Sharing a unique relationship since 1955, India and Mongolia have always been each other's all-weather friend!
While everyone remembers the glory associated with India’s military victory against Pakistan in the 1971 War and the creation of Bangladesh, few know about the tough diplomatic battles New Delhi fought in the United Nations for the recognition of this newly-independent nation.
In 1972, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had instructed her envoys in New York to move a resolution in the UN General Assembly seeking international recognition of this newly-carved out nation. After much lobbying, only two countries co-sponsored New Delhi’s resolution—Mongolia and Bhutan.
Many nations, including the likes of China and the United States, had cast aspersions on the armed intervention by India (backed by support from the erstwhile USSR) in support of Bangladesh’s secession from Pakistan and asked whether the secessionist entity was really independent.
Mongolia harboured no such doubts, and in fact, signalled to the UN General Assembly that it would co-sponsor New Delhi’s resolution. In response, Pakistan immediately cut off diplomatic relations with Mongolia, but the Soviet satellite state didn’t care.
“Instead, it conveyed greater support to Indira’s efforts to position Dhaka securely on the global diplomatic stage. An immensely pleased Indira immediately invited Y. Tsedenbal, then Prime Minister (of Mongolia), to visit India. Tsedenbal accepted the invitation forthwith because he had earlier enjoyed her father’s gracious hospitality when Pandit Nehru hosted him in 1959 as the first high-level visitor from Mongolia after India’s independence,” writes KP Nayyar for The Telegraph.
During Tsedenbal’s visit to India, both nations signed the Joint Indo-Mongol Declaration in February 1973. The Declaration unanimously promulgated the eight basic principles that would guide Mongolia and India relations. In the book ‘Mongolia-India Relations‘, author Oidov Nyamdavaa lists out the principles stated in the Declaration:
a) All-around development and consolidation of friendship and cooperation in political, economic, cultural, scientific and technological fields;
b) Adherence to the principles of peaceful coexistence between states with different social systems;
c) Respect for independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of state borders;
d) Equality and non-interference in internal affairs;
e) Settlement of disputes by peaceful means and renunciation of the use or threat of force;
f) All round cooperation in the United Nations and other international organizations;
g) The pursuit of policy cooperation between Mongolia and India and peaceful and friendly cooperation between Asian states;
h) The regular holding of mutual consultations and exchange of views at various levels on questions of interest to both countries
This treaty has laid down the framework for future bilateral ties. This was then further consolidated by a Treaty of Friendly Relations and Cooperation signed in February 1994. Mongolia’s decision to support New Delhi’s UN resolution, however, has its origins in the diplomacy of India’s first prime minister and a much-maligned figure today—Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
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“When it became independent in 1947, India realised right away that it could not ignore Mongolia despite that country being a distant neighbour and largely peripheral to its immediate interest. China’s expansionist designs may have been the key factor, a reason why India fought for Mongolia’s case for UN membership in 1961,” writes P Stobdan, a former Indian diplomat and an expert on Mongolia in a column for The Wire.
India established diplomatic relations with Mongolia on December 24, 1955. The following year, India welcomed the first Mongolian Ambassador in New Delhi.
Following the then Vice President Dr S Radhakrishnan’s visit to Mongolia in 1957, New Delhi began to vigorously campaign for Mongolia’s bid for UN membership, despite strong opposition from China and the US-led Western bloc. “Mongolia was founded neither yesterday nor today but has existed as an independent state over many centuries. Hence, similarly like any other country, the Mongolian People’s Republic has full rights to become a member of United Nations Organization,” said India’s Permanent Representative Krishna Menon during the 10th UN General Assembly.
At the 15 UN General Assembly in 1960-61, Nehru once again presented a strong argument in favour of Mongolia’s bid for UN membership.
“If they received so many countries in the United Nations then why should Mongolia stay outside it? What had she done wrong? What kind of error did she commit against the (UN) Charter? The people of Mongolia are tranquil, and her peace-loving toilers are firmly striving for progress, and it seems absolutely wrong, from the principle point of view, not to allow her to the great organization,” said Nehru, although such comments would have hurt the Chinese.
On October 27, 1961, Mongolia was granted full membership of the United Nations. For its part, Mongolia has supported India’s bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council.
Connectivity, a problem in 1971 that hasn’t yet found a resolution
Mongolia can count itself among India’s closest allies. Having said that, geography continues to determine the Central Asian country’s foreign policy priorities.
“China has replaced Russia as Mongolia’s most important economic partner. Trade with China went up from about USD 24 million in 1989 to over USD 300 million in 2000. India’s trade is merely USD 25 million,” writes Stobdan.
Despite these facts, Mongolia maintains a strong apprehension against Chinese expansionism. Many Mongols resent Chinese forays into Mongolia’s economic independence. Companies backed by Beijing have made serious inroads in the Central Asian country’s rich mineral resources that include gold, uranium, copper and coal, among others.
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India, meanwhile, has played a key role in developing Mongolia’s human resource potential setting up institutions of religious study, information technology and skill development. Stronger ties have also emerged in defence and cyber-security sector with both nations agreeing on the major challenges before them.
However, any hope for greater expansion in trade and investment ties is held back by geography, making transport of goods and materials uneconomical. Connectivity problems were something that New Delhi understood when it set up the first Indian mission in Ulaanbaatar and sent its first Ambassador Sonam Norbu, a Ladakhi.
Even today India does not share direct air connectivity with Mongolia. Planes flying out from India make a pitstop at Beijing, Hong Kong, Seoul or Moscow before entering Mongolia.
Is it any surprise that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj yesterday spoke of the potential for a direct flight between India and Mongolia? “We agreed to remove institutional and logistical impediments to boost our trade, tourism and people to people contacts. In this regard, we also agreed to explore the possibility of launching direct air connectivity between our two capitals,” Sushma Swaraj said during the joint media briefing with her Mongolian counterpart yesterday.
(Edited By Vinayak Hegde)