Increasing number of China-Europe freight trains supports Mongolia's economy: official

ULAN BATOR, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) -- The number of China-Europe freight trains traveling through Mongolia increased by well over 50 percent in 2018, benefiting the landlocked country's economy, a senior foreign ministry official said Saturday.
"The China-Europe freight rail service network is a crucial part of China's Belt and Road Initiative. We believe that the service is a 'realistic step' that supports the development of trade and economy of countries along the Belt and Road," Tuvshintugs Battsetseg, deputy director of the Department of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mongolia, told Xinhua.
"We are happy that the number of the China-Europe freight trains via Mongolia has been dramatically increasing year by year. As the service expands, its contribution to the Mongolian economy has been increasing," Battsetseg said.
There were 556 China-Europe freight trains traveling through Mongolia in 2017 and the number reached 856 in 2018, according to the official.
"Our country's relevant departments, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Road and Transport Development, have been paying special attention to creating favorable conditions for China-Europe freight trains for traveling through the Mongolian territory without any obstacles," she said.

Mongolia's foreign trade up 41.6 pct in Jan.

ULAN BATOR, Feb. 19 (Xinhua) -- Mongolia's goods trade rose 41.6 percent year on year in January to 1.1 billion U.S. dollars, official data showed Tuesday.
Exports grew 43.3 percent year on year to 607.3 million dollars in January, while imports rose 39.6 percent to 504 million dollars, the Mongolian Customs General Administration (MCGA) said in a statement, noting that the country demonstrated a surplus in its foreign trade balance as exports exceeded imports by 103.3 million dollars.
The market value of 12 products, including mineral products and textile goods, has increased, contributing to the significant increase in revenue from exports, the MCGA said, adding that the mining industry accounted for 69 percent of total exports.
Mongolia traded with 105 economies across the world last month. Among the 43 countries to which Mongolia exported its goods and services in the period, China was the recipient of over 80 percent of the total, according to the MCGA.

Mongolia says it earns over 169 mln USD from coal exports to China in Jan.

Mongolia earned 169.2 million U.S. dollars from coal exports to China in January, the Mongolian Customs General Administration (MCGA) said Tuesday.
The Asian country exported a total of 2.1 million tons of coal in January, virtually all to China, the MCGA said in a statement, adding that the figure is an increase of around 192,000 tons from the same period last year.
Coal is the landlocked country’s main export commodity. The country exported a total of 36.5 million tons of coal last year, reaching an all-time high.
The country has set a goal to increase coal exports to 40 million tons in the coming years.
Source: Xinhua

Mongolia's prostitution zones, where women trade sex for fuel in sub-zero temperatures

It’s nearing midnight in an unadorned bar on a backstreet off Sükhbaatar Square, and 31 year-old Minjuur rubs her hands to shake off the cold.
Speaking in a whisper, she explains her average evening. Men pick her up from the park by the Central Tower office building, then they go to a nearby hotel for an hour of sex.
Minjuur has a small scar on her right upper cheek that is visible despite her makeup, and she counts on her fingers the number of friends who have died in her line of work. It is minus 20 degrees Celsius tonight, and Minjuur has a chest-rattling cough. Vodka helps her ward off the chill. She says the winter is hard.

Mongolia’s capital presents grim working conditions for the city’s prostitutes. Ulaanbaatar is often overlooked as a centre of prostitution, but – despite increased activity in border areas – it remains the hub for the country’s sex work and sexual trafficking. But as the city’s prostitutes experience violence and social stigma, some are navigating riskier working environments beyond the city.
“Most of these women working in this field are very poor and need cash,” said outreach officer Erdenesuren. “They are driven by necessity.” Erdenesuren – who like many Mongolians only uses one name – works for the NGO Perfect Ladies (In Mongolian: Tugs Busguichuud), which promotes prevention of sexually transmitted infections among prostitutes and helps them leave sex work.

Prostitution and human trafficking are illegal within Mongolia but the sex trade is growing. While some women solicit openly on the streets of the capital, others work discreetly out of karaoke bars, saunas and massage parlours. Mongolia is a source, transit and destination country for sex labour.

According to a 2014 report from the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, between 3,000 and 5,000 women and children are trafficked each year from rural communities into cities and beyond the nation’s borders.
Unicef estimates that roughly 19,000 sex workers are active in Mongolia, however, some field workers cite much higher numbers. The state’s population sits at around 3 million. While male prostitutes do exist, they are a small minority.
The rapid growth of the country’s mining sector over the last decade has created a workforce of isolated men, thereby spurring on the industry. Skirting the border with China, the southern Gobi Desert – where mineral mining projects run by Rio Tinto and other global operations are located – has become a new focal point for prostitution.
“In Ulaanbaatar there is violence (against prostitutes) – from families and from working people – but inside the mining area everyone comes for the same goal: making money, and they don’t judge one another,” said Sorbonne University Ethnology Professor Gaëlle Lacaze.
Amidst lines of trucks parked against a barren expanse of sand, a converted bus-turned-café is the only option for some tea and conversation. Enkhtaivan Baatar is biding time at Tavan Tolgoi – a coal deposit in Ömnögovi province within the Gobi Desert.

The 39-year-old truck driver in a black hoodie is waiting for his coal shipment so he can drive his cargo across the border. He has been doing this job for three years, and has seen many prostitutes. Cars filled with women pull up off the highway and, when the price is settled, join the drivers in the cab of their truck.
Baatar also describes a sign close to the border that advertises women for sale and lists a number to call if interested. “Wherever there is money and men they come,” he said.

Mongolia’s mining boom started in the early 2000s and mining now accounts for around 20 per cent of Mongolia’s gross domestic product. The growth in mining has created a spike in internal migration to mining areas – most notably Ömnögovi.
The country has a 0.03 per cent general prevalence rate of HIV among adults and, for Mongolians infected, treatment is free. As of 2017 data, however, only 32 per cent of people living with HIV knew their status.
“Mining industries are notorious hotspots for HIV infection,” said UNAIDS Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific Eamonn Murphy. “There is money around, and people are away from their homes and cultural, social and other inhibitors, and so they take risks that they wouldn’t normally.”

The coal route from the Tavan Tolgoi coal deposit to the Chinese border is synonymous with sex work fuelled by the mining industry. Despite being from the capital, 32 year-old Uka is intimately familiar with this stretch of transit. Uka has been earning a living as a sex worker in Mongolia for almost a decade.
The petite 32-year-old entered the industry to earn money after her daughter was born. She began in Ulaanbaatar, but now works along the border. Her clients –  truck drivers – sometimes don’t have cash, so they pay her in fuel. Uka would rather work for diesel then return to the conditions facing prostitutes in Ulaanbaatar.
According to Uka, prostitutes in the capital face frequent violence from pimps and customers, but Ömnögovi is better. In contrast to the stigma felt in the city, she describes the border area as accepting and open. Uka explains that four or five women travel to the border area with a driver and rent a ger (a traditional round felted tent) to stay.
They need to travel in groups – it is dangerous to be a woman alone with so many truck drivers. Uka reaches up and adjusts an earring as she lists her rate: 50,000 MNT per act, with an hourly rate of 80,000 MNT and a daily rate of 200,000 MNT (roughly £14, £23 and £58). If the drivers don’t have cash, they pay in fuel: 40 or 50 litres of diesel for one act, 100 litres for one hour. The women then resell the fuel when they can for money.

Yet when Uka is soliciting in south Gobi, she is working without resources. “It’s risky there,” said Erdenesuren, of working near the Chinese border. “The ones who like to take risks go there.”

In Ulaanbaatar, there are STI awareness programmes and condom distribution, social workers like Erdenesuren try to check up on the women they know, but in the Gobi there is no such infrastructure. Uka explains how the women she works with buy contraceptives off one another when they run out, as there is no store to purchase more. Often customers don’t want to use them anyway.
Ulaanbaatar may offer prostitutes more contact with NGOs providing outreach, but it is a harsh environment for women working in the trade. Previously, Uka sold sex in a sauna in the capital where she alleges police and customers beat her. She claims ultra-nationalists target sex workers on the street and shave their heads to disgrace them. The Ulaanbaatar police did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

In Mongolia, sex work is an occupation shrouded in shame and silence. Erdenesuren cites the cycle of humiliation and fear that keeps women from reaching out to the police and family: “It is better to have your bones broken, then your name dishonoured.”
Uka explains that people don’t openly talk about prostitution and why women end up in sex work. She left school after eighth grade and has few options to earn an income. “For some women, it is easier to open their legs than go to the factory,” said Lacaze, “because they have no diplomas. She is alone with children, she has to eat.”

Uka admits that her daughter has no idea how her mum earns an income. Her family believes she is a cook. In Ulaanbaatar, Minjuur tells her family that her nights are spent serving in a bar. Both women support multiple dependents with their earnings. “Nobody knows what they are doing, but everybody knows,” said Lacaze. “Everybody is complicit.”

The Nordic style house in the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar stands out against its surroundings, and its inhabitants are also trying to adapt. This is a safe house run by the Swedish anti-trafficking NGO Talita. It is privately funded with only four beds available.

Gaamaa occupies one of those beds. The tiny 22-year-old, in sweatpants and a t-shirt, looks like a university student relaxing between classes. She speaks softly. “If girls refuse to have sex, they abuse them and if they can’t change a girl, they sell her,” she said. “They call the trafficker and sell.”
Gaamaa has been bought and sold many times. In 2016, fleeing an abusive home, Gaamaa ended up at a sauna near the central railway station. There, in rooms with barred windows, she worked with four other women for a rate of 40,000 MNT for one hour and 60,000 MNT for two hours (roughly £11 and £17). Their madam supplied food and clothes, but never the money earned. The brothel sold her to another sauna when they found she was trying to escape, but not before she alleges being beaten as punishment and then raped by her attackers.

“Society think they [prostitutes] are garbage,” said Talita Mongolia founder and director Tserenchunt Byamba-Ochir. “There is no funding to protect victims, not one coin to protect victims of trafficking from the Mongolia government – they say we don’t have money for that.”
In 2017, the federal government cut funding to seven regional offices of Mongolia’s sole NGO designed to help sex workers – Perfect Ladies. Only three branches remain. Five women’s shelters operate, but four offer short term stays only. Talita’s Ulaanbaatar branch (the fifth shelter) is the sole long-term rehabilitation center for former prostitutes, and it is at capacity.

Eventually, Gaamaa was trafficked into China where she worked in multiple cities before a client helped her escape to the Mongolian embassy in Beijing. She arrived at Talita in late 2017.
Gaamaa used to shake as she talked about her experiences and she had nightmares. Now she wraps her arms around a stuffed bear and explains with a smile that she is looking into culinary college. But Gaamaa is also anxious about living in the capital, afraid that someone from her old life will recognise her.
Byamba-Ochir also has concerns. With many of the cases where Talita assists, the traffickers are not charged. Women feel intimidated and change their stories in court, or get pulled back into the trade. Gaamaa believes if she hadn’t been trafficked to China, she would still be a prostitute.

“Here in Mongolia they are not kind,” said Gaamaa. It’s really hard to escape here – it’s everywhere in Ulaanbaatar. It is very hard to escape Mongolia.”

Source: Guardian online site

Mongolia, Cuba to Boost Bilateral Relations

Ulan Bator, Feb 14 (Prensa Latina) Mongolia''s State Secretary Davaasuren Damdinsuren and Cuba''s ambassador in Ulaan Bator, Raul Delgado, agreed Thursday on the need to boost bilateral cooperation.

Damdinsuren welcomed the Cuban diplomat at the Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with whom he talked about various issues of mutual interest.

During the meeting, Damdinsuren and Delgado reviewed the current state of bilateral ties, the progress made in recent years and analyzed ways to encourage mutually beneficial cooperation links.

They also discussed activities to celebrate jointly next year the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the information added.

The two sides highlighted the success of the recent meeting of Political Consultations between Foreign Ministries, held in Havana January 18-19 this year.

This meeting, they agreed, constituted an important boost for the new perspectives of commercial, cultural and sports exchange.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed on that occasion between Cuba's Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment and Mongolia's Ministry of Environment, Green Development and Tourism.

Havana and Ulan Bator have had diplomatic relations for 59 years. In 1960, Cuba was the first country in Latin America and the Caribbean to establish ties with that Asian nation.

Source:Pensa Latina news agency

Mongolia posts 6.9 pct economic growth in 2018

ULAANBAATAR, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Mongolia saw its economy grow 6.9 percent in 2018, beating expectations and accelerating from 5.3 percent growth in the previous year, the country’s statistics office said on Friday.
An increase in foreign trade, particularly mining products like coal and copper, most of which are sold to neighboring China, helped drive the growth.
The 2017 growth rate was revised up from a previous estimate of 5.1 percent.
The country was forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund for assistance in 2017 after a collapse in foreign investment and commodity prices left the government heavily in debt and put its currency, the tugrik, into freefall. 

Airlines Vie for Lucrative Flights to Mongolia

Korean airlines are competing fiercely for lucrative flight routes to Mongolia after the two sides agreed to allow multiple carriers to fly between Incheon and Ulaanbaatar last month.
Until now flag carrier Korean Air has monopolized the route over the last three decades.
Flag carriers are trying to consolidate their presence in the mid and long-haul market while low-cost carriers are striving to expand to it. They are angling for three flights a week or 840 seats that will become available in addition to the current six flights a week.

Second-ranked Asiana Airlines believes its 290-seater Airbus A330 is more than capable of covering the new route. "Planes owned by low-cost carriers typically have only 189 seats, so they would forfeit around 270 seats to cover the newly opened flights."
Korean Air has also applied for the new slots, but its chances of getting its monopoly enforced are low. Jeju Air, T'way Air and Eastar Jet plan to plead their cases by pointing to their low fares. They insist that monopolistic control of key routes by the two major carriers must end.
One staffer at a budget carrier said, "Korean Air flights to Mongolia cost around W1 million, but we offer flights to Hong Kong, which is about the same distance, for just W300,000. We need to boost competition to change the price structure" (US$1=W1,128).
The Ministry of Land, Transport and Infrastructure will convene a selection committee meeting on Feb. 25 or 26 to decide the winners of the route. "We will evaluate various factors and award licenses to the highest scorer," a ministry spokesman said.
The ministry plans to keep the identities of the 10 members of the committee a secret to protect them from outside pressure.


Solar Empowerment of Nomads in Rural Mongolia

Solar power is not only an environmentally friendly alternative, but in many cases the only available source of energy.
One third of the Mongolian population is living a nomadic life. They sustain livestock and move seasonally across the vast Mongolian grasslands, bringing with them their Ger— foldable traditional homes made of felt and yak’s wool. Their whereabouts range in infinite areas, hours away from a paved road and maybe days away from a village.
When you constantly travel with all of your belongings, you are much less dependent on things—you carefully choose to own and carry only what is essential. And one of the few technologies that has become ubiquitous in Mongolian Ger is solar.

The Mongolian government launched the “National 100,000 Solar Ger Electrification Program”, an initiative to provide nomads with portable solar home systems (SHS). Simple portable panels and batteries, easy to set up and carry, have become a modern accessory in the traditional nomad homes.
They power LED light bulbs to light up the evenings. They power mobile phones and radios, providing vital information on weather conditions and connecting the nomads with the outside world—be it their children, who stay in dorms during the school year, or a rescue service, in case of need. Even in the age of technology, the freedom of nomadic lifestyle is sustained by the environment: empowered by the Sun.

Two arrested in Mongolia for killing endangered snow leopard

ULAN BATOR, Feb. 13 (Xinhua) -- Mongolian police have arrested two men involved in poaching of an endangered snow leopard, the country's National Police Agency (PLA) said Wednesday.
The two suspects were arrested in early February while attempting to sell the skin and frozen meat of the snow leopard at the Emeelt raw material market on the outskirts of the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator, the NPA said in a statement.
The case is under investigation, it added.
Under Mongolian law, a person convicted of poaching and killing endangered wild animals will be fined at least 10 million Mongolian tugriks (3,800 U.S. dollars) or punished by imprisonment of at least two years.
There are around 1,000 snow leopards in Mongolia, according to a survey conducted in 2000.

Mongolia-China-Russia economic corridor benefits all sides: officia

ULAN BATOR, Feb. 14 (Xinhua) -- The Mongolia-China-Russia economic corridor is beneficial for all three parties, a senior Mongolian official has said.
"The trilateral economic corridor is an important part of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)," Tuvshintugs Battsetseg, deputy director of the Department of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mongolia, told Xinhua in a recent interview.
Battsetseg said more efforts are needed to "intensify the establishment of the Mongolia-China-Russia economic corridor," expressing confidence that the economic corridor adopted by the three countries in 2016 will make significant contributions to the development of trilateral cooperation not only in the economic sector but also in fields including transportation and tourism.
The three countries have agreed to implement 32 projects under the framework of establishing the economic corridor, she said.
The official said joint feasibility study is underway for reforming the central railway corridor, which is one of the three major projects under the construction of the tripartite economic corridor.
Mongolia has been supporting the BRI from the onset and actively participated in it, said Battsetseg, adding that her country has been focusing on "integrating its Development Road Initiative with the BRI."
China has been one of the biggest trading partners and key investors of Mongolia for many years, she said, noting that Mongolia is interested in attracting foreign investment to its non-mining sectors.

Meningococcal disease kills one in Mongolia

ULAN BATOR, Feb. 14 (Xinhua) -- Six cases of meningococcal disease have been reported in Mongolia so far this year, one of the victims has died, local media reported Thursday, citing the National Center for Communicable Disease (NCCD).
The patient died after arriving too late at the hospital, Choirog Urtnasan, doctor at the NCCD, told daily newspaper Udriin Sonin, calling on people to go to health facilities as soon as they feel sick.
Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis and can cause infections in the lining of the brain or in the blood, or both. It has a high mortality rate if untreated but is vaccine-preventable.
The common symptoms of the disease include sudden fever, vomiting, nausea, headache, stiff neck, backache and increased sensitivity to light. Enditem

59 suspects of drug trafficking arrested in Mongolia this year

ULAN BATOR, Feb. 13 (Xinhua) -- The Mongolian police arrested three people in the capital city of Ulan Bator on Tuesday when they were transporting a large amount of narcotic drugs, the country's National Police Agency (NPA) announced Wednesday.
The new arrest makes the number of people apprehended for drug trafficking in the country so far this year amount to 59, the NPA said.
In the latest operation on Tuesday evening, two men and a woman aged 19-32 were detained in Sukhbaatar district in the capital of Ulan Bator and police officers seized methamphetamine worth around 500 million Mongolian tugriks (about 190,000 U.S. dollars) on the spot, the NPA said in a statement, adding that further investigation is underway.
According to Mongolian law, the person who is found guilty of trafficking drugs will be punished by imprisonment of at least two years.

Korean Air set to lose monopoly over Mongolia route

By Nam Hyun-woo

Korean Air Chairman Cho Yang-ho
Korean Air will lose its monopoly over an air route linking Incheon and Mongolia's capital of Ulaanbaatar as the government plans to allow Asiana Airlines or one of low-cost carriers (LCCs) to operate on the lucrative route, according to industry officials Tuesday.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport is expected to grant a new license on the Incheon-Mongolia air route this month, and Asiana Airlines, Jeju Air, T'way Air and Eastar Jet are vying to win it.
The route has been monopolized by Korean Air for nearly 30 years due to the two countries' 1991 aeronautical agreement allowing only one carrier from each country to provide air travel service. From Mongolia, MIAT Mongolian Airlines is operating flights to Incheon.
Due to their monopolization, criticisms have been raised that ticket prices were too expensive compared to other routes with similar flight hours, and the number of available seats was insufficient. 
As the two countries renewed their agreement last month, this inconvenience will likely be addressed, according to the ministry. For Korea, two carriers can operate up to nine flights or 2,500 seats a week, up approximately 50 percent from the current six flights a week with 1,656 seats. 
"This will not strip Korean Air of its status as the route's operator," a ministry official said. "It will open an additional slot to other carriers, meaning Korean Air will maintain its flights."
However, industry officials said the additional slot will affect Korean Air's ticket prices, given it will no longer be the sole operator. 
"Because of Korean Air's monopoly and limited seats, the ticket prices oftentimes soared over 1 million won ($890) in holiday seasons, double the price of tickets to other cities taking about four hours," an official at an LCC said. "When additional slots are open, the ticket price will go down and more travelers will be catered for."
To earn scores in the ministry's review for a new carrier, Jeju Air and Eastar Jet have been operating chartered planes between the two cities, following the footsteps of Air Busan, which is running a route linking Busan and Ulaanbaatar after its track record of operating chartered planes was recognized in a ministry review.
"We have operated two chartered flights linking Incheon and Ulaanbaatar last year, and 14 chartered flights linking Cheongju and the Mongolian capital," an Eastar Jet official said. "We believe demand was high then because of the high price of existing flights to the city."
Asiana Airlines is also pitching that a full service carrier is suitable for the slot, because large aircraft are needed to cover increased numbers in just three flights.
Carriers are vying for the license because the route is lucrative. According to the ministry, 330,000 traveled between Incheon and Ulaanbaatar last year and the number has been increasing an average 11 percent every year, as Mongolia is emerging as a new tourist attraction.
"Also, given the Mongolian aviation market's size, it seems very difficult to explore another route linking the country," another official at a domestic carrier said. "For carriers, it will be a rare chance to expand their business."

Mongolia's Hope: Baasansuren Khadsuren, the Singing Abbot of Erdene Zuu

Although Buddhism has watched over Mongolia since the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), it was as if entire aspects of Mongolian life were “reset” in 1990: the Soviet Union rapidly dissolved, and formerly communist Mongolia came to uncertain grips with its new political configuration as a post-Cold War democratic state. Buddhist practice that had been driven underground was thrust back into daily life as part of a nation-wide project for cultural preservation, while foreign spiritual movements hungry to harvest spiritually lost converts flooded into the country. It is in this context that Baasansuren Khadsuren is providing the kind of spiritual weal that will ensure Buddhism’s capability to authentically benefit followers in Mongolia, while helping them to see that Buddhism is not just a repository of rituals, blessings, and cultural identity, but can also be a vehicle for personal development.

From Buddha-Dharma Centre Hong Kong Facebook
Baasansuren Khadsuren is extraordinary for the reason that despite his young age, he is one of the most senior leaders among the Mongolian Buddhist community: he is an abbot (khambo lama) of Erdene Zuu, the most ancient monastery in the country (founded in 1585). As if by deliberate contrast, he is also the most instinctively reformist Mongolian Buddhist leader in decades, and is somewhat of what I would call a “pastoral polymath”—a frequent user of social media and the Internet for keeping in touch with his followers, deeply concerned about the marginalized, shunned, and voiceless in his society, and so possessed by a deep love of his people that he is not afraid to offer concrete advice that might challenge long-held assumptions in Mongolian social, cultural, and domestic life. He is also interested in interfaith studies, having done personal research on the other religious traditions growing in Mongolia.
Lama Baasansuren Khadsuren. From weltmuseumwien.atLama Baasansuren Khadsuren. From
Baasansuren Khadsuren was born in 1977 in the fabled area of Kharakhorum, where the ruins of Genghis Khan and Ögedei Khan’s city lie. He grew up, like many other Mongolian children, with a secret basement in the household where his grandfather would store Buddhist scriptures and secretly practice. In 1988, he visited a former monastery that had been converted into a museum, and was deeply affected by the sight of the interior’s Buddhist paraphernalia. The devotion that stirred in him was so strong that he became a monk in 1991, at the age of 13. He spent four years memorizing texts, and then became a master of chanting at the age of 18. He graduated from Zanabazar Buddhist University at Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar in 2000. By the time he had become abbot of Erdene Zuu, he knew that the time was ripe for institutional change, and that he would have an important role to fulfill in this change. 
As a monk active in the community, he is mindful of Mongolia’s political problems and the disenchantment of many citizens by the government’s corruption. His message is one of empowerment, leaving behind negativity and cultivating inner contentment, spiritual discernment, and authenticity. Indeed, he observes of the trends of materialism and emptiness in society:  “You can only become truly rich when you are non-attached.”
Apart from being the first Mongolian lama with a Facebook page and being an environmental advocate, he is also famous for his melodious voice, which he has used in his Dharma talks to encourage listeners to sing along to “Om Mani Padme Hum,” and in public performances of Mongolian mantras and songs. He is, alongside accomplished practitioners like Kunze Chimed, one of the few serious yogis in the country with a comprehensive knowledge of chakras and meditation techniques. 
“I want to be accessible to people,” he says. “I like to ask what difficulties they have in their daily lives through email and social media.” His students seem to find this channel (Facebook), commonplace though it might be today, extremely useful when it comes to communicating with such a senior lama. Baasansuren Khadsuren also organizes monthly or bi-monthly social events for people with physical and psychological difficulties featuring dance and music. “We are too used to bottling up mental illness or other handicaps and not sharing it with others who might be able to provide help and comfort,” he says. “I would like to gradually change that mindset.” 
Lama acquiring wheelchairs for the local handicapped community. From Erdenezuu Monastery Baasansuren FacebookLama acquiring wheelchairs for the local handicapped community. From Erdenezuu Monastery Baasansuren Facebook
Mongolian Buddhist scholar and professor of religious studies at UC Santa Barbara Vesna Wallace, who has known Lama for almost two decades, agrees with him, noting that a significant shift of demographics has taken place over the past decade or so, with a rising number of students and young professionals being attracted to his vision of Buddhist practice. It is essentially a recalibration of the monastic-lay relationship, a new way for monks to relate to the rest of society by contributing to the improvement of the people’s psychological wellbeing. “Superstition and rituals are not the heart of Buddhism,” Baasansuren Khadsuren says. “With so much upheaval and difficulties in the past few decades, the monasteries and laypeople have become disconnected. I hope to bridge that gap through social and environmental concerns.”
So far, he has received support from many urban monasteries. The rural monasteries seem more cautious and conservative about his style and priorities, but he is tremendously—and perhaps rightly—confident, that he has seized upon the needs of the present Mongolia, and captured the attention and energy of people who are hungry for authentic spirituality in the midst of civil difficulties and government failure, which were not only remnants of the Soviet era but remain endemic issues today. 
“We need to honestly ask ourselves what we would like our purpose in life to be. I like to talk about the mind to heart journey. If people always follow their minds, suffering will be inevitable. The heart always says the right things and tells the truth. I would like to advise people to always follow their heart,” he says. “The heart is never wrong.” 
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Mongolia says China remains its top export destination

ULAN BATOR, Feb.8 (Xinhua) -- Mongolia said China remained its top export destination, accounting for 66 percent of its total exports last year.
Mongolia's exports to China grew by 811.2 million dollars, or 13.1 percent year on year, while imports increased by 1.5 billion U.S. dollars, or 35.5 percent, according to data released by Mongolian Customs General Administration on Friday.
The bilateral trade amounted to 8.4 billion U.S. dollars, increasing by 26.8 percent year on year, it said.
Mongolia's major export items to China include coal, copper and molybdenum concentrates, wool and cashmere.
Russia is another important trade partner, and its imports from Mongolia include animal products, in particular beef and horse meat, as well as minerals such as fluorspar, copper concentrates and gold.
Mongolia traded with about 160 economies across the world in 2018.

For children and babies, the pollution in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar can prove fatal

There is a famous poem which almost every Mongolian knows by heart. It goes: 
Dung smoke pouring forth
I was born in a herder’s home
On the wilderness steppe
I think of my native land
But the days that Mongolians were born in a herder’s home with the smell of dung smoke have long since passed. Nowadays, most Mongolians are born with the acrid smell of coal smoke in their nostrils.  
Even just hearing the word “winter”, my throat starts to hurt.  During wintertime, Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar becomes one of the most polluted cities in the world, as thick smog from coal power stations and coal-burning stoves blankets the freezing streets.
This year the air seems worse than ever, and as the temperatures plummeted and the streets began to fill with smog, I started to wonder – what must this seasonal torture be like for mothers with babies and young children? What kind of worries must fill their minds, when they see their city start to resemble a smoke-filled warzone?
The physical impacts of breathing such polluted air are well known, and are especially dangerous for pregnant women and young children: lower birth weight, impaired brain function, damaged lungs, premature births and stillbirths. And according to UNICEF, pneumonia is now the second most common cause of death for Mongolian children under 5, killing hundreds of babies and toddlers every year.
I couldn’t imagine what it must be like to be a young mother trying to cope with Ulaanbataar’s air crisis – so I spoke to two mothers who could tell me.
Money worries and placebo purifiers
The first was 25-year-old Gerel, currently living with her 11-month-old baby and her husband in one of Ulaanbataar’s most polluted districts. She feels helpless in the face of months of smog and smoke, and worries she can’t afford to protect her family. “There’s no way to reduce the air pollution outside, so I bought an air purifier for our house,” she said. “But good air purifiers are very expensive. My husband and I can’t rely on our parents financially, so we live off only our own salaries. But now only my husband works because I have to take care of my baby. So we had to buy a cheaper Chinese air purifier.”
She admitted that the purifier was more for peace of mind than any noticeable health impact. “Personally I don’t feel the difference of having the air purifier or not, but it makes me feel happier to have it on,” she said. “I also bought an air pollution mask with filters for my son. He really doesn’t like it. He keeps trying to take it off, and he gets very upset wearing it. But that’s very expensive for us too, because you have to change the filters all the time.”
Sarnai, the second mother I interviewed, is 35. She lives with her husband and three children, and manages her own small business. “The best I can do is to keep the air in our home clean, take my kids out of the city on weekends and stay out of the city during summer holidays,” she said. “But it’s so expensive.”
“I saw on Twitter that mothers go abroad during winter. But it’s impossible for us to go abroad during winter. My oldest child goes to school. What am I going to do about their school? Somehow I have to try to survive in Mongolia.”
To breathe or to leave: that is the question
Gerel chose to leave the city to give birth, hoping to protect her newborn son from early exposure to pollution. She plans to return to her parents’ place in the countryside in the winter, but worries about the impact on her marriage.
“I think a family should stay together, so I don’t stay in the countryside for too long,” she said. “It’s hard to stay apart after being married with promises of living together, facing any challenges and raising our baby together. Being apart is hard for both me and my husband. It’s also hard for the kids who grow up without their dads’ care.”
Being separated from her husband isn’t just emotionally challenging – it imposes financial costs, too. “When I stay in the countryside, my husband visits sometimes – he takes a train on Friday night and arrives the next morning, stays on Saturday and heads back to the city on Sunday. But it’s tiring for my husband and costs us so much.”
For Sarnai, separating her family was too much. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to take my kids out of the city and leave my husband and my oldest child behind. If it’s really hurting their health, I would do it to save my children’s life. But my husband should also acknowledge his responsibility as a father. I want us to raise our kids together.”
Black lungs, broken hearts
Since giving birth, Gerel has found herself increasingly frightened by the severity of Mongolia’s pollution. “We just don’t know what will happen to our kids’ lungs in the future. It’s scary. I didn’t used to care so much about air pollution when I was single - I used to complain about my throat hurting, but that was it. But now I worry about how my son’s lungs are, how the pollution is affecting his body.”
Mothers in Ulaanbaatar have come together online to discuss their fears, but for Gerel it doesn’t always help. “I know that mothers share their stresses or worries on mothers’ groups on Facebook… the group that I am in now is very active. But my biggest fear is the screenshots on the posts that mothers make,” – like pictures of lungs turned black from coal dust.
Sarnai also frequently shared her pollution worries with friends and family on Facebook. But that, she said, is relatively unusual. “Many Mongolians aren’t able to identify their own mental issues, or own up that something is making them stressed,” she said. “We have this attitude that no one should admit that they have problems. We’re just polishing ourselves on the outside.”
Sarnai worries that her children’s future is bleak. “What’s dangerous about this air pollution is that the consequences aren’t even known at the moment,” she says.  “I think our kids will gradually become worse at studying and focusing. It’s really sad to think that the impacts of air pollution will live with our future generations for years. It‘s heartbreaking.”
“I want to run away from Mongolia,” she says. “But I don’t know where to.”
A social movement for change?
Sometimes, it feels like our city is under the spell of a furious dragon, spewing smoke and ash. But if air pollution is the dragon, the question becomes - who will defeat this monster? Should we sit and wait for a “hero” with a muscular body, a sharp wit, and a lightning-fast horse to save us? Or should we try to find a way by ourselves?
In the late 19thand early 20th century, London was notorious for its thick smog. Caused by the mass burning of coal for power and heat, the smog reached disastrous levels in December 1952, killing up to 12,000 people and hospitalizing thousands more. In response to public pressure, the “Clean Air Act” was passed in 1956, forcing homes and businesses to reduce coal use and accelerating the uptake of clean fuels. By 1980, air pollution in London had fallen by 80%.
The city of London was saved by social movement, scientific pressure, effective policies, and the cooperation of civilians and government. But who is going to save Ulaanbaatar? Air pollution is a complex problem which demands everyone’s participation. Governments will not change the law without public pressure, and laws alone will not create the social changerequired to make coal pollution history. There have been anti-pollution protests in Ulaanbaatar, but as Sarnai pointed out, too many Mongolians still don’t want to admit how scared they are.
*Names have been changed throughout.

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