Thursday, January 27, 2022

US-China influence rivalry moves into Beijing’s backyard

As China expands its influence across Asia with its Belt and Road infrastructure projects, the United States is back with a major development project in China’s backyard: Mongolia.

US Ambassador Michael Klyuchsky and Mongolian President Ukhnagin Khuralsukh presided over the foundation ceremony for the US-funded water purification plant program last month. The $93 million program is part of a $350 million grant that aims to address the growing water shortage in the rapidly growing Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar.

“Today marks a new chapter in the United States’ partnership with the people of Mongolia,” said Alexia Latortue, deputy chief of the US Millennium Challenge Corporation, or MCC, the US government agency that provides funding.

“Once commissioned, this purification plant will help … provide vital water resources needed to support the daily welfare and economic development of the Mongolian people,” she told the ceremony’s participants.

relationship with america

Sandwiched between America’s two biggest geopolitical rivals, China and Russia, Mongolia may seem an impossible target for US diplomatic and economic access.

But, Klechsky told VOA in a telephone interview, decades of educational exchange have laid the foundation for warm relations between the two countries.

“Many people [Mongolia’s] The government is educated in the United States,” he said, adding that “the prime minister is an alumnus of Harvard University.” According to the State Department’s account, about a third of Mongolia’s parliament is made up of American alumni.

“This is a young country. In the United States, there’s a lot of interest in our system and in learning English!” Klechsky said.

And according to Sodontogos Erdnetsogt, the Mongolian government official in charge of MCC projects in the country, there are more ties than personal ties.

“I love working with Americans because they follow the rules, follow the system. That’s the beauty of Americans,” he told Ulaanbaatar over the telephone.

She said she was impressed by her American counterpart’s loyalty to “values,” which include “transparency, accountability, responsibility, fairness, and the goodwill of the American people to help others.”

Sodontogos said Mongolia aims to “adherence to the same values” as the Americans, even though there are differences, such as in its handling of human relations. “But these differences will never undermine our strong cooperation.”

U.S. Ambassador Michael Klyuchsky is seen on groundbreaking for a water purification system to ensure Ulaanbaatar has enough water to support Mongolia’s growing population, industries and needs, Aug 20, 2021. (Twitter @USAmbMongolia)

aid through grants

Another sweetener for Mongolians is that the MCC project – unlike many Chinese infrastructure projects that leave countries with varying debt – will be paid for entirely by the US, with some contribution from the Mongolian government.

“The US government is supporting Mongolia’s economic development, when possible, by using grant financing,” Klechsky said on the groundbreaking, “because we believe that growing democracies benefit from programs that don’t have a lot of debt.” take.”

Sodontogos said the aid in the form of grants is “very, very valuable” for a developing country like Mongolia.

The water project is a big deal for Ulaanbaatar, which is facing a growing water crisis as its population explodes. The city now houses almost half of the country’s 3.3 million people.

Upon completion, the project is expected to increase the city’s water supply by 65%, making for a major plan to increase the supply by 80%. [[https://www.mcc.gov/news-and-events/release/release-082021-mcc-and-mongolia-break-ground-on-93-million-infrastructure-project]]

“Because it’s water, everyone cares — because water is our main source of life,” Sodontogos said. “The Mongolians are very aware of this program. They support, they are grateful, they are willing to work with the US government to implement it successfully,”

But for Klechsky, there is no less satisfaction in smaller projects, such as the groundbreaking ceremony he attended two weeks ago for a US-funded kindergarten in Ulaangom, 1,290 kilometers (800 miles) west of the capital. This will be the eighth such kindergarten ever funded by the US.

A statement on the website of the US Embassy in Ulaanbaatar said, “We are honored to have the opportunity to work with our Mongolian partners to provide one school at a time, safe and comfortable learning environment for school-age children in Mongolia.” are feeling.” The US Army Corps of Engineers is monitoring construction to ensure the highest quality, the statement said.

The US and Mongolian Armed Forces have also forged close ties in recent years, including in the training of Mongolia’s peacekeeping forces and the latter’s contribution to US and NATO efforts in Afghanistan over the past two decades.

The US and Mongolia entered into a strategic partnership in July 2019 during a meeting in Washington between then-Mongolian President Khaltama Batulga and President Donald Trump. In a sign of continued US commitment, Wendy Sherman, deputy secretary of state in the Biden administration, visited Mongolia in July this year as part of a tour of East Asia that also included Japan and South Korea and a last-minute stop in China .

Klyuchsky says the US values ​​the fact that Mongolia is the first country in Asia to make a successful transition from a communist-led country to an independent, democratic nation after the fall of the Soviet Empire. “Obviously Mongolia is in a significant part of the world,” he said.

Still, Klechsky told VOA, the United States has a lot to do if it hopes to compete for economic influence with China, which receives 90% of Mongolia’s exports — mainly minerals — and provides a third of its imports. Russia also plays a major role in Mongolia’s energy sector.

“Suppose the embassy is very keen to see the expansion of cooperation to more areas,” Klechsky said.

Americans don’t know much about Mongolia, he acknowledged, and the market of three million people may be too small for some businesses. But, he said, Mongolia’s mining and agricultural industries, the IT sector and other sectors offer great potential for US investment.

Mongolians are proud of a heritage that dates back to the 13th-century conquest of Genghis Khan (Chinggis Khan), Klyuchsky said, but “there is also a strong sense of modernity here.” He said he saw a strong desire to “integrate with the world”.

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