Staff writer

Mongolia and Japan will issue a joint statement this week calling for the establishment of a “comprehensive partnership” between the two countries toward the 21st century, Mongolian President Natsagiin Bagabandi said Monday.

“The document will serve as a basis for the development of cooperative bilateral relations in a wide range of areas, including not only politics and economics but also culture, education, science and technology,” Bagabandi said in an interview with The Japan Times.

Bagabandi also said that Mongolia will continue to pursue closer political as well as economic ties with other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, adding he expects the 21-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum on Security — or ARF as the forum is more commonly known — to decide whether to admit Mongolia at its annual meeting in the Philippines this summer.

Regarding Mongolia’s application for membership at the now 18-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Bagabandi said his country has not yet abandoned its APEC-membership bid, although APEC decided last November to admit Russia, Vietnam and Peru and imposed a 10-year moratorium on additional new membership.

Bagabandi arrived here early Monday on a five-day official visit — his first since taking office last summer — for talks with Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and other Japanese political and business leaders.

The 48-year-old Mongolian leader’s visit is his second official overseas trip. Bagabandi visited Kazakstan, Turkey, and Kuwait in March. Since taking office, Bagabandi had expressed a strong desire to make a trip to Japan, the landlocked Asian country’s largest single aid donor.

Japan has spearheaded international efforts to assist Mongolia — once a staunch ally of the former Soviet Union — in its transition to a free-market economy from a socialist-style, centrally planned system. Tokyo has hosted annual meetings of aid donor nations and organizations for Mongolia since 1991.

Bagabandi said his current Japan trip is “highly significant” because it is the first official visit made by a Mongolian head of state since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1972.

He said he greatly appreciates the leading role Japan has played in assisting Mongolia’s economic reforms, saying that the annual meetings of aid donors hosted by Tokyo “have brought about concrete results and made great contributions to helping Mongolia overcome its crisis.”

Mongolia has accelerated the pace of free-market reforms under the government of former Prime Minister Mendsaikhani Enkhsaikhan, who took office in June 1996 after his Democratic Union coalition won elections, ousting the former communist Mongolian People’s Party from 75 years of rule.

But among other reform measures, sharp rises in public utilities charges like oil and electricity under the Enkhsaikhan government have hurt most Mongolian people. The landslide victory of Bagabandi, the leader of the former communist party, in the presidential election a year ago was widely interpreted as a public backlash against the rapid pace of economic liberalization under the Enkhsaikhan government.

But the Enkhsaikhan government collapsed April 17, apparently because of internal feuding within the ruling coalition over the pace of economic reforms. Tsakhya Elbagdorj, the leader of the Mongolian National Democratic Party, one of two major parties forming the coalition, replaced Enkhsaikhan as prime minister and formed his own new government. Elbagdorj’s party had pressed the Enkhsaikhan government to slow down the pace of radical economic reforms.

President Bagabandi is widely believed to have great influence on the future course of Mongolia’s market-oriented economic reforms because he holds the power of veto over legislation. The ruling Democratic Union coalition is one seat short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the presidential veto in the 76-seat Great Hural, the country’s parliament.

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