In a world where everything is connected, maintaining friendly and diplomatic international relations is the key for ensuring a safe world. Without effective communication, small misunderstandings can have dire consequences. Diplomats play a major role in forging beneficial relationships and preventing misunderstandings and wars between countries. Ch.Agvaandamdin is a Mongolian senior diplomat with over 38 years of experience in the diplomatic affairs of Mongolia. He has worked in every department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1970, and has visited 39 nations to improve Mongolia’s international relations.
Below is an interview with Ch.Agvaandamdin, probing into his thoughts about Mongolia’s international relations and the 11th Asia-Europe Meeting Summit (ASEM11), which was hosted in Ulaanbaatar on July 15 and 16.
You’ve been on five overseas diplomatic missions in the past. Representing a nation is a very heavy responsibility and can be very challenging, with plenty of hurdles along the way. Can you share some interesting insight on your career as a diplomat?
I was appointed to Egypt on my first diplomatic mission, and then Afghanistan. They are rather difficult countries to be assigned to, and a few number of diplomats get the opportunity to work in Egypt and Afghanistan. I worked at the Mongolian embassy in Cairo from 1973 to 1978, during the fourth Arab-Israeli war, also known as the October War. Important figures and venues, such as streets, the president, the Mogamma (a central government building), and bridges, were protected by tanks. All ministries and agencies were surrounded with sacks of sand, windows and lamps were painted dark blue or dark green to dim the light, and soldiers were on standby outside. I worked in an extremely inconvenient environment for five years. I was always anxious as to when the war would come to the capital.
Civil war was ongoing during my second diplomatic mission to Kabul, Afghanistan, from 1987 to 1989. Streets were bombed and the capital was always under attack.
Can you share the history of the Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs?
One hundred and five years have passed since Mongolia declared independence from the Manchu-led Qing dynasty in 1911. During this period, 31 people have been appointed foreign affairs minister, but only five of them were professional diplomats. The current foreign affairs minister, L.Purevsuren, is the 31st foreign affairs minister and the fifth professional diplomat. I’m very pleased that a professional diplomat became a minister. The other diplomats who became foreign affairs minister were P.Shagdarsuren (1958-1963), M.Dugersuren (1963-1968, 1976-1988), L.Erdenechuluun (2000-2004), and Ts.Munkh-Orgil (2004-2005).
Are you suggesting that it’s better to appoint professional diplomats as foreign affairs ministers?
Yes. Marshall Kh.Choibalsan realized professional diplomats were vital to strengthening Mongolia’s independence, and sent P.Shagdarsuren to study international relations in Moscow, Russia. Very few professional diplomats have become foreign affairs ministers during the past 105 years. Let’s think about this. Professional diplomat L.Purevsuren has been working as foreign affairs minister for merely a year and seven months. He has achieved so much within this short period. I figure that everything will change now regarding the government’s power and state policy. It’s truly a shame.
The parliamentary election ended with the Mongolian People’s Party claiming an overwhelming victory over the ruling Democratic Party. Soon after the National Naadam Festival ministers will be appointed. Can you comment on this?
The MPP made a breakthrough in the seventh parliamentary election and is beginning their work. Previous experiences show that practically everything changes when one political party dominates the government. We can assume that the government has changed six times before the seventh election, but the Mongolian government has changed 15 times since transitioning to a democracy and market system. In November 2014, Ch.Saikhanbileg became the 16th prime minister. The foreign affairs minister has changed 12 times in just 26 years as well.
Since 1990, the Russian foreign affairs minister has changed only three times. The fourth minister, S.Lavrov, has been in office for 12 years, since 2003. These many government changes reflect the inner political instability in Mongolia according to the principles of Mongolia’s national security policy. It’s better to have a professional who knows what to do and can maintain their position and improve productivity.
You emphasized that Minister L.Purevsuren is one of the few diplomats to take charge of the Foreign Affairs Ministry. One of the most important tasks he has taken on is ASEM11. What’s the significance of hosting ASEM?
ASEM is a very important measure boosting Mongolia’s reputation to international heights and showing our nation’s achievements concerning international relations. It indicates the accomplishments of Mongolia in foreign policy, foreign relations, and even the efforts of the Mongolian Foreign Affairs Ministry.
ASEM is a process of dialogue and cooperation organized every two years, involving 21 Asian countries and the ASEAN Secretariat, along with the 28 European Union member states, Norway and Switzerland, and the European Union. It’s the sole Asia-Europe forum which aims to coordinate multilateral policies and expand cooperation between the two regions by facilitating discussion on political, economic and cultural relations with people from a wide-range of backgrounds.
Though Mongolia became a member state of ASEM in 2008, it has been given the opportunity to host this reputable international meeting. It is a huge honor, achievement, and a very historically rare opportunity, but also a massive responsibility. Considering that there are 51 member states and two international organizations, it will take a century before every country hosts the ASEM Summit in a rotary fashion, and for a country to host ASEM again. The host country has an advantage in determining the future directions of ASEM cooperation, and this time Mongolia has seized this opportunity. Simply put, Mongolia has demonstrated its rapid development at an international level and has taken a role in expanding links and fostering a more comprehensive partnership between Asia and Europe.
These significant factors are hardly mentioned in international media. On the contrary, it’s rumored that countries avoid organizing ASEM, and yet, Mongolia almost begged to host ASEM11. What do you think about this speculation?
Actually, the fact that Mongolia is hosting ASEM11 means that European and Asian countries recognized that Mongolia was fully capable of taking on the huge responsibility of hosting such an important event. It’s an indication of their trust and confidence in Mongolia. The Mongolian President explained that Mongolia getting the right to host ASEM was an indication of our nation becoming eligible to host important international events, and that it shows the global trust and faith in Mongolia’s foreign policy, reputation, and Mongolians.
In regards to this, I’d like to add that it’s also an indication of how strong the reputation of Mongolian President Ts.Elbegdorj is at the international level. In other words, not only is the reputation of Mongolia closely linked to the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s activity, but also with the activity of President Ts.Elbegdorj, who has been the face of Mongolia worldwide during our democracy.
Some people complain that ASEM11 isn’t very important to the public and only results in high expenses. Have you heard about this? How do you respond to these critiques?
People with these thoughts aren’t looking at the bigger picture. Hosting a meeting as important as ASEM is tremendously significant for Mongolia. The outcome will not be seen immediately but after a certain amount of time. Heads of states who participated in ASEM11 will make decisions and develop ties and cooperation with Mongolia based on what they’ve observed, noticed, felt, and seen during their stay in here.
The outcome of successfully hosting ASEM with a small population of three million people is that Mongolia will be able to demonstrate its ability and capacity to host any key international event well. This, itself, is a big boost to Mongolia’s reputation. Time will make everyone realize how significant ASEM11 was, and the future benefits will be multiple times more than the current expense, as ASEM was the perfect platform for promoting the vast opportunities for cooperation and room for investment in Mongolia. I’m sure that those complaining about ASEM11 will soon realize that it was a historic event, opening incredible opportunities for every sector and, once again, spreading positive news about Mongolia.
Lastly, would you like to say anything to the Mongolian public?
Since early times, Mongolians have made an effort to link the Eastern world with the Western world and establish peace in the world through Pax Mongolica; the stabilizing effects of the conquests of the Mongol Empire on the social, cultural, and economic life of the inhabitants of the vast Eurasian territory that the Mongols conquered in the 13th and 14th centuries.
I’m confident that we will continue to function as the bridge between Asia and Europe for facilitating communication and commerce, as we have in the past. I hope our people maintain good relations, and to do so, political parties and lawmakers play a major role in making patriotic and correct polities, and carrying out effective activities.
I’d like to highlight that hosting ASEM11 was a great opportunity to increase awareness about Mongolia to the rest of the world, and that it was successfully organized all thanks to the efforts, knowledge, and ability of Mongolian diplomats and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.