Academic journal article North Korean Review

Mongolia and the DPRK at Sixty- Five: Ulaanbaatar's Changing Relations with Pyongyang

Academic journal article North Korean Review

Mongolia and the DPRK at Sixty- Five: Ulaanbaatar's Changing Relations with Pyongyang

Article excerpt


The year 2013 marked the sixty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Mongolia and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). The relations were established within a shared ideology, at a time when both countries sought allies to strengthen their independence. Mongolia's rejection of communism and adoption of a multi-party system and market economy in 1990 were to radically change its relationship with the DPRK.

However, despite their many differences and North Korea's pariah status in the international arena, Ulaanbaatar has made repeated efforts to maintain active diplomatic relations and engage North Korea. It has hosted talks in Ulaanbaatar between the DPRK and Japan, expressed interest in leasing a seaport in North Korea and, to mark the 65th diplomatic anniversary, Mongolia's head of state has visited Pyong-yang. These initiatives raise a number of questions. How have Mongolia's relations with the DPRK evolved over these sixty-five years, and can Ulaanbaatar continue to engage North Korea now that Mongolia is a democracy, has embraced a market economy, and subscribes to vastly different values and principles? Can Mongolia convince the DPRK to take part in a dialogue on regional security, as Mongolia's head of state suggested at the time of his 2013 visit to Pyongyang?

Sources regarding Mongolia's relations with the DPRK remain limited and difficult to access. This article draws on literature, media reports, official Mongolian press releases and statements, and, finally, a number of informal interviews and discussions with Mongolian policy makers and politicians.1 As such, this article approaches Mongolia's relations with the DPRK through Mongolia's DPRK policy, rather than analyzing Pyongyang's attitude towards Ulaanbaatar.

Establishment of Diplomatic Relations: 19482

The establishment of diplomatic relations in 1948 served Mongolia and the DPRK well. Both Mongolia and North Korea only maintained diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. Though de facto following Soviet priorities, the DPRK relations provided an opportunity for Mongolia to reaffirm its independence, particularly towards its southern neighbor China. In the 17th and 18th century, the territory of Mongolia had been administered as the Chinese province of Outer Mongolia. In 1911, with the collapse of the Manchu Qing dynasty, Mongolia proclaimed its independence yet entered a decade of disarray. The country adopted its first constitution in 1924 and proclaimed, under Russian protection, the Mongolian People's Republic (MPR). Following Russia, Mongolia became the second country to adopt communism. Mongolia's independence, however, remained fragile, and it would take two decades-and some Soviet pressure-for China's Chiang Kai-shek to reluctantly recognize the MPR (Chiang's recognition, however, was short-lived, and Mongolia-Taiwan relations remain ambiguous to this date).

On October 15, 1948, barely a month after the DPRK had been proclaimed, and on Pyongyang's initiative, the Mongolian People's Republic and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea established diplomatic relations.3 The diplomatic relations of the two states-and for that matter those with the Soviet Union-were predominantly based on shared ideology. Migeddorj Batchimeg, currently a member of parliament and former presidential advisor on national security,4 defines the initial relations between the two countries as an "ideology-driven friendship."5 Indeed, during the Korean War Mongolia provided North Korea with food aid, horses (some of which were formally awarded the DPRK title "heroic horse"), and other material assistance. Mongolia further took in a number of young children orphaned during the war and continued to provide food aid to North Korea after the Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953.6

The early and rapid recognition of the two nations did not translate into frequent high-l evel visits and a thriving exchange between the two nations. …

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