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Mongolia’s confident new strategy towards prosperity



Author: Luvsanvandan Bold, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mongolia

Mongolia’s ancestors were risk-takers who built the largest contiguous land empire in world history ranging from the Korean Peninsula to Poland, including the Middle East and Southern China. They ruled this vast territory and countless peoples wisely. During the period of the Mongol Empire, now referred to as Pax Mongolica, trade between the West and the East flourished through the famous Silk Road, along which ‘a small girl with baskets of gold could have peacefully travelled all around the empire with no fear’. After the collapse of the empire, the quests for the rich Orient greatly triggered the sea travel that resulted in great geographical discoveries.

Two decades ago, as the descendants of this courageous people, Mongolians took the risk of complex transitions in all spheres of political and economic life. We chose the fastest way to cover the distance; we are always in a hurry because we are horse riders. The early 1990s were a difficult time; income per capita was about US$200 and all centrally planned and state-owned enterprises were in bankruptcy after the Soviet Union — on which 70 per cent of the economy was dependent — collapsed together with the communist camp. Moreover, it was an odd decision given all other Asian nations eventually chose step-by-step transitions as the safe move — economy first, political next.

Two decades later, the culture of risk-takers has received tremendous paybacks. Mongolia is a flourishing democracy and led the Community of Democracies in 2011–13. The country has gradually overcome the painful economic transition and become a middle-income country with the highest economic growth in the world. The private sector, which was made illegal by the communist regime, now produces 80 per cent of the country’s economic output.

The two-fold transition provides greater stability for future prosperity.

Although our democracy is still young, national security and economic prosperity is already guaranteed. As an open society, we usually have nationwide debates almost on all important decisions. These debates sometimes overspill to political polarisation that significantly slows down the decisions important to the nation’s life. Sometimes, excessive populism drives the economy to a dead end and gives grave lessons to our politics. Nevertheless, the people believe in the system and it remains widely open to everyone who invests in Mongolia to enjoy endless options to advance their interests.

Mongolia has a national consensus that the smart use of the country’s vast mineral resources will bless the economic prosperity of the nation. The only debate is how best to use it. The exploitation of strategic mineral deposits was and remains the hottest political debate for the last decade, although it was about just two of 25 significantly rich mineral deposits in the row. It has been so hotly debated because it was our very first strategic business agreement with a multinational corporation. Based on our past experiences and mistakes, we are ready to cooperate with other investors on future grand projects.

As Mongolia internally consolidates, it has the capability of playing a more important role in regional security. It has friendly relations with all regional nations, including both Koreas and is the only country that has no territorial disputes with its neighbours. It might be the only country in the world that has no enemy. Having no vested interest in the Korean Peninsula or any other security disputes in the region, Mongolia offers its intermediation to the regional powers. The Ulaanbaatar Dialogue on Northeast Asian Security, an initiative of the Mongolian President, calls for peaceful dialogue among the regional nations to reach mutual understanding and confidence.

We take strong steps to move forward for the prosperity of the nation.

The beauty of democracy is that it consolidates every time it makes mistakes. We had a time that scared all investors and froze their interests. Learned from the lessons, we amended our mineral policy and made investment laws to be more stable — to the extent that any changes to the law requires two third of votes in the parliament.

The ‘Smart Government’ initiative of the President of Mongolia proposes the revision of all administrative system from the viewpoint of effective and efficient public service to the people, more practically to the business. The initiative calls for significant changes in government bureaucracy; the number of licenses shall be as few as possible; technology of government shall be as smart as possible to minimise its size and advance its services; and government transactions have to become transparent. It is the next stage of the democratic reform; doing so it will give new impetus to the business.

Mongolia needs more friends to ensure its national security interests and achieve economic prosperity — its ‘Third Neighbour Policy’ is a policy of extending its friends all around the world. Two immediate neighbours of Mongolia, Russia and China, remain the foreign policy priority and this priority is not contradictory to the policy of having more friends. Together with all, Mongolia confidently is moving towards prosperity.

Luvsanvandan Bold is Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mongolia.

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Mongolia’s confident new strategy towards prosperity


ASEAN weathering the COVID-19 typhoon



Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc addresses a special video conference with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Hanoi 14 April, 2020 (Photo:Reuters/Manan Vatsyayana).

Author: Sandra Seno-Alday, Sydney University

The roughly 20 typhoons that hit Southeast Asia each year pale in comparison to the impact on the region of COVID-19 — a storm of a very different sort striking not just Southeast Asia but the world.


Just how badly is the COVID-19 typhoon thrashing the region? And what might the post-crisis recovery and reconstruction look like? To answer these questions, it is necessary to investigate the strengths and vulnerabilities of Southeast Asia’s pre-COVID-19 economic infrastructure.

Understanding the structure of the region’s economic house requires going back to 1967, when Southeast Asian countries decided to pledge friendship to one another under the ASEAN framework. While other integrated regions such as NAFTA and the European Union have aggressively broken down trade barriers and significantly boosted intra-regional trade, ASEAN regional economic integration has chugged along slower.

Southeast Asian countries have not viewed trade between each other as a top priority. The trade agreements in the region have been forged around suggestions for ASEAN countries to lower tariffs on intra-regional trade to within a certain range and across limited industries. This has lowered but not eliminated barriers to intra-regional trade. Consequently, a relatively significant share of Southeast Asian trade is with countries outside the region. This active extra-regional engagement has resulted in ASEAN countries’ successful integration into global value chain networks.

A historically outward-facing region, in 2010 around 75 per cent of Southeast Asian commodity imports and exports came from countries outside of ASEAN. This share of extra-regional trade nudged closer to 80 per cent in 2018. This indicates that ASEAN’s global value chain network embeddedness has deepened over time.

Around 40 per cent of ASEAN’s extra-regional trade is with the rest of Asia. From 2010 to 2018 Southeast Asian countries forged major trade relationships with four Asian countries: China, Japan, South Korea and India. Outside Asia, the United States is the region’s major trading partner. ASEAN’s trade focus on Asia’s largest markets is not surprising. Countries tend to establish trade relationships with large, geographically close, and culturally similar markets.

Fostering deep relationships with a few large markets, however, is a double-edged sword. While it has allowed ASEAN to benefit from integration in global value chains, it has also resulted in increased vulnerability to the shocks affecting its network connections.

ASEAN’s participation in global value chains has allowed it to transition from a net regional importer in 1990 to a net regional exporter in 2018. But the region’s deep embeddedness in a small and tightly-coupled network cluster of extra-regional global value chain partners has exposed it to disruption to any and all of its external partners. By contrast, ASEAN’s intra-regional trade network structure is much more loosely-coupled: a consequence of persistent intra-regional trade barriers and thus lower intra-regional trade intensity.

In the pre-COVID-19 period, ASEAN built for itself an economic house held up by just five extra-regional markets, while doing less to expand and diversify its intra-regional trade network. The data shows that ASEAN trade became increasingly concentrated in these few external markets between 2010 and 2018.

This dependence on a handful of markets does not bode well for risk and crisis management. All of the region’s major trading partners have been significantly affected by COVID-19 and this in turn is blowing the ASEAN economic house down.

What are the ways forward? The immediate task at hand is to get a better picture of the region’s position in global value chain networks and to get on top of managing its network risk exposure. Already there are red flags around the region’s food security arising from its position in food value chains. It is critical to look for ways to introduce flexibility into existing supply chains for greater agility in responding to crises.

It is also an opportune time for ASEAN to harness the technology transfer gains of global value chain participation and invest in innovation-driven diversification of products and markets. The region’s embeddedness in global value chain networks certainly places it in a strong position to readily access large export markets not just in Asia but also Europe and the Americas.

Over the longer term, ASEAN is faced with the question of whether it should seriously look…

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