Sunday, June 1, 2014

Mongolia’s confident new strategy towards prosperity

Mongolia’s ancestors were risk-takers who built the largest contiguous land empire in world history ranging from the Korean Peninsula to Poland, including the Middle East and Southern China. They ruled this vast territory and countless peoples wisely. During the period of the Mongol Empire, now referred to as Pax Mongolica, trade between the West and the East flourished through the famous Silk Road, along which ‘a small girl with baskets of gold could have peacefully travelled all around the empire with no fear’. After the collapse of the empire, the quests for the rich Orient greatly triggered the sea travel that resulted in great geographical discoveries.

Two decades ago, as the descendants of this courageous people, Mongolians took the risk of complex transitions in all spheres of political and economic life. We chose the fastest way to cover the distance; we are always in a hurry because we are horse riders. The early 1990s were a difficult time; income per capita was about US$200 and all centrally planned and state-owned enterprises were in bankruptcy after the Soviet Union — on which 70 per cent of the economy was dependent — collapsed together with the communist camp. Moreover, it was an odd decision given all other Asian nations eventually chose step-by-step transitions as the safe move — economy first, political next.

Two decades later, the culture of risk-takers has received tremendous paybacks. Mongolia is a flourishing democracy and led the Community of Democracies in 2011–13. The country has gradually overcome the painful economic transition and become a middle-income country with the highest economic growth in the world. The private sector, which was made illegal by the communist regime, now produces 80 per cent of the country’s economic output.

The two-fold transition provides greater stability for future prosperity.

Although our democracy is still young, national security and economic prosperity is already guaranteed. As an open society, we usually have nationwide debates almost on all important decisions. These debates sometimes overspill to political polarisation that significantly slows down the decisions important to the nation’s life. Sometimes, excessive populism drives the economy to a dead end and gives grave lessons to our politics. Nevertheless, the people believe in the system and it remains widely open to everyone who invests in Mongolia to enjoy endless options to advance their interests.

Mongolia has a national consensus that the smart use of the country’s vast mineral resources will bless the economic prosperity of the nation. The only debate is how best to use it. The exploitation of strategic mineral deposits was and remains the hottest political debate for the last decade, although it was about just two of 25 significantly rich mineral deposits in the row. It has been so hotly debated because it was our very first strategic business agreement with a multinational corporation. Based on our past experiences and mistakes, we are ready to cooperate with other investors on future grand projects.

As Mongolia internally consolidates, it has the capability of playing a more important role in regional security. It has friendly relations with all regional nations, including both Koreas and is the only country that has no territorial disputes with its neighbours. It might be the only country in the world that has no enemy. Having no vested interest in the Korean Peninsula or any other security disputes in the region, Mongolia offers its intermediation to the regional powers. The Ulaanbaatar Dialogue on Northeast Asian Security, an initiative of the Mongolian President, calls for peaceful dialogue among the regional nations to reach mutual understanding and confidence.

We take strong steps to move forward for the prosperity of the nation.

The beauty of democracy is that it consolidates every time it makes mistakes. We had a time that scared all investors and froze their interests. Learned from the lessons, we amended our mineral policy and made investment laws to be more stable — to the extent that any changes to the law requires two third of votes in the parliament.

The ‘Smart Government’ initiative of the President of Mongolia proposes the revision of all administrative system from the viewpoint of effective and efficient public service to the people, more practically to the business. The initiative calls for significant changes in government bureaucracy; the number of licenses shall be as few as possible; technology of government shall be as smart as possible to minimise its size and advance its services; and government transactions have to become transparent. It is the next stage of the democratic reform; doing so it will give new impetus to the business.

Mongolia needs more friends to ensure its national security interests and achieve economic prosperity — its ‘Third Neighbour Policy’ is a policy of extending its friends all around the world. Two immediate neighbours of Mongolia, Russia and China, remain the foreign policy priority and this priority is not contradictory to the policy of having more friends. Together with all, Mongolia confidently is moving towards prosperity.

Luvsanvandan Bold is Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mongolia.


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