. high-tech firms and defense contractors? Technological warfare. China siding against the U.S. in the U.N. Security Council over the invasion of Iraq? International law warfare. Gen. Zhu's threat to nuke the U.S.? Media warfare.

And so on. Once you know what to look for, the pieces fall into place with disturbing ease. Of course, most of these events have alternative, more benign explanations: Maybe Gen. Zhu is an eccentric old coot who's seen "Dr. Strangelove" a few too many times.
Read the whole article by Max Boot if you don't have enough in your life to worry about (via the Corner, BTW). Combine this article with the ones I linked to here and here, and you might be able to say that there's a lot of potential for the world to fall apart before our very eyes. And for Mongolia to be smack dab in the middle of it all.

Have a nice day.


The Northern Threat

It's probably worthwhile to keep keep and eye north of the border. Peter Baker and Susan Glasser have written a new book, Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin's Russia and the End of the Revolution, that details Putin and his path to power. James M. Goldgeler of George Washington University reviews it:
In their brilliant study of Vladimir Putin’s rule over contemporary Russia, Peter Baker and Susan Glasser come back again and again to the current Russian president’s eerily Stalinist rhetoric about the need to avoid looking weak so as not to be beaten and his resulting Bolshevik-like obsession with control. Putin’s aim has been to pursue economic growth and recreate a strong state to rebuild Russia’s place in the world.

...At the heart of this tale is “Project Putin,” the president’s crusade to remove all challenges to his authority. It includes the elimination of independent TV networks and elections for regional governors, as well as the jailing of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the destruction of his private company, Yukos. To get a sense of how obsessive Putin can be, consider his behavior in the run-up to his re-election in 2004. After he ensured that he faced no serious opposition, Putin’s only fear was that turnout might be below the 50-percent threshold required to validate the results – which would trigger a new election, making Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who had served as Boris Yeltsin’s finance minister, acting president in the interim. So Putin fired Kasyanov and gave the job to Mikhail Fradkov, who was unknown and unthreatening.

...Methodical in its approach, as riveting as a novel in its depiction of modern Russian life, “Kremlin Rising” is a powerful indictment of Putin’s years as president. In his quest for control and a stronger Russian state, Putin is undermining Russia’s future just as Soviet leaders did in their own repressive days. Given how often President Bush has spoken of Putin’s commitment to democracy, one can only hope that this book is on the must-read list for those vacationing in Crawford, Texas, this summer.
And those vacationing in Hovsgol for that matter, too.


New Ambassador to Beijing

Canada's Embassy Magazine reports that Dr. Galsan Batsukh, Mongolia's Ambassador to Canada is becoming ambassador to China. If you haven't already guessed, this is a big job (scroll up to see why).

Among other things he'll have to take care of are trade and investment (China's #1 when it comes to investing in Mongolia). Also key to both China's and Mongolia's national existence (industrially for China, economically for Mongolia) is mining. We wish Dr. Batsukh, his family, and his staff all the best.


EU Heart China?

What an inauspicious couple. Beaurocratic, arrogant, and increasingly undemocratic Europe on one hand; empirialist, militarist, and anti-human rights China on the other. Both major world players by themselves, together this ugly couple could do very scary things. Ugh. And evidently, some would like to see Mongolia and Kazakhstan be the point of geo-physical union. Sick. But it's just the kind of thing the folks in Brussels dream about.
The president of the European Union Commission, Jose Barroso, has just completed a visit to China, which this year celebrates the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Brussels.

Fifteen to 20 years from now the EU, enlarged further eastwards, more integrated and more independent, might prove to be the model for the governance of macro-regions, paving the way for a global political architecture that can cope with technological, economic and business globalization.

China 2020, a booming platform, will be the link between Eastern Eurasian sub-regions, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia and Northeast Asia. With this anticipation in mind, we now have to shape the relationship between these two matrices of civilization.

In the post-Cold-War world, the relationship between Europe and China has gained momentum. However, as the world dramatically changed for a second time in a decade in the fall of 2001, Beijing, a model for developing countries (paving the way to poverty reduction), and Brussels, a model for cooperation between countries (paving the way to articulate sovereignty and globalization), have to take greater responsibilities to work as the main architects of a cooperative Eurasia.

In the post-September 11 world disorder, the EU and China have to conceive a genuine strategy to act as Eurasia's structuring poles, making them into the pillars, with the US, of a stable world order.

...The attitude of Central Eurasia's rising power, Kazakhstan, and of a democratic Mongolia - whose intellectual and political elite understands better than others Eurasian dimensions - complete also the picture of a Eurasian arc where a momentum for closer cooperation is gathering.
Read more about this disastrous plan for the new world order at the Asia Times (via Joel J. Legendre's Asian Gazette).


Turkish Delight

From Turkish Digest (via Technorati):

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the first Turkish Prime Minister to visit Mongolia. When I asked him about the importance and the meaning of the visit, I am reminded of promises previously made to Mongolia but not fulfilled.

"Decades have passed. Those in power have always spoken about the Turkish world although no steps have been taken. After we came to power, we took serious steps concerning the Turkish world; we are working to develop present projects. State Minister Besir Atalay is conducting very important projects together with the TIKA (Turkish International Cooperation Agency), and an example of this will be seen in Mongolia, responded the Prime Minister. Erdogan will today participate in a ceremony for the laying of the foundations for the Bilge Kagan Highway in Kharkorin that will create a link to the Orhun inscriptions. "We will finish this road as soon as possible," says Erdogan.

Turkey has built a museum in Ulan Bator and that they are planning to open another museum in the region near the grave stones, too, to which Erdogan gives the good news, he also says: "Mongolia thus will be a field of attraction, more people will come here and Mongolia will become an important place in the world of tourism. It will draw attention as a symbol of the Turkish world. The most important factor in tourism is the road. While there is no road, nobody can go there. We are building permanent works for the Turkish world."
Turkey and Mongolia share historical and cultural links, so this bit of news comes as no real surprise but nonetheless as a delight.


The more things change...

Disheartening news from the UB Post:
L.Baigal, who was convicted of corruption in 1998 in connection with the operation of an illegal casino, has been appointed chairman of the department for monitoring state budget income of the General Department of National Taxation. The appointment was made on July 18, at the decision of the Minister of Finance N.Altankhuyag.

Baigal replaces N.Chimid, who Zuunii Medee newspaper reported was forced out of the post because he uncovered illegal activity whilst head of a group to examine Erdenet Mining Corporation.

The newspaper suggested that Altankhuyag might have been involved in the misconduct, as he made the decision to replace Chimid with Baigal at short notice.
For the life of me, I don't know how people in power (such as the folks who appointed this crook to his new position) can put their own self-interest ahead of their entire country. Does not compute.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

In the News

I've been busier'n all get out the last few days and will be for a while to come yet. While I'm occupied, here are some of the things to take a look at:

1. Taiwan-Mongolia business interaction is expanding and accelerating:
For most Taiwanese companies, Mongolia is a novel market they have never considered exploring. That is until the last few years when pioneers started to break into the exotic place. Their sporadic investments and trading activities have provoked substantial business interaction between the two economic entities.

The two years of 2002-2003 marked a critical period for bilateral relations as the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) set up the Taiwan Trade Center in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia, in June 2002, followed by the inauguration of Ulaanbaatar Trade and Economic Representative Office in Taipei in December 2003.

As the first Mongolian representative in Taipei, Mr. D. Batmunhk has seen a satisfactory progress in Taiwan-Mongolia economic relations. "The annual bilateral trade grew to nearly US$5 million in 2004, around 1,000 Taiwanese tourists traveled to Mongolia in the same year, and there are over 30 Taiwanese-run companies there," he quoted the official data as saying. Meanwhile, an estimated 70 Mongolian workers have immigrated into Taiwan, among the hundreds of Mongolian people on the island.

"Though these figures look small when compared to those of other countries, they denoted a steady development in the initial stage of Taiwan-Mongolia economic relations," noted Mr. Batmunhk. Actually, he added, "the numbers are growing from zero two or three years ago."

2. Tehran and Moscow spar over Mongolian natural resources:
IRKUTSK - The Siberian economic news service, FIS, has just announced that over 80 people will particpate in the 11th meeting of the Russian-Mongolian Intergovernmental Committee for trade-economic and scientific-technical cooperation to be held on July 18 in Irkutsk.

It is no coincidence this is taking place right after Iran announced making overtures to Ulan Bator to establish economic, industrial and energy cooperation between the two countries.

This is all out competition between Moscow, its Western financiers, and the Council of Guardians of Iran, working with Beijing, over who will control the majority of raw materials in Central Asia in the post-World War III world.

Ulan Bator will take advantage of all the attention.
(BTW, did I miss something? World War III? I know I've had a busy week and all, but...)

3. Here's an article I've only had time to scan: "The Former Soviet Union's Next Wave of Democratization"

4. Mongolia gets $3 million from China to develop power plants. Seems to be linked to Chinese ambitions for Mongolian natural resources.

5. Korea goes wobbly; Mongolia steps up to play key role in Iraq:
The U.S. government has asked Korea's Zaytun Division to provide logistical support including housing, food and vehicles to Mongolian troops protecting a UN office planned for Irbil, Iraq. Washington initially asked Korean troops themselves to guard office staff but drafted in Mongolian troops when Korea showed reluctance.

A ruling party source said the U.S. had been saying since last year that the Zaytun Division’s reconstruction role was too limited and wanted them to guard the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) office that will go up in Irbil in September, as well as provide convoys to protect office staff.

But the source said Korea only agreed to guard the UN office while tasking Mongolian troops with staff protection. "We are considering a plan to provide logistical support to the Mongolian troops," a government official said. Mongolia has about 180 men in Najaf in south-central Iraq.

6. Asashoryu, despite a blip, remains the hottest thing in sumo.

7. Joshua at One Free Korea has an enlightening interview (esp. vis-a-vis North Korea) with the Mongolian ambassador to the US. (Via

8. Last but not least, Nathan over at has the coolest thing since fermented mare's milk on a hot summer's day. That's right, WICKED COOL POST-APOCALYPTIC MONGOL BMX RAIDERS! (Insert the Dean Scream here)


Sunday, July 17, 2005

Manly Games, Childish Journalists

Five years old and a fearless horseman.

Naadam, one of the world's oldest games festivals, recently ended for this year. One western journalist, Oliver August of The Times (London), finds something to complain about. The children jockeys don't wear helmets. Here's a bit from his article, "It's the world's longest race, and child welfare is last - as always" (um, by the way, why is this artcle called "news"; shouldn't it be "opinion"):
When the punishing cold on the Siberian border briefly lets up, the nomad population celebrates the world’s second oldest “Olympics”. Since the days of Genghis Khan more than 800 years ago, they have come together to compete in the “three manly sports” — archery, wrestling and the all-important horse race.

Families arrive from across a country the size of Western Europe to enjoy more than 300 contests with the atmosphere of a medieval carnival. For most nomads, these are the only social events of the year. The other eleven and a half months, they are camped on the endless, frozen grasslands. The biggest contest, or naadam takes place near the capital, Ulan Bator in a vast green valley lined with 100,000 spectators, some of which have spent a week on horseback getting there. This week more than 2,300 mares and stallions raced down the 20-mile-long valley lined with food stalls and carpet sellers in white felt yurts known as gers.

Clouds of dust on the horizon announce the racers’ arrival well before they are visible. As they approach, hooves make the ground tremble and whips and bridles lash the air. At the finish line, the horses are tackled and halted by men in striped robes so that the horses do not carry on into the next valley.

“Some horses arrive riderless. They have been trained not to stop when the rider falls off. To win, only the horse has to cross the finish line,” says Ganbaatar, a 40-year-old catcher.

Inexperience is the main reason so many jockeys fall off. The oldest are only 11 or 12, after which they are deemed too heavy to ride. “Of course, they can’t control the beasts as well as older riders,” Ganbaatar concedes.

About 5 per cent of Mongolia’s thousands of child jockeys fall off each year, some sustaining lifelong injuries. Unicef, the international children’s agency, has now called on the Mongolian Government to make helmets mandatory. “We have strong reservations with regards to the racing because it poses a threat to the health of the children,” a spokesman said.

There's a lot I could say. But has this guy ever been on a horse? Does he know that nomad kids start riding before they can walk? They're practically born on horses. But Oliver August knows better than they. And so do does UNICEF. They want helmets for the racers. This is only a 20 miles race and lasts only a few minutes--but a infinitesimal fraction of the time and miles that the kids have and will spend on horseback as part of the family livelihood. Does UNICEF want kids to wear helmets when they're herding the family sheep, too? When they're riding out on the steppe to visit friends? What about the kids who ride camels? They might fall further, no? Should they have to wear a safety harness, too?

If folks want to start wearing helmets, they will do it themselves. In fact, the story indicates that this is happening:
For the first time this year, some jockeys at the main Naadam near Ulan Bator wore helmets, knee and elbow pads. But elsewhere races remain unchanged from centuries past. On the banks of the Orkhon in central Mongolia, nomads barely know what a helmet is. “I saw one in a shop in Ulan Bator once,” said the father of a six-year-old girl jockey. “It looked very uncomfortable. We have sun hats instead.”
This is the way it should be. The Mongolians just recently got out from under a system in which people's lives were controled down to what you did, what you read, what you thought, how long you lived. It was a system called communism. It's over now, and now the Mongolians are living freely and easily as they did since time out of memory. If this horse-mounted culture wants to start wearing helmets, it's up to them. It's their country.

The story ends with what must be a sad ending for the medling "child welfare" people, but it's a beautiful ending for the proud Mongolians and freedom loving people everywhere:
The thought of government intervention is anathema to most nomads. Property rights are unknown on the grasslands, as are fences or signs on the few roads. The Government is absent from their lives and always has been.
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Monday, July 11, 2005

China: the 800lb Gorilla

I just read a great article by Alicia Campi, president of the consulting and marketing company U.S.-Mongolia Advisory Group (USMAG), over at Transitions Online. In "Mongolia: The Road Ahead" Campi takes a hard look at Mongolia's treacherous path forward. The article's focus is the key question of Sino-Mongolian relations with with regard both to Mongolia's economy and to its national sovereignty. The analysis of the "realist" and "liberal" views of the relationship is very helpful in defining the various views of how Mongolia should handle itself vis-a-vis China:
The former would warn Mongolia against greater Chinese involvement in its economy and society, while the latter tend to see greater integration of the two economies as a way to avoid potential military conflicts.

The realist view is exemplified by John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago in his prize-winning book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics and by the Taiwan specialist Denny Roy of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. In this view, the Chinese seek to use economic expansion to enlarge their sphere of influence and redress the wrongs of history. The late Gerald Segal of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies advocated China’s “containment.” Roy similarly calls for China’s “enmeshment” in a web of security relationships among its neighbors, in order to slow Chinese growth.

Such a position defines the strategic thinking of Mongol officials, including the present prime minister, Ts. Elbegdorj, who returned to office last year. Throughout history Mongolia and China have had a highly antagonistic relationship. Even 60 years of peaceful coexistence has not obliterated the memories and suspicions on both sides. Mongols remember that Mao himself raised claims to Mongolia with Khrushchev in 1954, even though four years before he had recognized Mongolian independence. As Mao's attitude showed, modern Chinese governments have always defined Chinese sovereign territory based on their succession from the Qing dynasty, and Chinese histories indicate that Mongolia was unjustly separated in 1911 at the collapse of the Qing.
The piece also confirms some of my more gloomy predictions about China's growing and aparently unstopable influence in Mongolia.
...Perhaps the most far-reaching change in Mongolia’s trade patterns during the transition era [the early 1990s] was not oriented towards free markets in Europe, the U.S, Central Asia, or Japan, but towards China. Prior to 1991, 80 percent of Mongolia’s trade was with the USSR and 15 percent with other socialist countries. Russia can no longer afford Mongolian products, however, and China has readily stepped in to fill the breach. Since 1999, more private investment in Mongolia has come from China than any other country (38 percent in 2004), and in 2005 over 60 percent of Mongolia’s exports will go to China. Many political and strategic analysts, especially in the U.S. and Mongolia, are concerned about China's growing penetration of the Mongolian economy and caution that this will have negative military and political implications. Over time Mongolia needs to work toward a balance in its relations with China and Russia, they argue, although no one is able to predict when Russia will be able to reassert itself as a major partner. These same analysts also minimize the need for any strong political or economic relationship with the Central Asian republics.
At the end of the article, the question of Chinese domination reappears:
It appears that foreign business and economic development advisers may in fact be advocating trade policies for Mongolia concerning China that could be counterproductive to their governments’ Asian regional interests, as well as harmful to their goals for Mongolian democracy building, market transparency, and national security. During the past 15 years, we have watched China expand into the Mongolian market with a sense of inevitability, and done little to actively support the Mongols in diversifying their trade to partners in Central Asia. Such continued passivity surely will lead to economic domination over Mongolia by the Chinese and other more precarious ramifications which will not enhance stability in the Northeast Asian region.
The article propounds an idea of looking neither West or East only, but of re-establishing the silk road, or some modern variation thereupon:
Could not Mongolia reopen the Silk Road (perhaps modernized as the "Meat and Minerals Road") and look to Central Asia, Tibet, even India, for a third neighbor, thus renewing traditional cultural and religious ties and finding immediate markets for its meat and animal byproducts? This scenario has been promoted by former Mongolian prime ministers Byambasuren and Enkhbayar, and the historian B. Baabar. I myself have been a proponent of Mongolia as a bridge between East and Central Asia. Positioning itself as a regional crossroads could lead Mongolia to higher-end markets in the Middle East and Europe for diversification of its foreign trade. In this way, the traditional economic monopoly of China or Russia over Mongolia could be somewhat balanced by capitalizing on Mongolia and Central Asia’s common nomadic and Silk Road heritage, relatively close geographical position, and similar Soviet-era business structures and experiences. I believe a pro-Central Asian policy would be more realistic than the false expectation of garnering great profits only from integration into Northeast Asia. In fact, in analyzing economic statistics for Mongolia in the 1990s, I found that although foreign companies invested $1.5 billion in Northeast Asia, $520 million was placed in only one Chinese province (Jilin), $530 million went to the Russian Far East, and Mongolia’s share was less than 1 percent – the smallest in the region except for North Korea! It appears that following a Northeast Asian integration policy so far has not benefited Mongolia economically, nor provided a necessary counterweight to China’s growing penetration and control.
Travelling in Mongolia does turn up a good bit of evidence that India is far from a dispassionate bystander to Mongolian affairs, and vice versa. If I recall correctly, the Indians have a quite impressive embassy in UB, and are doing a fair bit of investment or at least investment research in Mongolia. Although there are a number of pitfalls that this plan could lead to, the real problem may be one more of local Mongolian attitudes:
The great majority of Mongolian policymakers, however, remain unconvinced that promoting ties with Central Asian nations will help them. They privately denigrate these countries as too Turkic, Muslim, and "Soviet" in mentality. Many of these beliefs appear to stem from the negative biases against Central Asian peoples promoted by the Russians in socialist times. Today, Mongolian leaders are likely to prefer to look east ("forward") to the Pacific Confucian-influenced nations, rather than west ("backward") to the Central Asia of nomadism and socialism. For example, in his Mongolia’s Foreign Policy in the 1990s: New Identity and New Challenges, Batbayar sees that the choice between Northeast Asia and Central Asia has a developmental aspect: “This choice implicitly concerns the struggle between the nomadic identity of Mongols vs. its road to [the] modern twenty-first century. It also concerns the vital question of sources for necessary technology and know-how in order not only to overcome the transition period but to make the country self-sustainable and competitive in coming years and decades.”
Also of note: a discussion of whether Mongolia is useful for purposes of American military projection in the area.

An altogether worthwhile article.


Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Horror that is North Korea

I know that this blog is about Mongolia, but what with the recent Mongolia North Korea detente, I read up on NK a bit. I always knew things were horrific there on account of the criminal malfeasance of the brutal and maniacal--nearly subhuman--communist regime there. But an article I found at the LA Times (registration required) via North Korea Zone brings it home all the more. It's about the North Korean city of Chongjin, a city the size of Boston in terms of population. Read it, and allow your heart to weep with the North Koreans.
Most of the factories in Chongjin, a former industrial port, are rusting into ruin. Those still operating can barely pay salaries; the average worker's wage amounts to $1 per month at current exchange rates.

Even with international aid, many people go to bed wondering whether they will eat the next day. Residents, along with officials of the United Nations World Food Program, say food shortages have grown worse again in the last year.

"Maybe people are not dying today out in the streets like they were before," [a reference to the famine in the mid-nineties when approximately 2,000,000 men, women, and children perished] said a coal miner who lives in Chongjin, "but they are still dying — just quietly in their homes."

The prolonged hardship has left North Koreans increasingly disillusioned with leader Kim Jong Il and the ideology of national self-reliance that once held the nation together. People say the regime has less and less control.

With corruption running rampant, the state is no longer solely in charge of commerce. People hustle to sell anything they can — prohibited videos of South Korean soap operas, real estate and official travel documents. In this free-for-all, some people have prospered. Many more are just a step ahead of starvation.
For years, one of the hallmarks of North Korea's government was its public distribution system, which doled out food and other goods to citizens nearly for free. The regime considered coal mining a strategic occupation, and miners were given extra rations.

But in the early 1990s, the lights in the mines went out, as did the pumps that kept the shafts dry. Beams rotted and equipment corroded. As the mines ceased production, the rations stopped.

The children were the first to start dying, then the elderly. Next to perish were men, who seemed to need more calories to survive than women.

Chongjin residents learned to recognize the stages of starvation.

First, the victims become listless and too weak to work. Their vision grows blurry. They become bone-thin, then startlingly, their torsos bloat.

Toward the end, they just lie still, sometimes hallucinating about food.

While some people seem to fade away, others die in agony, their intestines blocked when they can't digest substitute foods, such as corn powder and oak leaves. Particularly lethal to children's digestive systems are ersatz rice cakes — molded out of a paste made from the inner bark of pine trees.

Among the victims was the miner's 60-year-old father, an otherwise strong and robust man who had never been ill as long as he could remember. The miner's best friend, a co-worker and childhood buddy, dragged himself out to the mountains to look for food and never returned.
This is atrocity beyond imagination. Sorry to be coarse, but stray dogs in third-world shanty towns have a better quality of life than most North Korean humans. I now put the dictatorial Kim family right up their with Hitler and Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. This article did it for me. I can't believe, but I can believe, how this kind of pure evil exists on the earth. For the life of me, I do not know how people can fail to believe that the North Korean regime is a member of the Axis of Evil. If it's not evil, nothing is evil. And something--perhaps something extreme--must be done. People are dying as the world's diplomats are limosined to and from luxury hotels to wrinkle their foreheads over foie gras and bubbly about how to pacify Kim Jung-il. For crying out loud, this cries out to heaven. People are dying by the million. Think what you will of me, but if ever a war of liberation were called for, this is the place, these are the people.


Friday, July 08, 2005

I love America for...

I took this post down to edit it. See the edited version here.


Thursday, July 07, 2005


"We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools and we will finish the job."--Sir Winston Churchill, 1941

I know that you personally do not fear to give your own life in exchange to taking others ... but I know you do fear you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society ... in the days that follow, look at our airports, look at our seaports and look at our railway stations ... you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world, will arrive in London to become Londoners, to fulfill their dream and achieve their potential … whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail."--Ken Livingstone, London Mayor, 7/7/2005.
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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Deep Trouble

Mining is good for Mongolia, but it needs to be done oh so carefully to avoid unnecessary environmental impact. Newswise prints a small article on the problem:
Mongolia’s campaign of preservation, however, conflicts with the rapid expansion of the mining industry; already, mining is occurring in protected areas. From 1993 to 2003, annual growth of the mining sector ranged from 8 to 12%, while cold output of mineral ores has increased 15-fold. In 2003, Mongolia’s mineral sector accounted for 8.6% of the gross national product and 66% of exports.

Adding to the problem, Mongolia has a foreign debt at 75% of its GNP. At present, mining is the government’s most important source of tax revenue. The stability of the nation’s economy will depend on the mining industry for decades.

Author John D. Farrington, a Fulbright Fellow, outlines nine basic approaches that have been successful in the past to resolve conflicts between protected areas and mining. Of the nine, Farrington recommends four that would suit Mongolia’s situation: granting land trades and special dispensations in exchange for mineral licenses in protected areas; granting protected status to all lapsed mineral licenses in protected areas; voluntary forfeiting of mineral licenses in protected areas in exchange for positive corporate publicity; and prohibiting all new mineral activities in existing and proposed protected areas.

Farrington's study can be found here in it's entirety.


Land Privatization (2)

Yan, a reader, commented on my article on land privatization:
I don't understand why private land ownership should be crucial for Mongolia's development. Sure, many western world are more advanced, and they do have private property rights on land. But I don't really see the direct conection between the two (except that farming societies tend to be more advanced than nomadic societies, and farming societies do require a concept of land ownership). If you are not implying that Mongolia needs to change towards a farming society in order to develope, I don't see what private property in pieces of the mongolian countryside should be good for.

The case is different in cities, aimag and sum centers, of course. But the way those laws on land registration are implemented at the moment (at least in Khuvsgul) is that people try to grab the most scenic spots in national parks etc. in order to build yet another campsite. Who happens to know the people in the registration office comes first, of course.
Me: He raises some good points. First, land ownership is generally tied to the notion of "improving" upon the land by making it somehow profitable (whether in the short or long term). This includes farming, but is not limited to it. Improving land may mean building things on it, growing things on it, raising animals on it, manufacturing things on it, leasing it, digging things out of it, or attracting paying customers to it. Incidentally, I think that's what De Soto was driving at when he said, "Everybody who feels they have something of value" is free to use it in trade, "either mortgage it, lease it, sell it, develop it, whatever." This principle applies whether you're in cities, aimag centers, sum centers, or the countryside.

I've one or two ideas of how land ownership could be avoided, but they're only possible if herding remains the mainstay of Mongolia. And as Baabar was quoted as saying in his UB Post opinion piece, herding is likely not the pathway to a better economic future in Mongolia. One idea would be for herders, once (or if) an international market for Mongolian animal products (meat, milk, cashmere, wool, etc.) becomes more developed, to cooperate in a way that would allow them to combine resources, transportation, and bargaining power. This could potentially cause herders to become more profitable and as a consequence raise them out of a subsistance hearding existance and help them to improve their quality of life in general. But again, this will work only if there's a market for their goods. (There was a time in the United States where this idea worked--when much of the West and the Great Plains were given to cattle. But it didn't last for long--maybe a few decades before the end of the 19th century. That's when the flood of folks from the East Coast and Europe seeking a better life and turned the grazing land into farmsteads.)

Second, the problem that is taking place in Khuvsgul (and in Kharkhorum, where land was, but is no longer, given away freely to Mongolian nationals) of people snapping up prime pieces of land and then just making them their private campsites could be eliminated by adopting the laws that would stipulate that the land would be yours ONLY if you improve upon it (see above) within a certain period of time. If a claimant doesn't improve upon it, the land would no longer belong to them. This would basically be what is commonly called homesteading. The principles upon which homesteading is based stretch back hundreds of years in the West, and it could, with adjustment, be applied anywhere. A great overview of homesteading as it was applied in America can be found at Wikipedia (also apropos at this link, a brief discussion of what happened when homesteaders came to the open range used by ranchers). Homesteading isn't a perfect system for making public land private--fraud is still possible--but it has largely been successful in America.

Two reasons why a homesteading approach to land-privatization might NOT work in Mongolia is that, first, it's predicated upon the assumption that the people who would claim the land would have the intention of improving upon it whether for residential, industrial, agricultural, etc., purposes. After all, there is not much history of land improvement in Mongolia, a nation historically given to herding and subsistance living. Couple this with the second reason--a huge expanse of land (larger than Texas) and a tiny population (under 3 million), and I'm not sure that homesteading is an idea that would prove efficacious in Mongolia. However the principle may still hold.

We'll see what happens.


Tuesday, July 05, 2005

North Korean-Mongolian Relations, Continued

It really seems that North Korea is open to Mongolia in ways that the West can only dream about at this time. B.Enkhtsetseg, a reporter from the UB Post, was recently able to sit down with North Korean Ambassador to Mongolia Pak Jong Do for what was apparently a friendly (if somewhat cold) interview. For reasons beyond me, bloggers and commenters are making a big deal (with tongue in cheek) about the joint NK-Mongolia ostrich farm while ignoring the rest of what is an enlightening article, some of which is reproduced below:
Why did Pyongyang decide to close down its embassy [in Ulaanbaatar]?
Due to the situation of the economy in our country, we had no choice but to close down the embassy in 1999 for a temporary period. Leader Kim Jong Il considered the interests of the people of the two countries and reopened the embassy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in Ulaanbaatar last year.

Mongolia and the DPRK were members of the socialist system. Mongolia has now become a democratic state and a developing free market economy.

How do these changes affect the relationship with the DPRK?
We consider the embassy not just to have reopened, but to have reached a new level of operation. In accordance with the new situation in Mongolia, the relationship between the two countries is developing in the fields of politics, economics, culture, education and health. The [then] President of Mongolia N.Bagabandi paid a state visit to the DPRK in December last year and DPRK government-level representatives for economic affairs made a visit to Mongolia in February this year.

Work has begun in most areas of cooperation that we agreed to develop during these visits. For instance the DPRK Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture visited Ulaanbaatar last month [on May 5-11] and the two sides discussed building a joint farm in Mongolia. They expressed an interest in setting up an ostrich farm in Mongolia. When the then president N.Bagabandi visited Pyongyang in December 2004 he visited an ostrich farm. At his suggestion to our experts, the work of establishing an ostrich farm is expected to start next month in Mongolia. Moreover, U.Barsbold, Mongolian Minister of Nature and Environment, visited the DPRK recently and he expressed a wish to cooperate on the Green Wall Eco-Strip Program, on which we agreed.

Mongolia has been participating regularly and successfully in the [North Korean] Spring Festival held in April every year and this year took many awards from the festival. The DPRK and Mongolia built a joint hospital in Ulaanbaatar last November. The hospital is based on Korean traditional medicine and has Korean doctors working there.

How well developed is the trade relationship between the two countries?
So far, it is as if there is no trade link at all between the two countries. First of all we should study what type of products Mongolians need. To that end a trade exhibition of our country was held in Ulaanbaatar in February.

Mongolian business people are scheduled to go to the DPRK in September to determine possible areas for bilateral cooperation. So I hope the two countries’ trade links will be increased....

How well are the people of North Korea informed about world events and other countries’ lifestyles?
Our people are quite well informed about news and events in Mongolia. The North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun in particular publishes articles about Mongolia quite often. Generally, our two countries have traditionally good relations. Therefore, our press often publishes highlights of the relationship between the two countries....

How do you view the movement of emigrants from the DPRK to South Korea and Japan through Mongolia?
Mongolia officially stated to us that there is no case of our people having emigrated that way. There were some reports in the western media that North Korean refugee camps were going to be built in Mongolia but the government of Mongolia has repeatedly expressed that Mongolia will not receive refugees.

What is your impression of Mongolia? What aspects do you like and dislike?
...I have not seen anything that felt uncomfortable in my heart. I have seen that the people have a friendly attitude that is as warm to our country as it is to their close relatives.
For more on North Korea, a great source is the North Korea Zone.


At What Price Progress? Land Privatization in the Land Without Fences

One of the singular impressions I have of Mongolia is the ability to simply walk anywhere and everywhere and not encounter that most ubiquitous of American institutions, the fence. This creates a number of interesting scenes: cows meandering through Erdenet's downtown streets being one of the most distinctive. But more than that, it creates a very open society charactarized by community, liberality, and shared effort.

Which makes the question of land privatization such a distressing one. Reporter Jehangir S. Pocha wrote about just this problem not long ago in a very well-researched and illuminating piece:
Before the freewheeling 1960s, before Mao led China to revolution in 1949 and before the Soviets took control of this country in 1921, Mongolia was already one giant commune.
"Land here never belonged to anyone; it belonged to everyone," said Davasuren, 50, a self-described "retired nomad" in this tiny village 30 kilometers, or 20 miles, south of Ulan Bator, the capital. Like many Mongolians, he uses only one name.
Despite the reputation for violent acquisitiveness that Mongolians acquired when Genghis Khan and the Golden Horde forged the world's greatest land empire in the 12th and 13th centuries, Mongolia developed as a communal land-sharing system long before capitalists and Communists clashed over the principles of property and ownership.
Every herding clan led its animals across a specific seasonal grazing route established by the clan's ancestors, and the right to this path was respected by others through an unwritten code based on honor and mutual cooperation.
"But"--and there is always a but--
as the modern world has encroached on this remote country, Mongolia has been trying to reinvent itself as a free market democracy.

Many local politicians and economists now say that Mongolia's traditional land regime is the core cause of its backwardness and want to replace it with a Westernized property management system under which land would be parceled out and privatized.

"Our plan is, every citizen gets some land free once, in one area," said Myagmarsuren Dechinlkhundev, consultant to the government's standing committee on environment and rural development in Ulan Bator.

In cities it might be just 0.3 hectares, or more than 0.7 acres, he said, but in rural areas it could be about 0.75 hectares.

"Doing this in rural areas," he said, "faces more difficulties, but we're determined to go ahead. Private land is the base for a free economy."

That is a view rooted in the developmental model that a Peruvian economist, Hernando De Soto, outlined.

De Soto, in his book, "The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else," contends that the problem often "is that people just aren't sure of what they own."

"Everybody who feels they have something of value," he said, is free to use it in trade, "either mortgage it, lease it, sell it, develop it, whatever."

But while this prescription made sense for agrarian countries in which feudalism
denied peasants ownership of the land they tilled, its economic efficacy seems less obvious in Mongolia, where more than a million of the 2.5 million people are herders.
The question of land-privatization is not a new one in Mongolia. David Sneath addressed the question from a historical perspective in a draft paper called "Notions of Rights over Land and the History of Mongolian Pastoralism" (2000). In this paper, Sneath speaks of historic and traditional Mongolian ideas of land ownership and their development and points out how land reform in the form of privatization has historically been met with strenuous opposition from herders. The emphasis of his article eventually becomes Inner Mongolia. Eventually, he concludes that the story of private ownership in Inner Mongolia (China) should warn us that market liberalism and land privatization (1) does not square with Mongolian sentiments with regard to land and (2) will ultimately cause environmental degradation (case in point, Inner Mongolia) because of the constraints that it places on traditional herding and grazing practices.

Whether what Sneath says is right or wrong, there are legitimate objections to land-privatization in Mongolia (or anywhere else) . To wit, there are (to simplify grossly) three: First, it goes against traditional Mongolian notions of land use. Second, it would create instability in the livelihoods the well over half of Mongolia's population that derives its subsistance from nomadic herding. Third, it would go a long way toward destroying an ancient, thriving, and irreplacable culture.

Of course, any good common sense fellow (of a free-market disposition) can immediately offer all kinds of rebuttals to these objections. In the first case, the Mongolians are just going to have to adapt to the way things work in the modern world, just as all advanced civilizations have. In the second, the instability is only temporary; when everything gets sorted out and the new system is in place, everyone will be much better off for the change, no matter how difficult. In the third case, one might note that countless "irreplacable" cultures have been lost in the passage of time (and that the Mongols did their share in making that happen) , and that one more should not get anyone's nose out of joint. Besides, one might suggest, just as old cultures are disappearing, new cultures always rush in to fill the void. Let's just be grown up about it, the pragmatist might say, perahs shed a few tears, but then pick up and move on.

Let's face it. It's easy to be dogmatic when facing such issues. But when you have a tie to the land, it's anything but philosophical. It's intensely visceral. For a man's land is inseperable from his land, his soil, his hearth. And for the Mongolian nomad, that land, that soil, that hearth, is the entire steppe as it billows and rolls under the the eternal blue sky.

The beauty of blogging is that it's always a work in process. Just like my view on land-privatization in Mongolia. What makes Mongolia so beautiful in many regards is the fact that the land is for all intents and purposes communal (where the word communal carries no political baggage). Quite literally, it's possible to walk or ride from one end of Mongolia to the other without a fence getting in one's way. The kind of life and view on life that this creates (or was created by it) is breathtakingly unique. The only thing I can think of to parallel this phenomenon in my own experience is that of the American Indian or the cowboys and cattle-drivers in bygone American epochs (I grew up in Montana). I suppose there are snatches of such open space in other places throughout the earth--northern Canada, Alaska, Siberia, both poles. But there's no place quite like Mongolia where the wide open steppe and taiga and desert is so tied up with a living and widespread culture. The world, not least the Mongolians, would lose something of incalculable worth--their very historic identity--were their country to go the way of all flesh and chop its land into little parcels and hedge them about with barbed wire fences.

Yet Mongolia, if it is to survive and indeed advance, cannot remain a subsistance economy with matching land and property laws. As much as the romantic or idealist in us hates it, times have changed. Subsistance survival, whether by hunting, gathering, farming, or herding, is no longer the norm. Economic advance is. Baabar, a prominant Mongolian scholar, democrat, and commentator, put it this way in a recent editorial for the UB Post:
Traditional animal husbandry has turned into a sector that is nothing more then a tool of sustenance for those who are herding them. Occupancy of this sector, which is not even ј of GDP, will be decreasing significantly and there’s no alternative other then replacing it....
Though I don't know Baabar's explicit opinions on land privatization, this sentiment seems to be of a piece with, perhaps even complimentary to, De Soto's above-noted observation that "private land is the base for a free economy." Again, without clear-cut land ownership, De Soto maintains, people will not know what they own and thus not have much heart to sink time, resources, and personal effort into improving what may not be theirs in the end.

In the final analysis, an ownership society and with it land-privatization is apparently the only way forward for Mongolia. But at the cost of the culture? Of the land? Of this generation of Mongolians? They know and we know that there is a choice to be made. Unfortunately, there's no easy decision. We can only hope for the best as Mongolia plots its course for the future.


Monday, July 04, 2005

"The Second Breakup of the Soviet Union"

From the pages of the Christian Science Monitor, via Pinaxman Cometh (how's that for a blog name?):
Two Russian ethnic republics, Ingushetia and Bashkortostan, have seen mass street demonstrations this week directed against Kremlin-installed leaders. Even in remote Mongolia, the former USSR's Asian satellite, hundreds of protesters gathered last week to "congratulate our Kyrgyz brothers" and demand a rerun of last June's disputed parliamentary polls.

Some experts see a common thread among these upheavals that began 17 months ago when Georgians overthrew Eduard Shevardnadze in a peaceful revolt and continued with Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" late last year.

"Every situation is different, but a single process is unfolding," says Valentin Bogatyrov, a former Akayev adviser and director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Bishkek. "Kyrgyzstan is a kind of trigger that will spread this unrest to our neighbors, and beyond. We are witnessing the second breakup of the Soviet Union."

Allegedly fraudulent elections sparked the uprisings in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. Among the post-Soviet states that face elections in the next two years are Azerbaijan later this year, plus Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan in 2006. Common features of the regimes potentially under siege include systemic corruption, nepotism, and political appointments based on personal fealty rather than professionalism. (Italics mine)

Great news. Especially the last part. Corruption has got to go if the Central Asian republics, or any other country, wants to advance. The brighter the light, the more widespread the revolutions, the better for freedom everywhere.


Sunday, July 03, 2005

What's Required for Progress?

Cliff May at NRO provided some food for thought today in NRO's Corner: "Development requires private property rights, tort law, an independent judiciary, market access, [and] disincentive to corruption...." Mongolia's well on the way in establishing these things, but it'd still make a good to do list for the country's leaders:
  1. Private property rights
  2. Tort law
  3. An independent judiciary
  4. Market access
  5. Disincentive to corruption
Of course, none of these things are that easy to come by. For starters, establishing private property rights in a land of nomads is something that's going to be beyond difficult (this is something I'd like to explore more soon). But it's a good list to have on hand nonetheless.


Using Chinggis as Cover

The Boston Globe reports today on the memory of Chinggis Khan. One of the observations:
Differing assessments of conquerors can roil emotions in Asia, where passions over history run high. But since Genghis Khan's legacy is free of living memory, it is proving easier to revise.

In fact, nations wanting to curry favor with resource-rich Mongolia are supporting its attempts to resurrect its past.

Since Mongolians worship their dead and the location of Genghis Khan's grave remains unknown, both Beijing and Tokyo are trying to outdo each other in sanctifying his memory.

China is spending about $20 million to renovate a mausoleum it built for Genghis Khan in 1954 at Ejin Horo Banner on the Ordos Highlands in its province of Inner Mongolia. In October, a Japanese-financed research team searching for the ruler's tomb said it had found it at Avraga, about 155 miles east of this capital.

There's nothing that some countries, China among them, would like to do more than simply walk into Mongolia and walk out with its precious resources. I hope, I hope, I hope that the folks running Mongolia don't let these outside powers woo their way into robbing Mongolia's natural resources, whether the foreigners "sanctify Chinggis's memory" or not. Mongolia appears to be getting savvy as to the potentially all-consuming appetite of its neighbors for raw resources (witness the tighter logging laws that have been passed in the past few years), so it's not likely that anyone's going to pull the cashmere over Mongolia's eyes. I can't help but be a bit worried, though.


Saturday, July 02, 2005

Party (MPRP) Man

The UB Post has a story on Enkhbayar's swearing in as President. The concluding paragraph includes some info about Enkhbayar as well as his view of the current state of the MPRP:
At the time of his inauguration, Enkhbayar officially withdrew his membership of the MPRP, as required by law. He joined the party in 1985 and was party chairman since 1997. Enkhbayar told the press about some of the successes of the party during his time as chairman, including winning 10 elections (including parliamentary, local, presidential) out of 11. He said that at times in the past the party was criticized for not having a clear concept, but described the present day party as a democratic socialist party with a left of center concept. He said that party membership doubled during his time as chairman. He stated that although he has withdrawn his membership, he will continue to exchange opinions with party members but he will not be involved in the internal affairs of the party.



Fast and furious: Boy jockeys as young as 4 push their horses to the limits in one of Mongolia's "three manly sports." (source: Magma Online)

Naadam is quickly aproaching.
DUST SWIRLS LIKE BROWN CYCLONES across the grassland in the distance, long before the riders break the horizon. Then, the ground heaves to the pounding of hundreds of hoofs, as horses surge for miles across the steppes.

The race course is a rainbow of color. Banners fly from carnival booths. Horse manes are pinned punk-style, with ribbons. Reins are studded with shiny silver. And riders in the world's largest horse race are wrapped in embroidered robes of blue, orange and magenta.

In the barren plains of Mongolia, where winters are ferocious, food is scarce and one can roam the range for days without seeing a sign of human settlement, there would seem to be no better test of mettle than simple survival. However, thousands of hearty descendants of Genghis Kahn compete in shows of skill and strength every summer at Naadam, a sports festival rivaling the Olympics as the Earth's oldest games....
National Geographic spotlights this huge annual celebration (July 11-13) in a article published just yesterday. But much more worth your time and your senses is the beautiful piece quoted above by Mongolia writer Ron Gluckman.
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