30 Years of Friendship, Trust and Cooperation

The Mongol Messenger
2020-05-21 18:32:19

Ulaanbaatar /MONTSAME/ On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Mongolia and the Republic of Korea, which is being commemorated this year, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mongolia D.Tsogtbaatar gave an interview for MONTSAME News Agency.


Foreign Minister D.Tsogtbaatar: Our two countries share the same values for human rights, freedom, democracy and market economy

-         This year commemorates the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Mongolia and the Republic of Korea. What are planned for the anniversary?


First and foremost, I would like to extend my congratulations to our readers on the occasion of the diplomatic anniversary between Mongolia and the Republic of Korea. Thirty years may seem a short period of time, nonetheless, they were filled with vital and significant events for the relationships between the two nations.


During this period, the relations have developed successfully in a wide array of fields of politics, trade, economy, investment, culture, education and humanitarian on the basis of the Comprehensive Partnership.


Honoring the friendly relationship of the two nations, 2020 has been announced as a “Mongolia and the Republic of Korea Friendship Year” and 30 special events are planned. For instance, Mongolian Cultural Days and Cinema Days in Seoul, as well as joint academic symposium, diplomatic anniversary book launch, photo exhibition and cultural performances in Ulaanbaatar city will be organized.


With a view to enhance political dialogues, we are considering to organize some high-level visits this year. The working committee to organize the celebration of the 30th diplomatic anniversary is headed by Minister of Environment and Tourism N.Tserenbat, with Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mongolia B.Battsetseg and Vice Minister of Education, Culture, Science and Sports G.Ganbayar as deputy-heads.


Signing of the Protocol on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the Republic of Korea and Mongolia, March 26, 1990.

-          What position does the ROK take up in the foreign policy of Mongolia? How would you evaluate the current state of the bilateral relations of the two countries and future trends?


A concept of Third Neighbor Policy first emerged in the foreign policy of Mongolia, soon after Mongolia made a transition to the democracy and market economy in the 1990s, pursuing an open and multi-base foreign policy. The Third Neighbor Policy refers to developing partnership relations and cooperation with highly developed countries while maintaining good neighbor friendly relations and wide-ranging cooperation with two neighbors, Russia and China.


Within the framework of this policy, the Republic of Korea along with the USA, Japan, European Union, India and Turkey are defined as third neighbors of Mongolia, and the cooperation between our two nations have been continuously moving forward in the last three decades, as of today reached the level of “Comprehensive Partnership”.


The two countries share common values of respecting human rights, freedom, democracy and market economy, which serve as a solid foundation for strong relationship between us. There is a phrase “A good start is a key of success”. Since the good foundation was established at the outset of our cooperation, the relations between Mongolia and the ROK have been growing at a fast pace, achieving satisfactory results.


President of Mongolia P.Ochirbat’s visit to the ROK in 1991 for the first ever visit at a level of a head of state and President of ROK Kim Dae-jung paid a reciprocal visit to Mongolia in 1999. Since that time, more than 30 mutual visits at levels of President, Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs were paid.  It is believed that the political trust between the two nations have been strengthened in the past with well-established legal foundation for bilateral ties.

There are more than 50 intergovernmental treaties and agreements, regulating the relations of the two countries. A far-reaching dialogue has been achieved at the level of corresponding government ministries and organizations. Friendship and public organizations have also been fulfilling their duties of “public diplomacy” effectively.


I would like to take this moment to express my deep gratitude for each individual involved in the growth of the Mongolia-ROK relations to the current level, especially the government and civil service officers, diplomats, scholars and the public.


The ROK is an important trade and investment partner of Mongolia. The trade turnover of 2019 totaled USD 300 million and Korean investment to Mongolia reached USD 550 million. The largest Mongolian community abroad or 48,000 people are currently residing in ROK and the number of citizens to mutually travel to Mongolia and the ROK exceeds 200,000. Such a high number of mutual travels by both citizens is further evidence to demonstrate the extent of the relationship.


As I mentioned earlier, reinforcing and developing bilateral ties and partnership with the ROK further is one of the foreign policy priorities of Mongolia. Furthermore, in the scope of the multi-pillar foreign policy, we seek to take more active part in the multilateral cooperation of the Asia and the Pacific region, particularly in the Northeast Asia.


In spite of the fact that the Northeast Asian region, where Mongolia is situated in, holds great opportunities for future development, conditions and environment to utilize the opportunities are not commonly available and mechanism for regional cooperation is limited.


We are looking to a brighter future ahead of us where we are able to work together with the ROK on the regional stage, and gain from our joint participation in the mining, infrastructure and energy developments, covering the whole region. Shaped by those goals, we support the “New Northern Policy” initiative for regional development by ROK President Moon Jae-in.    


Mongolia is ranked in the first ten countries in the world with its rich natural resources. South Korea is a global leading country in terms of its new advanced technology and know-how, and particularly, the information technology development.  There are ample opportunities for growth for mutually beneficial cooperation by bringing together the advantages and resources of the two countries. Not to mention the various fields with abundant possibilities for cooperation, such as education, health, road and transport, agriculture and tourism.


-          Heads of the governments of the two nations have paid mutual visits in recent years. What were the main outcomes? A topic on bringing the current level of relations to the “Strategic Partnership” was on agenda of the visits. What type of cooperation should be on the focus for further development in the connection?


Yes. The frequency of mutual visits by heads of states and governments has grown over the last few years.  Prime Minister of Mongolia U.Khurelsukh made his first official trip abroad from the ROK in January 2018. Only after less than a year in March 2019, ROK Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon made a reciprocal visit to Mongolia.


The talks during the visits held in warm and friendly atmosphere, and the Prime Ministers have built mutual trust and friendly brotherhood relations with each other, which were crucial for strengthening the bilateral ties, specifically for intensifying people-to-people relations.


Numerous important issues were discussed and settled during the visits. For instance, two sides agreed to carry out essential projects and programs aimed at reduction of Ulaanbaatar city’s air pollution with USD 500 million soft loan by the Government of the ROK within the framework of the program under implementation by the Government of Mongolia in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).


A tangible outcomes of the visits include favorable decision on the construction of apartment complexes Solongo and a rental apartment complex in the mountain pass of Bayangol in Ulaanbaatar.


ROK leader Moon Jae-in put forward a proposal to bring the present “Comprehensive Partnership” between the two countries to the level of “Strategic Partnership”. During the 2006 visit of President of ROK Roh Moo-hyun to Mongolia, the countries declared to maintain “Good neighbor friendly cooperation”, and in 2011, it was announced that the bilateral relations will be developed in all areas on the basis of “Comprehensive Partnership” during the visit by President Lee Myung-bak.


We are now carefully studying what principles and contents should be inherent in the “Strategic Partnership”, and exchanging viewpoints with senior diplomats and scholars and researchers on this matter. From my point of view, the “Strategic Partnership” shall be made up of five vital pillars of cooperation of a/ politics and security; b/ trade, investment and economy; c/ education, health, culture, humanitarian, environment and tourism; d/ the citizens and consular affairs; e/ on the international and regional fora.


Active discussion is underway with the Korean side on the objectives to set in each direction. We see that day to declare the higher level of partnership has drawn near.  


-          Would you please give us some information on the present status of the bilateral trade and investment, as well as opportunities to attract South Korean business entities and investors to the Mongolian market and development projects?


Trade and investment growth and mutually beneficial economic cooperation are of great consequence for expanding bilateral ties. During the early years of diplomatic relations, trade turnover was estimated at around USD 270,000, and the number has climbed to USD 294.8 million by 2019, with over a thousand-fold increase. This is the number that should not be underrated. But we have more things needed to be done in this area.


The ROK has become the sixth largest trade partner of Mongolia. I am delighted that many leading well-known Korean corporations participate in Mongolia’s largest development projects. Direct investment of the ROK to Mongolia began back in 1990 and the total investment of Korean business enterprises and companies in the past totaled over USD 560 million, to be placed tenth by its volume of foreign direct investment. Today, there are 2532 ROK-invested companies operating in the tourism, industry, retail and wholesale and hospitality areas of Mongolia.


The economy, cutting-edge technology and expertise of ROK is the fourth largest in Asia. Mongolia always strives to bolster and develop the economic and trade cooperation with the ROK. With a view to increase economic cooperation, a Joint committee between the governments was set up in 2015, yielding benefits.


As trade facilitation measures, having quarantine standards and solving challenges in transport logistics are deemed to pave the way for trade growth, preparation must be ensured as early as possible for establishing economic partnership agreement with the ROK.  A relevant study was performed in 2018 in collaboration of Korean side, with a positive conclusion that volume and types of export commodities of Mongolia are possible to increase.  


While on the subject, I should mention that Mongolia has joined the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) and will start its implementation from July 1, 2020. We are confident that participation in the APTA will open up broad possibilities for extending the trade and economic partnership with the ROK.


We have abundant of unused resources. Advancing cooperation with the ROK is within our reach by introducing their investment and environment friendly, breakthrough technologies into Mongolia’s industry, infrastructure, road transport, construction, urban development, maritime transport, agriculture and food production areas.


-          The Official Development Assistance (ODA) of the ROK has apparently made significant contributions to the social and economic development of Mongolia. Which areas are most covered by the ROK’s soft loans and assistances?


Indeed, the ODA of the Government of the ROK has played a considerable role in socio-economic development of Mongolia. The Government and the people of Mongolia are truly grateful the ROK Government for providing supports and assistance since Mongolia moved toward market economy. The ROK Government placed Mongolia on its ODA Recipient list in 1991, to grant aids totaling USD 240 million between 1991 and 2018. Soft loans from South Korea to Mongolia started in 1993.


In the scope of the Extended Fund Facility arrangement by the IMF in Mongolia, the ROK Government has resolved to issue USD 500 million soft loan to Mongolia, and its general agreement was established during Mongolian Prime Minister Khurelsukh’s 2018 visit to the country. The soft loan will be used for projects targeting to reduce air pollution in Ulaanbaatar city. For example, the two sides agreed to build the aforementioned apartment complexes and to improve laboratory capacity of the Center for Nature and Environment, which will help Mongolia deal with its most critical problem of air pollution.


In addition, as part of the USD 300 million soft loan by the ROK Government, projects to build National Diagnosis and Treatment Center and thermal power plant in 10 aimags and legislation package project are underway.


The Export–Import Bank of Korea at the ROK Government’s Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF) opened its representative office in Ulaanbaatar last year to accelerate the effective implementation of the projects.


ROK’s long term soft loans are important to realize the programs and projects of utmost importance for bolstering Mongolia’s basic infrastructure and socio-economic development.  We will continue to work closely with the ROK Government to carry out projects addressing the social welfare and to increase the benefits of loans and assistance.


-          The number of Mongolians to live and work in ROK has reached almost 50,000 and the mutual travels of citizens between the two countries are growing year on year. What steps is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs taking to facilitate travels for citizens of the two nation?


One of the important conditions to expand the bilateral cooperation is free travel between the citizens. Following the growing relationship, the traffic of mutual travels between the citizens are increasing, with the number of people to travel between the two countries passed 200,000 in 2019. The number is made up of more than 103,000 Mongolian nationals to travel to South Korea and some 97 thousand Korean people to Mongolia.


There are 48,000 Mongolian nationals residing in ROK, representing the highest number of Mongolian nationals to live in a foreign country. The flow of mutual travel is expected to grow in the future.


Safeguarding the rights and interests of Mongolian citizens abroad and creating favorable travelling conditions is one of the foremost goals of the Mongolian Government. In connection with this, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been giving out essential travel guidelines, recommendations and warning to our citizens and has teamed with the ROK Embassy to create a public outreach campaign “Travel Responsibly”.


Moreover, a number of requests and proposals, namely, easing difficulties in visa application and shortening the visa process, have been brought forward to the Korean side at various levels, beginning to yield some results.


The Ministry of Justice of ROK revised its visa regulations in September 2019, expanding the scope of eligibility for multiple-entry visas and easing short-term visa requirements for family members of foreign workers in the country under labor contract. We will keep working with the ROK side on building roadmap with envisioned goals of facilitation of mutual travels by the citizens and visa-free travel further ahead.


-          There are increasing number of Mongolian students who wish to learn Korean language, are interested in Korean culture, and to study in ROK. Please tell us about the cultural and educational cooperation of Mongolia and the ROK.


The history of the Mongolia- ROK relationship dates back a long time and the two nations have some common traits of language, culture and traditions. The number of Mongolian students to study in the ROK’s universities and language training institutions has been growing to reach more than 8900 as of today, and among other countries, third-highest number of Mongolian students are in South Korea.


Within the sphere of the educational partnership, Mongolia-Korea teacher’s Exchange Program has been under successful implementation since 2012, involving over 300 teachers from secondary schools of Mongolia. Fruitful arts and cultural cooperation is ongoing. The two countries maintain the tradition to organize Mongolian Naadam Festival and Mongolian Cultural Days in ROK’s major cities and districts.


As the Korean K-Pop has a very large number of young fans in Mongolia, development of “M-Pop” culture in Mongolia, inspired by the K-Pop, was discussed at Prime Minister of ROK Lee Nak-yeon’s visit to Mongolia in 2019. I see that this can be a new direction of bilateral cooperation.


With its Fourth Industrial Revolution, ROK leads the world in expertise of training professional workforce in innovation, nanotechnology and information technology. Therefore, future collaboration with the country by learning from their experience on the development of science and technology parks, innovation and training young Mongolians in information technology, computer programming and engineering are highly desirable for preparing our future professional workforce.


-          More tourists from the ROK are interested in travelling to Mongolia. What kind of works are being carried out to attract Korean tourists and promote Mongolia?


Since establishing diplomatic ties, the people-to-people exchanges have been experiencing gradual and constant growth with more rapid rise recently. In the beginning of the 1990s, passengers usually had to spend around two days to travel to South Korea via Beijing and Tokyo or Hong Kong. Since 1994, MIAT Mongolian Airlines and since 1996, Korean Air started operating direct flights between Ulaanbaatar and Seoul, bringing impetus to the air relations and tourism growth and facilitating mutual travels.  More airlines, including Air Busan and Asiana Airlines have launched their services in the destinations since then.


The number of Korean nationals to travel to Mongolia, which was estimated at 5,000 in 1999, grew by 20 times to reach 97,000 in 2019. Around 20 percent of the total tourism arrivals in Mongolia in 2019, which equaled to 577,000, was Korean visitors.


Various tour packages, such as eco-tourism, entertainment and cultural travels are open for South Korean travelers. We are also actively making efforts to enhance the tourism industry and increase the number of tourists, for instance, we are participating in international major tourism events and trade fairs to promote Mongolia abroad and also planning to establish “centers to promote Mongolia” in countries with targeted market.


Allow me to briefly say one example. There is a world popular Korean drama that was filmed in Mongolia in 2019. It shows that we hold a plenty of opportunities to be widely known abroad and to boost the tourism industry with the help of development of entertainment and cultural cooperation. I am confident that we will see a substantial growth in the number of Korean travelers and visitors to Mongolia.


-          The two countries have been building close collaboration on international platforms. How is the role of Mongolia in the peace and security of the Northeast Asian region assessed? What contributions are the two nations able to make in the regional economic growth? Please share your views.


Making its contribution to ensuring peace and security in the Northeast Asia is an integral part of the foreign policy of Mongolia as the political, social and economic process in the region have immediate and non-immediate impacts on the security and sustainable development of Mongolia.


Promotion of stability on the Korean Peninsula is vital for maintaining regional peace and security. Not unlike the regional states, Mongolia has consistently adhered to a position to make the Korean Peninsula a nuclear-weapon-free zone. In this sense, Mongolia initiated the Ulaanbaatar Dialogue on Northeast Asian Security in 2013 and has hosted international conferences on regional security, energy, infrastructure, green growth and humanitarian cooperation and Mayors’ Forum, Forum of Women Parliamentarians and Youth Forum with success. The Northeast Asian states, including the ROK, were engaged in those international events, showing their support in our initiative.


Views have been shared with the ROK on building Northeast Asia Regional Power System Interconnection and East Asia Railway Community initiative. You are probably well aware of the initiative by the President of Mongolia Battulga, presented at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok city of Russia, to have an organization comprised of regional countries within the Northeast Asia Regional Power System Interconnection project.


Support and concerted position by regional countries are essential for putting the initiative into action and cooperation with regional countries, specifically the ROK, will be sustained further. I am convinced that the partnership between Mongolia and the ROK will have a pivotal contribution not only to the development of the two countries, but also for the region to flourish and achieve stability.

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