Dr. J.Bayasakh, the Director of the Institute of International Affairs of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and one of the key founding members of the School of International Relations and Public Administration, sat down with The UB Post to discuss the significance of having a school specialized in international relations and current trends in Mongolia’s foreign policy.
Dr. J.Bayasakh is regarded as one of the leading sinologists in Mongolia. He served as a professor and director of the Institute of International Relations under the National University of Mongolia from 1982 to 2015.
The School of International Relations of the National University of Mongolia was established in 1991 and the basis of the current faculty was set in 2000. As a key founding member of the school, what did you envision for the school?
After the end of the Cold War in 1991, the eastern bloc countries, including Mongolia started thinking about how to train their own diplomats. In Mongolia’s case, we founded the School of Foreign Service and in the initial 20 years, we used this title. This is a very American type of name for the school. The school was created to train young diplomats and those who will research international relations. From that time, we began to focus on learning something from universities in our neighboring countries.
The model of our school was based on the model used by the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). Our model is also similar to that of the model used in China, in particular the Foreign Affairs College, which has changed its name recently. Mongolia, Russia, and China all train undergraduates for four years while focusing more on the training of the foreign languages. We chose English as the first foreign language and made it so that a second-year student would take English. In addition to English, students take a third foreign language course such as German, French, Chinese, Russian, and Korean.
The school began to also offer a postgraduate program in addition to the undergraduate. Outside of international relations, students also studied international law. We had around 100 students majoring in international law and around 300 in international relations. Starting around in 2010, our school began enrollment of PhD students in international relations, international law, international economics, and security studies.
Now unfortunately due to the new administration of the National University of Mongolia, they want to dissolve our school and attach it to the School of [Social] Science.
As you mentioned, there has been a restructuring of the National University of Mongolia. Do you believe this change will affect the quality of education that the school provides?
This will of course affect the quality of the education provided by our school. We will lose our autonomy and will be very much attached to the university’s policy. This will be changing everything including structure.
The school is also undergoing a change of the generations. Faculty members are mostly seniors like me, over 60 years old. We are all mostly trained in foreign countries, acquiring our PhDs abroad. As a result, the faculty was trained in English, Russian, and Chinese. Nowadays this has shifted mainly to English. However, due to the changes in the geopolitical environment of Mongolia, we will probably be focused more on trilateral relations between Mongolia, Russia, and China in the future.
You mentioned about the growing focus on trilateral relations between the three countries. An economic corridor is being implemented between the three countries in addition to the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. Can you elaborate more on the growing trilateral relations?
After the fifth generation of Chinese leaders rose to power, they started focusing more on trilateral relations. Because of the Ukraine crisis, suddenly China and Russia decided that Mongolia was important. Now they are thinking that they cannot implement the OBOR initiative successfully without Mongolia.
Under the previous President’s initiative, we organized a trilateral meeting twice between the three heads of states.
In 2014, Mongolia signed the Comprehensive Strategy Partnership agreement with China and two years later, in 2016, signed the agreement with Russia.
Now after Tashkent, there is a lot to talk about creating an economic corridor between the three countries.
Russia has been affected economically due to the sanctions imposed on it. Some analysts are saying that Russia’s agriculture has matured due to the sanctions but the Russian foreign policy has changed. They are maintaining a more hardline policy, using violence to advance their foreign policy. Their military already entered Syria to fight ISIS.
China’s situation on the other hand is the opposite, they don’t want to have a hard policy and have said they want to do everything slowly. China put soft diplomacy and soft power as a priority. In the coming 10 years, China will focus on implementing the OBOR initiative.
Also, President of China Xi Jinping was elected to his second term and will likely stay in power for the next 10 years. Recently, China approved a foreign policy guideline until 2020 to maintain more soft diplomacy and special attention to its neighbors, including Mongolia.
However, Chinese foreign policy will be changing in the coming years. Xi Jinping is regarded as number two leader in modern Chinese history after Mao Zedong. Xi has surpassed Deng Xiaoping in terms of Chinese leaders. The foreign policy will be changing under the second term of President Xi Jinping; it was announced during the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party.
Certainly, after the year 2020, Chinese foreign policy might change from soft to hard power. This is my guess as a professional. The Chinese are learning something from the Russians. However, at this stage, China is promoting a peaceful environment.
Everything will be changing. More than 37 countries have joined the OBOR initiative, a lot of the western world is looking at the OBOR from a pragmatic view. Even the Netherlands, a small country [geographically], wants to use the OBOR to develop its docks and its economy.
Former President Ts.Elbegdorj’s foreign policy differs quite a bit from that of current President Kh.Battulga. How would you grade President Kh.Battulga’s performance in foreign policy so far?
Former President Ts.Elbegdorj was very active and involved in Mongolia’s foreign policy. He started to use a neutral foreign policy during his two-term presidency. According to his view, Mongolia is a small state and therefore should have good relations with its two immediate neighbors but also with third neighbors.
Unfortunately, Ts.Elbegdorj left power and did not legitimate his neutral foreign policy via Mongolia Parliament. I will be meeting with the current President Kh.Battulga, who is in the process of creating his own foreign policy direction. I want to convey to him that he should not break the initiative that started with Ts.Elbegdorj. He should continue what Ts.Elbegdorj started.
Earlier this year, China imposed some types of economic sanctions due to the Dalai Lama visit to Mongolia. Now, because of Kh.Battulga’s strange announcements and rhetoric, China is reducing the import of Mongolian coal. This is directly damaging to the economy.
Would you say the President’s statements that likely led to the reduction of Mongolian coal imports were irresponsible?
We probably lost almost half a billion USD because of that. Responsibility will be a very important aspect of the foreign policy of a small state like Mongolia. We want to drive him to the right direction.
As an expert on diplomacy and international relations, what is your opinion on President Kh.Battulga’s unwillingness to send the six ambassadors who have been approved by the host country? Six ambassadors are sitting idly in Ulaanbaatar because the President has not decreed them to leave.
The President of Mongolia makes a lot of the political appointments, including ambassadors. Mostly former ministers or Parliament members are appointed as ambassadors. This is a bad system but it exists within many other countries.We should be changing. I do hope the new President will change his mind on China and Russia. The Chinese think that the new President is a pro-Russian and a Russophile. He should be more modest and moderate. Play the game with the two of them instead of taking one side.
If you look at the world after World War 2, there had been a bipolarity in international relations. After the end of the Cold War, the United States created a unipolar distribution of power but that only lasted 10 years.
Now, everything is changing. The US President is making strange announcements from time to time. Many academicians and analysts say that on one hand he is very similar in nature to Kim Jong Un and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. He is a businessman and therefore acts like he is running a business. He has wrong policies on matters such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. It is too early to say how things will turn out in the end.
You mentioned about Russian and Chinese involvement in Mongolia and use of both soft and hard power. One of the biggest examples of this is Russia’s intervention in preventing the construction of hydroelectric power plants on the Eg River and the Selenge River. What is your opinion on intervention by Mongolia’s two neighbors?
Russia’s attitude towards the hydroelectric power plant has changed. Now, Russia is saying that it is not the Selenge River but a part of it, the Eg River. The Russian side has said that if it is determined that the construction of the plant will not be detrimental to Lake Baikal, they will think about approving of the construction.
Do you think Mongolia will be able to resist that type of influence from its two neighboring superpowers?
We should have good maneuvering and negotiation. That is why today the School of Foreign Service is still very important because the school trains the foreign service workforce of Mongolia.
I think the new President of the university will change his mind because of the multi-party system. On one hand, the multi-party is bad for Mongolia. Policy changes every four years and there is no five-year plan like they have in China or South Korea. We should rethink how we should be always adapting. In addition, our foreign policy concept should be revised.
Do you believe Mongolia should be open to and join regional integration organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or Eurasian Economic Union? The Shanghai Cooperation Organization has been classified as a political organization by many academicians.
Last two or three years, Mongolia has largely discussed joining the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). We still have the dream of becoming the 23rd member of APEC. They are most likely not going to extend an invitation to become a member to Mongolia, so the process has reached a standstill. Economic regional organizations are the most important, if Mongolia joins a political integration organization such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Mongolia will fall under the influence of Russia and China. As large superpowers, they contribute more to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and therefore have more of an influence. Another interesting aspect is that the SCO charter says that the member states should pay priority to other member countries.
If Mongolia joins the SCO, we will not be able to talk about the third neighbor policy for example. We should have a more pragmatic way. Let’s see what happens in the coming two years.