The art of negotiation is often likened to the art of persuasion. Many people think it’s a selling technique. However, contrary to popular belief, this is not the best approach.
In any kind of negotiation, information is power. The person at the table with the most information is likely going to come out ahead. This person is also the one who is speaking less and listening more.
Let’s review a recent negotiation between a retailer and two different software vendors as an example.
Software vendor A knew her product was the lowest priced in the industry and believed price was a key influence because the retailer was experiencing financial difficulty. She prepared for her meeting by developing a spreadsheet that compared her software to the competitor’s, feature for feature. She responded to the retailer’s questions by comparing the pricing structure of different software programs. She was able to convince the retailer she had the lowest price and, in the end, was confident her company would receive the contract.
Software vendor B prepared for his meeting by creating a list of questions about the retailer’s operations. When he met with the retailer, he did not refer to his software’s features, assuming the retailer had already been on the company’s website. Instead, he asked questions. Even some questions his team did not think were relevant. But by asking questions, he got the retailer talking and learned that company was experiencing continuous staff turnover and was spending too much time on training new staff rather than closing sales.
Vendor B included training in his sales pitch, which would reduce the retailer’s training costs but also increase his own profit margin. In the end, although vendor B offered a more expensive product than vendor A, he received the contract.
This is a classic example of why negotiations take a wrong turn. Despite vendor A’s preparation, she did not fully understand the retailer’s needs and lost the sale before she even started.
How do you avoid a similar pitfall? It’s simple.
1. Avoid preparing a persuasive argument
Most people prepare for negotiations by developing persuasive arguments to support their position and sway the agreement in their favour. However, when negotiations are based on each party trying to convince the other party to adopt their view, little information is exchanged.
Instead of preparing to persuade the other party, determine the information gaps and develop a set of questions that will help you learn more about your counterpart.
2. Speak less and listen more
Negotiators who rely on persuasive tactics generally talk more than 50 per cent of the time during a meeting; however, it puts them at a huge disadvantage. As we saw in the example above, vendor B was able to make the sale because he probed for information and tailored his pitch to the needs of the retailer. If a negotiator is relying solely on the information they know about the other person, they’re leaving valuable information on the table.
The person with the most information is likely to come out ahead in a negotiation. Allow the other person to do most of the talking, and probe for more information by using your prepared questions.
3. Don’t try to find a compromise
Many negotiators try to close negotiations by splitting the difference or finding a compromise. However, this rarely leaves both parties happy. Having half of something isn’t very satisfying.
Instead of finding a compromise, explore how you can expand the agreement so it benefits both parties. As in the example above, by understanding what the other party is looking for, you may be able to create an entirely different offering that will seal the deal.
The next time you find yourself at the negotiating table, remember to identify what you don’t know about the other party, speak less and listen more, and explore how you can expand the agreement rather than rush to a compromise.
ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia—“Before we begin, I’d like to decline two
questions,” the National Security Adviser to Mongolia’s president warns
me. “One is railroads, the other is Chinese workers.” With those
caveats, touches on the two third-rail issues that
define her nation’s precarious place in the world.
Sandwiched between Russia and China—both superpowers that, ironically,
it once conquered—this tiny nation of almost 2.8 million people sprawls
across a territory more than twice the size of France.
And it is trying
desperately to find some autonomy in a world that often seems intent
only in snagging a slice of its natural resource windfall, which it has
only begun to unearth. Mongolia, like a handful of other smaller nations
in similar geo-political circumstances, is doing its best to survive,
even prosper, against enormous odds. But Mongolia has something else
going for it—a patrimony of a scope that all but defies definition.
I’ve been fascinated for years by the plight of small countries trapped
between large powers. Two years ago, I chronicled in this space the
challenges Bhutan faces, nestled between China and India—struggling, as
do a handful of similar nations, to maintain some semblance of national
identity and union. In Europe, Africa, and Latin America, there are
similar cases of nations searching desperately to develop their own,
unique identity. Dominated or overshadowed by powerful neighbors, some
of these states date back centuries, others are more recently minted
products of a colonial past, but most are saddled with boundaries that
bear little resemblance to the realities of tribes, cultures, religions,
For Mongolia, the challenges are even more profound and pressing. In
this era of post-Cold War détente, its actual sovereignty may no longer
be in question. Still, there are even larger stakes that bear directly
on what remains a latent competition of epic proportions between its
larger neighbors. Since the moment of Mongolia’s independence from the
Soviet bloc less than a quarter century ago, vast reserves of coal
(including the world’s single largest deposit of vital coking coal), oil
and gas, copper, gold, uranium, and a host of other valuable minerals
have been uncovered. Explorers and prospectors flock to Ulaanbaatar’s
handful of western-style hotels. Over lavish buffet breakfasts in the
glass-and-steel restaurant of the Ramada, they swap tales of distant
strikes and pots of riches just over the horizon, then fan out across
the country, hoping to find still more wealth buried beneath the
trackless steppes and the endless blue sky.
Down in the street, vast snarls of traffic back up along the capital’s
one main thoroughfare—Peace Avenue as it was dubbed by the nation’s
Soviet overlords, who also re-named the capital when they took over in
1923. Ulaanbaatar (“Red Hero” in Mongolian) is only one legacy among
many that it has not managed to shed from the three quarters of a
century of Russian rule.
The Russians did a lot more to Mongolia than simply re-name geography.
When the first Bolshevik troops crossed the border from Siberia, they
found a primitive people who were an easy conquest.
They quickly began to bend this nation of largely nomadic herders to
their own will. First to go was the ancient “vertical script”—a language
of runes that the Red Army invaders swapped out for their own Cyrillic
alphabet (with a couple of extra letters to facilitate transliteration
of a tongue that has little to do with Russian).
When the rail system arrived, it was the wider Russian gauge of 4 feet
11 5/8 inches, designed to make certain that invaders from the west or
east, where rails are spaced the standard international width of 4 feet 8
1/2 inches, would be unable simply to roll their troop transports to
the battlefields. But until 1947, after World War II, there was no
railway at all in Mongolia. At first, the Russians liked it that way—it
would give them more warning of any approach of Japanese forces. But
with the post-war push for self-sufficiency and a desire to use all its
satellites to build a Soviet industrial empire, Mongolia was pressed
into service, so the railroad arrived.
And pressed is the right word. The Russian occupiers made certain that
Mongolia’s leaders would match, even outdo, Joseph Stalin in barbarity
and repressiveness. They found willing partners in the early rulers of
the Mongolian People’s Republic. First Khorloogiin Choibalsan embarked
on a series of vicious purges, destroying any political opposition, then
turned to the nation’s passive Buddhist monks, torching monasteries
across the country, executing 35,000 lamas, exiling tens of thousands
more to Siberia. The vicious Choibalsan was succeeded by Yumjaagiin
Tsedenbal, who was cut from the same bolt of cloth, and tried repeatedly
to bring Mongolia into the Soviet Union as the 16th Republic. He was
met with such determined opposition on every side that the Kremlin
decided this vast, poor nation wasn’t worth the effort and was content
to leave it, as it began, as its first and largest satellite.
Not surprisingly, one of the early initiatives of the post-Soviet
government, when it arrived in 1990, was an effort to return to the
vertical script. Indeed, our translator, Hashi, an elementary school
student during this abortive experiment, was one of those forced to
learn the ancient Mongolian alphabet—until the government recognized the
enormous cost of converting an entire nation to a new vernacular and
killed the idea. Today Mongolia boasts a literacy rate of 97.3
percent—higher even than China at 95.9 percent.
There were other legacies of the Soviet era, which extended from 1923
to 1990. The first industrial plants were constructed in Ulaanbaatar and
the northeastern cities of Darkhan and Choibalsan, which since the
departure of the Soviets now has the highest unemployment rate in
Mongolia. The first milk processing facility was built in the capital.
Soviet military installations began springing up across the countryside,
with substantial concentrations along the frontier with China.
But perhaps the greatest and least-known legacy was the decision by the
Soviets to map Mongolia, not in terms of roads (there was a single
paved avenue in the capital and only a network of dirt tracks across the
steppes) but rather for minerals. All but unrecognized, even today, is
the existence of a detailed geophysical survey of every square kilometer
of Mongolian territory—an analysis of its potential mineral-bearing
rock formations, the nature of its land and soil. In part, of course,
this was in the interest of determining the most advantageous routes for
Soviet military machinery—tanks and personnel transports. But the
legacy, buried today in government archives, includes a sense of where
the most valuable of the nation’s patrimony exists, uncovered, beneath
the land. A handful of savvy western prospectors have stumbled on this
treasure trove. But it’s believed that much still remains undiscovered.
At the same time, powerful emotions were building during the decades of
oppression—perhaps Mongolia’s most complex legacy, fraught with
implications for the nation’s place in today’s Asia. “As far as Russia,
many Mongolians still keep a certain sympathy inherited from the Soviet
era,” smiles Batchimeg as she continues most diplomatically.
“Even some of the younger people would cherish the relationship with
Russia, too. We believe this is a very important factor for any
bilateral relationship. Mongolian national leaders have to understand
the importance of this.”
The Russian legacy, and that nation’s very real contemporary presence,
straddles the frontier with Siberia, which we cross on the
Trans-Mongolian Railway. An unsmiling set of border patrol officers with
sniffing German shepherds board on the Russian side in Naushki in the
Buryat Republic. Their Mongolian counterparts jump on the train five
miles down the line in Sukhbaatar after we cross the barbed-wire
frontier. It is a seamless transition, though, because of the common
gauge shared by the Russian and Mongolian mainline rail systems. By
contrast, at the Chinese border, a complex maneuver called “changing the
bogeys” is necessary. The Russian-Mongolian carriages are lifted off
the wheel assemblies in a specially designed shed, the new
Chinese-standard gauge carriages slipped beneath each car—passenger and
freight alike. Not surprisingly it adds time and money for each pound of
freight, or even more importantly, coal and ore, that’s shipped to or
So when it came time to consider a new rail link to the vast southern
Mongolian coal, copper, and gold mines that are just now opening for
business in the South Gobi, far from the nearest approach to the
Trans-Mongolian trunk line, selecting the proper gauge was very much on
the minds of the Mongolian parliament. The government is divided, almost
equally, between two parties, the MPP or Mongolian People’s Party (the
socialist successor to the Soviet-era Mongolian People’s Revolutionary
Party, revolutions now being pretty much a dead letter), and the newly
minted Democratic party of the nation’s president. Outside forces are
still able to tilt the balance at critical moments.
On this occasion, the Russia weighed in with its heavy thumb on the
scale. In a meeting last June with Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin
Elbegdorj, President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
pledged a $1.5 billion investment in new track totaling 2,500 miles for
the Mongolian rail network. Then they added a sweetener of $250 million
to build a long spur from the Tavan Tolgoi mine to link up with the
Trans-Siberian railway and onward to Vladivostok, the nearest Russian
seaport to Mongolia. The problem is not the construction, though, it’s
the operation. With the Mongolian stretch alone at nearly 600 miles to
Choibalsan and then another 900 miles via the Trans-Siberian line to
Vladivostok, the World Bank has estimated the transport cost at $75 a
ton, compared with $15 a ton via Chinese rail links, barely 100 miles
away. If, as the World Bank calculates, the South Gobi mines could be
producing 45 million tons of coal a year, much of it for export, the
cost of transport to Russia over China suggests a considerable
Still, in the end, the Mongolian parliament voted to cast its lot with
Russia. “The mine operators can always build a little spur into China if
they need it eventually,” explains one MPP parliamentarian
diplomatically after the vote. “We left that open in the final wording
of the legislation.” It was meant to be a Solomonic decision—dividing,
or more appropriately parsing, the nation’s loyalties. But the real
problem is that not all Mongolians see this as the best way to go.
HATE VS. FEAR
“We hate Russia, but we fear China,” says one young Mongolian who was
born in the Soviet era and has visited both nations. He’s speaking in
the long, narrow corridor of a Pullman car on the Trans-Mongolian
Railway—traveling across the Gobi, one of the world’s largest deserts.
Barely 80,000 people live in Mongolia’s forbidding South Gobi province—a
territory larger than Bangladesh, which has a population of 170
million—though the World Bank projects South Gobi’s population to double
over the next five years with the influx of miners and their families.
Indeed, entire new towns are already in place, like the ultra-modern
glass and steel dorms and apartments at the Tavan Tolgoi mine that
boasts a school run under contract with an elite academy in the nation’s
capital 335 miles to the north. First graders in their second week of
English classes leap to their feet and, beaming with pride, sing the ABC
song to us.
From the train windows, not much changes after crossing the
Mongolian-Chinese frontier. It’s the same Gobi landscape—expanding at
the rate of 1,400 square miles a year as desertification gobbles up the
fertile grasslands that have nourished Mongolian livestock for
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE CHINESE
China entered into the Mongolian consciousness far earlier than Russia.
As early as 180 A.D., warriors of the Xianbei swept into regions of
northern China. A millennium later, Chinggis Khan (known in the West as
Genghis Khan) turned toward the warmer climates of the south and
extended his rule beyond several small valleys in what is now
His legions of 95,000 trained warriors (out of a total population of
just 400,000) swept across the steppes into China in lightning raids
that Hitler studied in preparation for his mechanized blitzkriegs. To
give a sense of scale, if the United States were to maintain a standing
army of this size, relative to its population, it would have armed
forces totaling 73.9 million, compared with 2.3 million actually under
arms, including national guard and reserves. Today, Mongolia has just
12,000 men in its military, including a special brigade of 2,500 tapped
to serve abroad in the international peacekeeping roles it has embraced.
China, however, deploys vast reserves of military forces and armaments
throughout its frontier regions, at the ready for any menace, real or
imagined, inside and outside the country. As our train rolls into China,
we come across the first example—more than 100 flatcars loaded with
tanks and personnel carriers all pointed north toward the frontier of a
nation with which it boasts nominally friendly relations.
But within the boundaries of Inner Mongolia lie the seeds of enormous
potential unrest. In the 2000 census, there were some 4 million Mongols
in the region—nearly double the entire population of the Mongolian
Republic itself. Dominated by the Han Chinese, who comprise over
three-quarters of the province’s population, they feel discriminated
against and oppressed. And they are hardly reluctant to demonstrate
these feelings. This year alone, at least three Mongolian herders,
protesting the heavy mining trucks that have begun crisscrossing their
traditional grazing grounds, have been run down and killed—whether by
accident or intentionally is not clear. Each incident, however, has
touched off widespread protests in the provincial capital of Hohhot,
where authorities have cracked down with massive shows of force and
widespread arrests, carting hundreds of demonstrators to so-called black
prisons where they have disappeared for days, even weeks.
In Hohhot, we happen upon the wife of a foreign businessman who was
herself swept up. Driving near the university, seen by authorities as a
hotbed of ethnic Mongolian unrest, she describes how she was in her car,
accompanied only by her family’s chauffeur, when she used her iPhone to
snap a photo of the massive police presence. “They were right on us,”
she begins, still clearly shaken by the experience that had taken place
four months earlier. “Plainclothes security men dragged both of us from
my car and bundled us into an unmarked car.”
Taken to what was described to her as a “black prison,” their cell
phones were confiscated and the contraband photo deleted. “No one will
know where you are, we can do with you what we want, we can hold you
indefinitely, you will never be found, and we will kill your driver,”
she recalls the officers telling them. When she and her driver arrived
at their destination with the secret police who’d seized them, she saw
several thousand students and others crammed inside the building. She
was petrified as they unchained the doors and shoved her into the
makeshift facility. Fortunately, her driver had secreted a second cell
phone and managed a brief call to her husband, a consultant with a
powerfully connected local Chinese factory. Company officials quickly
began making calls, though it took hours before she was released.
It’s scarcely surprising that Mongolians fear the Chinese. Mongolians
are a fiercely independent people, yet ironically the nation has known
barely 12 years of real independence until their final liberation from
Soviet rule in 1990. On December 29, 1911, the so-called Outer
Mongolians took advantage of the Wuchang Uprising that ended the Qing
Dynasty’s rule and declared their own nation’s independence from China.
It was but a brief flirtation with freedom, lasting through World War I
when both Russia and China were preoccupied with a global conflict,
their own internal revolutions, and the civil wars that followed. But by
1923, Mongolia had swapped Chinese rule for full Russian domination.
LIVING THE GER LIFE
Throughout, the Mongolian mentality of fiercely independent herders and
horsemen preserved an internal compass that has managed somehow to hold
at bay their two, often feuding, superpower neighbors. Maintaining
their independence from China, they were drawn into the Russian sphere,
managing to escape absorption into the Soviet Union itself—the fate of
many of their neighbors across Central Asia. Culturally, the Mongolians
are like no other Asian peoples, or indeed like few anywhere in the
world. Ethnically they bear a closer resemblance to the Buryats of
Siberia than the Han Chinese, with whom they share few traits. They eat
little or no rice, their primary diet being mutton, preferably laced
with fat—a taste developed from centuries of surviving bitter Mongolian
winters that are still defined by the fearsome dzug. These
violent blizzards sweep down from the Altai mountains that form a
stretch of Mongolia’s western frontier with Kazakhstan, burying cattle,
sheep, and humans alike. In the ger districts of Ulaanbaatar, thousands of victims of the dzug
have drifted, seeking work, but above all sanctuary, from the harsh
life that killed their herds, driving them toward poverty, even
Five years ago, Zaya came to the Mongolian capital from the remote northwest—bringing along her ger,
a flat, round, Mongolian felt tent, from the isolated countryside to
the heart of a sprawling slum on the outskirts of this increasingly
congested urban landscape. Zaya had lost an entire herd of sheep, cows,
and cashmere goats—virtually her entire wealth. Six winters ago, herders
in Hovsgol province—an immense tract of high mountains, stunning lakes,
and brutal winters—
were the victims of a particularly nasty dzug, sending
thousands fleeing to what they hoped would be a land of opportunity in
Ulaanbaatar, only to be disappointed. “I could not find any jobs in
Hovsgol,” she says. “It’s not just the animals, it’s the dzug. No matter how many animals you have, if there is the dzug it is impossible.”
When she arrived, she found no jobs and few prospects. All around her,
however, she could see thousands of Chinese migrant workers moving into
Ulaanbaatar, fueling an unparalleled building boom, working for minimal
wages and raising tensions in a nation where vast numbers of Mongolians
remain jobless. Beyond the railway issue, this is the second subject
that sends shivers down the spines of senior Mongolian officials. These
Chinese workers have found their way to construction sites where they
are welcomed by builders seeking to cash in on the explosive development
boom. Certainly there is a desperate need for the skills and willing
hands represented by the migrants from south of the border, but
Mongolians also need jobs. It has become, as Batchimeg’s reluctance to
discuss the subject suggests, an issue of enormous sensitivity.
Eventually, Zaya found a part-time job as a cashier, which requires
little more skill than the ability to make change and read numbers, and a
husband—a fellow refugee of Hovsgol. But today, she has two children,
aged two and four, “so I have to stay home now and care for the baby.”
How is her life now, compared with then? A long pause as she looks off
into the distance. “There is no difference,” she sighs. She still lives
in a ger. Her husband is a carpenter. “My dream is to have a
house,” she continues. But right now, all she has is some
electricity—and her dreams.
We’ve come across her, dragging a small, rusting luggage cart and two
grimy gasoline cans filled with water that she’s hauling up a steep
slope to her ger. There’s no running water in the community.
So each day, she has to walk down to a small, brick building that’s the
water source. The city has drilled a well there and for a few togrog (a
penny or so), villagers can fill their water jugs. We’re not talking
potable water—it must still be boiled before it can be used for human
Each month, Zaya, her husband and their two children receive a stipend
of about $20 from the federal government—a handout engineered by the
MPP, which holds a majority of 46 seats out of 76 in the State Great
Hural, or parliament. For now, it’s all that stands between Zaya and
penury. “It’s 30 percent of our income each month,” she says. “With it, I
can buy rice, flour. But we’d rather have the government give my
husband some carpentry tools, then perhaps we could make a decent
living.” And their lot is better than many of her neighbors in
Ulaanbaatar. Only about half have jobs of any sort.
The predicament of Zaya and her husband, and that of dozens of others
we talk with during our visit, raises a critical question that is
dividing the nation and its leadership—handouts versus infrastructure.
“I do not believe that distributing cash can be really helpful for the
people, for the country,” both a senior aide to the
president and a member of the opposition Democratic Party. “This
populist policy actually hurts the economy by generating inflation and
creating an additional burden for the private sector, also lessening the
people’s need to work.” Still, the handouts are a potent political
force that helps keep the MPP in power.
And indeed there are some who still see some progress being made
against poverty, even in the most depressed communities of Ulaanbaatar.
The United States Ambassador to Mongolia, Jonathan Addleton, measures
progress in the ger camps by “the number of bright tin roofs.”
The number of these red or blue roofs marking new houses has been
increasing with every visit, he says in an interview—
a suggestion of new economic activity. Still, that’s just the sort of
house that Zaya and her husband can only dream about. For every new tin
roof, it seems there are still more gers, climbing out of the
blighted valley into the hills, stretching ever farther from the bright
lights and the big jobs downtown—for many a lifetime away, certainly out
of sight and for the moment at least, out of grasp.
Indeed, Mongolia is rapidly becoming three nations—the urban poor, the
rural poor, and the privileged. The big question is how the government
might manage to bridge these gaps—before it is too late. Will the vast
sums being lifted from the mines be able to trickle down, spreading
outward from the smartly dressed crowds of young people strolling
through Sukhbaatar Square in downtown Ulaanbaatar to the misery of the ger
camps beyond the ring road and on to the rural herders of the
countryside? The aspirations are real, and not yet an overwhelming
problem, since the government’s handouts have been able to buy a degree
of tranquility. But if commodity prices turn south, anything is
There are those who see the ger itself and all it represents
as one of those possible bridges—a central component of Mongolian
society at all levels. Even the wealthiest Mongolians maintain their
rural gers for sentimental reasons. At the sprawling window and
door factory, just one element of the rapidly growing Max Group
conglomerate, a huge intricately carved wooden door, wider than it is
tall, is in the final stages of production. It’s destined for the ger
of the Max co-founder, Ganbaatar Dagvadorj. Indeed, his Ramada hotel is
the most advanced in Ulaanbaatar and where Vice President Biden’s
advance party booked 100 rooms just after it opened for business.
In many respects, Biden’s visit, a total of six hours from wheels down
to wheels up, which did not go unnoticed here, was nevertheless a
defining moment for the country. It was the first for an American vice
president since Henry Wallace stopped by for two days (truncated from
seven) in 1944. That visit was of enormous importance to Mongolian
Buddhists. A leading lama at the central Gandan Monastery explains it
was Wallace’s request to see a functioning sanctuary that led the
nation’s vicious Stalinist leader Choibalsan to order the rapid
re-opening of Gandan and the return of a handful of monks and
America is central to Mongolia’s search for a reliable third neighbor. A
policy that is seen as a guarantee of the nation’s long-term
independence. “The third neighbor, as far as I can tell, is not just one
country, it is a number of countries,” says Ambassador Addleton. “At
one time, soon after I arrived, I talked about the third neighbor being
the rest of the world. And the foreign minister said, ‘no it’s not the
rest of the world, it’s our fellow democracies.’ So he talked about
Korea, Japan, India, Europe, and the United States. The first overseas
visit made by President Elbegdorj was actually to India, in some sense
reinforcing that particular third neighbor. We also appreciate and
empathize with the Mongolian perspective which is that they want a
three-dimensional relationship with the world and we are part of that.”
With such membership, however, comes responsibilities. And the United
States and a number of other nations seem to be living up to these
responsibilities only in the breach. The United States has its own
agenda with respect to Mongolia, which is being increasingly perceived
by the nation’s leaders and its people as no less pernicious than its
superpower neighbors. The Biden six-hour “stop-by” had its own subtext,
conveyed in the moments of private time with President Elbegdorj
sandwiched between ceremonial horseback riding, archery demonstrations,
and a visit to a ger. The United States is pressing Mongolia
for two immediate concessions. First, it wants to turn vast stretches of
some more remote areas of the Mongolian steppes into a waste dump for
nuclear detritus—effectively rendering it permanently uninhabitable or
exploitable, especially should vast mineral reserves be discovered deep
beneath that territory. In September, however, President Elbegdorj is
said to have put that project in the deep freeze and fired the diplomat
negotiating it. “The nuclear waste of other countries is a snake grown
up in another body,” he told a Mongolian journalist. “Receiving back the
nuclear waste … is pressure from foreign superpowers, and we must throw
out this delusion.”
Second, and more immediately, Biden was pressing Mongolia to make
certain that an American coal producer, Peabody Coal, be among those
foreign companies that are part of the concession to develop the vast
Tavan Tolgoi deposits.
At the same time Biden was passing through, however, so was the
president of South Korea. Two items were said to be high on that
agenda—the 33,000 Mongolians working in South Korea, the largest
population of Mongolians living abroad, and South Korean participation
in the Tavan Tolgoi consortium. Mongolian migrant workers, many living
in the all-Mongolian village of JungguÂ in Gwanghui Dong province, are
said to be the target of Korea’s crackdown on all varieties of foreign
workers. And South Korea is said to be especially anxious to be part of
the coal mining consortium since it will also be serving as a
significant market for the mine’s output.
In September, Mongolia’s National Security Council sent the entire
contract, which did include Peabody, though not South Korea, back to the
drawing boards for a complete re-thinking. Two months later, a senior
government official emailed “there has [still] not been any substantial
progress with the TT coal consortium project.”
Such tortured friendships will only add to the burdens Mongolia is
already facing closer to home from Russia and China. Both are also
pushing their own agendas, using a host of incentives from political and
diplomatic pressure to outright bribery. President Dmitri Medvedev, for
instance, is reported to have promised to write off 98 percent of
Mongolia’s debt to Russia and provide the country with 375 million
rubles ($12.3 million) for livestock vaccination for a substantial stake
in a vast uranium mine that the Russians still see as their property.
“It is not that logical and fair to link all the benign moves by
Russians with their ambitions in uranium,” says Batchimeg, the national
security adviser—clear evidence of Mongolia’s efforts at even-handedness
in dealing with its immediate neighbors. China is also said to be
lusting after the output of these vast uranium projects said to total
25,000 tons, potentially capable of producing upwards of $300 million a
year of high-quality ore.
What Mongolia needs especially is selfless friendships with no strings
attached from true democracies to which Mongolia looks for partnership
and as an example. In turn, Mongolia may serve as an example to other
democratic nations that it correctly sees are so important to its
survival. Mongolia has truly been free to find its own way in the world
for barely a quarter century without others seeking to force on them
their own priorities. While the instinct of independence, indeed mastery
of others, has been buried in their souls for a millennium, it is only
now being tested again in an entirely new and more complex, even vicious
contemporary environment. Certainly there are enough who want something
from this nation without the democracies who should know better adding
to their burdens.
Indeed, Mongolian officials boast proudly of their nation’s leadership,
which it assumed in July, of the 25-nation governing council of the
Community of Democracies. “We cherish personal freedoms,” concludes
Batchimeg. “Our people again feel freedom. It is part of everyday life
for every Mongolian. And democracy is a guarantee of our national
security.” And, she might add, its place in the world, even in this most