India gets sucked into Mongolia – China relations; As China sanctions Mongolia over Dalai Lama’s visit
China has slapped economic sanctions on Mongolia as retaliation over Dalai Lama’s ninth visit to the country. Ulan Bator had allowed Lama’s visit in November in the teeth of official Chinese opposition. China reacted immediately by punitively charging all trucks crossing into China’s autonomous province of Inner Mongolia and cancelling all official interactions. To ward off sanctions by China, Mongolia sought India’s help who is ‘ready to work with Mongolian people in this time of their difficulty’. India had promised a credit line of US $1 billion financial assistance during Modi’s last visit but is careful to steer clear of Mongolia-China spat. India views the current crisis as a debt-serving problem.
India considers Mongolia ‘a partner in democracy’. Mongolia boasts of ‘a long spiritual relationship with India’ and expects India to ‘raise its voice against the unilateral measures China is taking’ in the midst of severe winter. Silence is implied consent but India is apprehensive that a public statement would anger the Chinese. China’s actions could psyche out neighbours and do not augur well for One-Belt-One Road (OBOR) policy as countries will fear Chinese diktat for arbitrary economic sanctions. Russia is silent lest it upsets Chinese investment of US $ 400 billion. Mongolia has defied China throughout history, braving troubled and complicated relations despite heavy dependence on China for transit. Premiers of both countries had literally come to fisticuffs over support to India during Sino Indian war. Mongols under Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, conquered all of China in 1279. The Great Wall was constructed to defend repeated Mongol raids into China.
The Chinese subsequently expelled the Mongols from China, sacked the Mongol capital Karakorum, conquered Inner Mongolia and incorporated Mangolia into Chinese empire. The Republic of China, established with fall of Qing dynasty in 2011, claimed Mongolia as Chinese territory as the successor to the Qing dynasty. Mongolia declared independence in 2011 but Chinese forces continued to occupy some regions and sniffed out Outer Mongolia’s independence in 1919 till Russian forces drove out Chinese in 1920 to form Mongolian People’s Republic- an independent, communist government. It became a Soviet satellite state in 1924. Japanese invasion of China prevented Chinese control over Outer Mongolia.
After World War II, under Soviet pressure, China was forced to formally accept Outer Mongolian independence. In 1949, the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations with Mongolia recognizing its independent status. It signed a border treaty in 1962. With the Sino-Soviet split, Mongolia aligned with the Soviet Union seeking deployment of Soviet forces. Resultant security concerns in China strained bilateral ties until a high-level Chinese delegation visited Mongolia in 1984 to survey and demarcate their borders and signed a treaty in 1988 on border control. A spate of agreements bolstered trade, transport and air links between the two.
As Mongolia’s main ally, USSR remained bulwark against Chinese imperialist designs until 1980s when USSR- China rapprochement led to improvement in Sino-Mongolian relations. Mongolia experienced peaceful democratic revolution in early 1990 with multi-party system, a new constitution of 1992, and transition to a market economy. It also began asserting a more independent policy and pursued friendly ties with China. However it remains suspicious of China wanting to claim Mongolian territory. It fears that China’s overpopulation could pour into Mongolian territory. China-Mongolia relationship has normalized since the 1990s.
China has become Mongolia’s biggest trade partner. A number of Chinese businesses are operating in Mongolia .China is source of foreign investment and offers Tianjin port and goods access to trade within the Asia Pacific region. It signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation in 1994 for fighting terrorism and bolstering regional security. China is likely to support Mongolia’s membership in to the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and granting it observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. China has opened up Pakistan’s economy and getting to close to countries in India’s neighbourhood namely, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Iran. So Beijing has no moral right to object to India trying to help Mongolia out of the crisis. But as the elephant in the room Beijing could afford bullying behaviour for now.