India invites new Mongolian President, a known China critic
NEW DELHI: India has invited Mongolia’s new President, Khaltmaa Battulga, days after he won the election, a development which assumes significance amid the India-China standoff since he is a vocal China critic and has been arguing against Mongolia’s economic dependence on China.
Mongolia’s security and cultural relations with India are witnessing a steady growth, as became evident when the resource-rich landlocked country reached out to India after China imposed an economic blockade on it after it hosted Dalai Lama last year. The Mongolian government at the time, however, buckled under pressure from China and promised not to allow any future visits of the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people.
The East Asian country wants to reduce its economic dependence on China since this partnership is pushing it into a debt trap. China accounted for 68.5% of Mongolia’s foreign trade between January and May this year, up from 1.5% in 1989 China’s share of Mongolia’s exports during this period was 90.5%. China is believed to be eyeing Mongolia’s coal and copper deposits.
India on its part is keen to expand its presence in Mongolia situated in China’s periphery. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visited Ulaanbaatar in 2015, invited Battulga for a visit soon after the results of the presidential election were announced earlier this month. Then President, Pranab Mukherjee, sent him a message saying that India and Mongolia shared belief in democracy.
T Suresh Babu, Indian envoy to Mongolia, was among the first ambassadors to call on the new President, according to people aware of the matter. Battluga urged Babu to convey to the Indian PM his proposal for opening an Indian Institute of Technology in Ulaanbaatar. An India-Mongolia joint school of information technology will also be set up in that country. The Modi government had extended a line of credit of $1 billion to Mongolia.
Battulga , a Russophile, wants Mongolia to have partners in other continents. Despite Mongolia’s natural resource wealth, mismanagement of the economy in recent years has led to deflation and a $5.5 billion IMF bailout package.
India and Mongolia have seen a growing defence partnership. A civil nuclear deal was concluded in 2009. The India-Mongolia Joint Working Group for defence cooperation meets annually and India contributes to training of Mongolian military officers.
ET View: Engage with Mongolia
India’s decision to invite Mongolia’s newly elected president should not be viewed only as an attempt to needle China. Its outreach to Mongolia, in fact, predates the current standoff with China. And New Delhi must continue to pursue diplomatic relations in keeping with national interests. At the same time, Beijing needs to be given a clear signal that New Delhi will not be hemmed in or constrained in its interactions.
By Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury