Mongolia – relations with its southern neighbour

Chinese strategy of using economic tools to pressurize other parties to accept its terms is well known. It has been Beijing’s standard practice to either delay custom clearances or close its border posts to assert its power and stranglehold over its neighbouring countries. A recent instance is Mongolia. Chinese authorities have of late restricted the movement of transport across the Mongolia-China border, citing increasing COVID-19 cases in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR). Consequently, Mongolia is experiencing supply chain disruption, shortage of goods and high inflation, substantially impacting its exports and income.

There is a general feeling among Mongolians that COVID-19 is only a pretext for China to enforce strict border closure, the real reason is that China is unhappy that the issue of declaration of the 10th Jetsundamba (JD) is gaining traction in Mongolia and also about the recent visit of the Speaker of Mongolian Parliament, G. Zandanshatar, to India from November 29, 2021 to December 05, 2021.

         . The 10th JD is believed to be a child presently living in Mongolia but holding US citizenship. During a meeting of the Buddhist monks community held on December 17, 2021 in Ulaanbaatar, it was decided that the declaration about the 10th JD be made without any further delay. Khamba Nomun Han, the head of the selection committee for the 10th JD, would visit India in January 2022 to discuss the matter with the Dalai Lama. China has, meanwhile, indicated that it would recognize the child as the 10th JD only if he was not recognized by the Dalai Lama and the Mongolian government sent him to study in China. Mongolia fears that if it antagonized China, the child may face the same fate as the 11th Panchen Lama.

         The suspicion of the Mongolian people that China’s border closure decision is linked to its desire to control Mongolia’s Buddhist affairs may not be unfounded, because within days of the meeting, the heads of three pro-China monasteries in Mongolia – Ikhkhuree, Sain Nomun and Narkhajid monasteries – staged a protest on December 24, 2021 at Gandan Monastery and also took on to the social media accusing Khamba Nomun Han of exercising high-handedness in handling Mongolia’s Buddhist affairs. Beijing seems to be trying to influence not just the Mongolian Buddhist circle, but also the political leadership and government using different tactics, including exerting economic pressure through border closure, to gain control over Mongolia’s Buddhist affairs.

         On its part, Mongolia is trying to rally support against Chinese interference. The Chairman of World Mongol Forum (WMF) is visiting the US since second half of November 2021. Though his visit has been described as personal, he has reportedly been meeting politicians, bureaucrats and others to garner support for the movement to protect Inner (Southern) Mongolia.

         In order to highlight Chinese atrocities, Mongolian activists in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR) have created a social media account ‘New World Wechat Group.’  Remarkably, Chinese authorities had earlier blocked all social media websites in IMAR to suppress any opposition to the promotion of Chinese language in IMAR.

         Further, on December 10, 2021, Mongolian activists in the IMAR organized a protest march in Ulaanbaatar, Tokyo, New York and other places to mark the Human Rights Day in which slogans such as ‘Free Southern Mongolia’, ‘China – Stop Human Rights Violation’, ‘Boycott Beijing Olympics’ and others were raised. In Tokyo, activists from the IMAR, Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan, Hong Kong and others held a protest rally against the human rights violation in China. In New York, members of Inner Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre also organised protest against Chinese government.

         Meanwhile, Japan-based Southern Mongolia World Congress (SMWC) has prepared a document regarding ‘Record of Genocide in Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution in China’. The SMWC is in the process of sending this document to UNESCO urging to include it under ‘Genocide Convention’ of the United Nations. The document notes that according to the official observation of Chinese government, out of 346,000 Mongols arrested in IMAR, 27,900 had lost their lives.   

It seems China is inflicting ‘cultural genocide’ not only in Xinjiang and Tibet but also in Mongolia now. Mongolian groups should unite and work together with other minority groups such as Uyghur, Tibetans to strengthen their fight against Chinese interference in the cultural domain of respective communities.

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