The upcoming elections are forcing people to step back and evaluate the results of Mongolia’s unprecedented economic development over the past couple years. Last year Mongolia’s economy grew 17.3% in 2011 and there is little signs of this growth slowing down in the foreseeable future. With huge mineral reserves throughout the country, including the now infamous Oyuu Tolgoi and Tavan Tolgoi mines, the question is no longer “Will Mongolia develop?” it is “How will Mongolia develop?” or perhaps more to the point “Who will benefit from Mongolia’s development?” Perhaps the Democratic Party’s slogan, Олуулаа Хөгжих үү, Цөөхүүл нь xөлжих үү (Will many develop or will just a few get rich?) is the best representation of what is currently on the minds of the Mongolian people.
In Europe and the US we are increasingly torn over the utility of re-disbursement and whether there is any truth in the so-called trickle-down-effect. While this question is certainly pertinent to Mongolia as well, there is also an interesting twist: the scapegoat to the South, better known as China. Anyone that has ever looked at Mongolian politics or society, even casually, has undoubtable noticed that Mongolians seem culturally inclined to be wary of China and often perceive numerous Chinese threats. In this article, I would like to explore the fears that Mongolians hold toward China regarding territorial integrity/sovereignty and national survival. Regardless of China's recognition of Mongolian independence and huge economic ties between the two countries, fears of national survival continue to be a key point of concern for some Mongolians.
As a small country situated between giants (The Russian Federation and the Peoples' Republic of China), sovereignty and territorial integrity are very real security concerns. In 1691, the territory of Mongolia was completely absorbed into the Qing Dynasty, in 1911 Outer Mongolia declared its independence, and following the 1921 communist revolution the country stood firmly in the USSR sphere of influence. Since the 1990 Democratic Revolution, Mongolia has designed its core foreign policy and security interests in terms of neutrality, balance, and survival. Mongolia has declared itself official neutral should a conflict arise between Russia and China, and does not allow either country to have any military posts in its territory. By maintaining strict neutrality, Mongolia is ensuring that neither China nor Russia should perceive a strategic advantage to controlling Mongolia; the advantages of buffer statehood, you might say. By ensuring balance not only between Russia and China, but also ensuring good relations with the US, Japan, EU, South Korea, and other nations/institutions outside of its geography- the Third Neighbor Policy- Mongolia is able to ensure that its foreign policy and security ties are not limited to Russia and China. This is all in the context of national survival and ensuring Mongolia's continued sovereignty and independence.
The Mongolian understanding of security and survival is not limited to the strictly political. Rather, Mongolians have been concerned with their survival as a distinct people and ensuring that so-called pure Mongolians continue to dominate the political and demographic landscape. While some aspects of these concerns might be shared by almost all states as a result of globalization (which, admittedly, remains a rather vague notion at best), many aspects of Mongolia's concern seems distinct to its status as a small state with a small population. Maintaining a distinctly Mongolian ethnic group is as much about political survival as it is about cultural survival.
Nobody wants to turn into the next Inner Mongolia. Tibetans and Uighurs have pointed to Inner Mongolia as their potential future if they do not receive more protection for their rights, customs, and language. Inner Mongolia is a nightmare-type situation for Tibetans, Uighurs, and Mongolians in Mongolia-proper for many reasons: the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region's (IMAR) population is less than 15% Mongolian; is dominated by Han Chinese migrants; and, many Mongolians in the IMAR no longer speak their native language. The purpose of this post is not to reveal the situation in the IMAR, but rather to point out that Mongolians in Mongolia itself, perceive a chance that they might one day be in a similar situation to Inner Mongolia. What is more revealing, perhaps, is that fact that opinion in Mongolia seems to be split between two rival camps: Those that don't consider Inner Mongolians to be real Mongolians; and those that want to support their Mongolian brothers across the border.
The phrase Цэвер Монгол (Pure Mongolian) seems to come up in more and more conversations I have, but it has quickly become clear that the exact meaning changes between different users. For example, Халх Монголчууд or Khalkha Mongolians might often refer to themselves as the only pure-Mongols. Alternatively, any Mongolian “tribe” in Mongolia-proper might say that they are pure-Mongols, while those living in Russia (Бурят/Халмаг, Buryat/Khalmyk) and the IMAR might be impure in some undefined way. One sure fire way to not be цэвер монгол is to come from a 100% Mongolian family. The word эрлийз (hybrid) is the politically incorrect word of choice for many Mongolians when referring to someone that is only a fraction Mongolian by blood. The worst option, of course, is to be ½ Han Chinese. Not only are such people not pure-Mongol, they are representative of the kind of extinction that the fanatical hyper-nationalist Mongolian mind has nightmares about.
Returning to my original question at the start of writing this post: How does this factor into politics/elections and are the candidates responding to it? While answering this question will require further research, the simple way out is to say “its complicated”/ “that’s a good question.” Indeed, for a casual blog post that might be enough. Still I will venture some insights here. First and foremost, we must remember that Mongolia has an extremely low population of just over 3 million people. While some 6 million Mongols live in the IMAR, these peoples are often judged to be over Sinified and, therefore, not цэвер монгол. So, if we accept that only Mongolians in Mongolia are actually true Mongols, then we are left with a population of only 3,179, 997 potential Mongols. Of course, roughly 5% of that population is Kazakh-Mongol, and another 5% are not Khalkha. For the purposes of this blog post lets just assume that all Mongolians in Mongolia can be considered, at minimum, pure enough. So, 3,018,147 pure Mongolians. Mongolian nationalists, even those that we might call moderate, fell that is their 3 million up against some 1.2 billion Han Chinese. If accept at face value that China is a threat to Mongolian sovereignty, then the odds hardly seemed stacked in their favor.
Historical memory (as opposed to hard historical fact) potentially play a major role in oft-stated concerns about the potential extinction of the Mongolian race. Indeed, when Mongolia was part of the Qing Empire- a time referred to in Mongolian as Манжийн дарлалт/Manchu Oppression- the Mongolian population greatly decreased. With the establishment of an independent “Outer Mongolia” and the establishment of the communist People’s Republic of Mongolia, the population increased as living standards evolved. What we see day, seems to be a continuation of the similar fears. After its colonial experience in the Qing Empire, and its satellite-nation-type relationship with the USSR, today’s Mongolia is determined to maintain as much sovereignty as it can as a small state.
Mongolia’s particular type of ethnic nationalism is tied directly to small statehood and fears of survival as a state and people. It is distinct from American “white supremacy”, Chinese nationalism, or Russia’s skinhead gangs. American “white supremacy” is based on notion of racial superiority; Chinese nationalism is more directly tied to its status as a rising power in confrontation with US hegemony; and Russian skinheads seem to be a mix of racial superiority, confrontation with the international system, and general criminal behavior. Mongolian nationalist groups, on the other hand, have convinced themselves that their people are in danger of disappearing in a state that is economically tied to China, and a population to small to resist a perceived influx of Chinese migration. I propose then, that we treat our study of Mongolian nationalism as uniquely connected to small statehood. While the “Third Neighbor Policy” might mitigate Chinese influence in Mongolian politics, it has been unable to avoid a simple fact: China is the largest market for Mongolian goods. As such, the PRC is by far Mongolia’s largest trading partner, and avoiding some Chinese presence in the country is essentially impossible, if Mongolia wants to develop further. Russia remains less problematic, probably due to ethnic differences, but also due to a slightly more positive experience under Soviet Union servitude.
Having presented a condensed argument, let me say, in a normative fashion, that I do not support Mongolian nationalism. Indeed, it is a dangerous development that should be addressed before it gets out of control. I do not think that Mongolians are in danger of becoming Sinified, and find assertions of a huge influx of Chinese migration to be overstated at best, and completely fabricated at worst. Such nationalist groups as Даяар Монгол and Хөх Монгол have been known to harass and attack Chinese people in Ulaanbaatar, and will even target Mongolian women that have chosen to date a Chinese man. While Chinese are often targeted first, Korean and Japanese citizens as well as some Americans have also been targeted. Mongolian nationalism (perhaps all hyper-nationalists movements) is about control. They claim the right to control Mongolian women's bodies by demanding that they produce pure-Mongolian children; they attack LGBT Mongolians for not doing having children and not staying in line with arcane notions of Mongolian masculinity; they declare all Chinese (or all Koreans, or all Japanese, depending on the group) to be responsible for crimes committed by individuals. For example, I was told by a teacher, who normally seems to be more liberal in her thought, that since some Koreans have abused Mongolian women that the whole lot must be dangerous. Naturally, my argument that Mongolia's criminals do not entail that the whole population of Mongols are thugs did not go over so well. Despite the morally unjust nature of hyper-nationalism (as opposed to simple national pride, which is a positive thing), I find it more productive for now to approach the topic with a level of academic unbiased inquiry, so as to identify trends without the haze of moral disgust. Linking nationalism and small statehood seems to logically add up, and I look forward to addressing it more in the future.
Analysis, Thoughts, Ideas
This blog will be an online publishing site for smaller analytical projects, news stories that I find relevant to small state foreign policy and indigenous autonomy, as well as a testing ground for new ideas and new projects that I may pursue.