Global Insider:Mongolia-India relationship

ndian and Mongolian troops are currently holding a two-week military exercise in Mongolia, following a visit by the Indian army chief to the Central Asian country. In an email interview, Sharad K. Soni, an assistant professor of Mongolian and Central Asian studies at the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, discussed India-Mongolia relations.

WPR: What is the recent history of India-Mongolia relations?

Sharad K. Soni: The two countries, known as "spiritual" neighbors, have been in close contact not only on the basis of their historical relationship, but also on the basis of post-Cold War realities. The Treaty of Friendly Relations and Cooperation, signed in 1994, laid a solid foundation for improving relations. However, the 2009 visit of newly elected Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj to India changed the extent and pattern of India-Mongolia relations. The move from bilateral ties to a comprehensive partnership reflected the ways in which both sides have redefined their geostrategic interests. Mongolia is critical for a rising India's Asian strategy, while India figures prominently in Mongolia's external relations, now characterized by its "third neighbor" policy. This pragmatic approach recently got a fillip when Indian President Pratibha Devisingh Patil visited Mongolia on July 27-30, the first visit by an Indian president in 23 years.

WPR: What is driving the recent push to improve relations, especially defense ties?

Soni: The recent push to boost India-Mongolia relations is driven by strategic concerns. Mongolia perceives its proximity with India as not only a window to the outside world, but also as a factor to balance China. The Mongolians want to translate their strong cultural relationship with India into a strategic partnership. And India, for its part, has been patiently expanding its defense and security links with Mongolia as part of an effort to build strategic ties with China's neighbors, in line with New Delhi's "Look East" policy.

Since 2001, defense ties have been moved forward by training, bilateral visits and joint military exercises. India has been providing training to Mongolian defense personnel in English language skills, peacekeeping and military operations. In addition to the ongoing bilateral exercise, known as "Nomadic Elephant" and organized alternately in Mongolia and India since 2004, the two sides participate in the annual multinational "Khan Quest" military training exercises, held in Mongolia since 2006. A defense cooperation agreement was also signed during the Indian president's visit to Mongolia in July, ahead of the visit by Indian Army Chief Gen. Vijay Kumar Singh in early September.

WPR: What are the areas of opportunity for deeper trade ties, and what are the major obstacles?

Soni: Bilateral trade stood at $16.9 million in 2010, an increase of nearly $3 million over 2009, which points to a slow but steady growth in trade between the two sides.

Mongolia's ongoing mining boom offers vast opportunities for Indian industry. The country's coal, gold, copper and uranium reserves hold much promise for India, and implementation of mining-related projects will generate significant demand for construction and mining equipment as well as in areas such as power generation, water supply and rail transport. As India's demand for imported natural resources grows, Mongolia may prove to be a natural and long-term economic and trade partner. Exploration of uranium in accordance with the 2009 India-Mongolia pact on civil nuclear energy will prove beneficial, given India's energy needs. There are also opportunities for trade in Mongolian dairy products as well as sea-buckthorn products. In return, Mongolia can benefit from India's IT and telecommunications products.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that because Mongolia is landlocked, its goods must be shipped through ports in China or Russia, increasing freight rates and also causing delivery delays. This is the primary reason why bilateral trade between India and Mongolia has not yet developed to the extent desired.


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