India-Mongolia: Uranium, Defence & Much More

Cover Story

Srikanth Kondapalli understands how India and China can "properly manage and control conflicts" in the border areas and strengthen bilateral relations

During his three nation official visit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will land in Mongolia on May 17, 2015. Mongolia has never been on the radar of any Indian prime minister from Jawahar Lal Nehru onwards. Modi will be the first Indian premier ever to visit Mongolia. He will be visiting Mongolia after completing the first leg of his three-nation tour (China, May 14-16, 2015) and from there would head to South Korea for his third and final leg of the tour (May 18-19, 2015).

Significance of Visit

The visit assumes significance as it marks the 16th anniversary of diplomatic relations between New Delhi and Ulan Bato. India was the first country outside the Socialist bloc to establish diplomatic relations with Mongolia. India supported Mongolia in securing United Nations and Non Aligned Movement, (NAM) memberships.

Modi Tweets on Mongolia

In a nice gesture, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has termed Mongolia as India’s ‘spiritual friend’, adding that shared values of democracy and Buddhism bind the two countries.

The Indian prime minister has expressed his views on Twitter.

“Honoured to get the opportunity to address the Great Khural on 17th May. I reassure India’s continued support in all areas to Mongolia,” he posted.

“Democracy and Buddhism bind India with Mongolia - our spiritual friend. Looking forward to more trade and investment ties with Mongolia,” Modi added.

“Glad to visit Mongolia on 17th May to commemorate 60th year of our diplomatic relations and the silver jubilee of Mongolia’s democracy,” he further wrote.

In addition, the Indian prime minister also posted his message in Mongolian in the Cyrillic script.

Agenda of the Visit: Defence Deals

For India, approaching Mongolia on the defence cooperation is a natural part of its ‘Look East Policy’, which aims to develop closer relations with East Asian countries. A Mongolian delegation visited New Delhi to meet Home Minister Rajnath Singh last December to discuss the basic modules of cooperation between the two countries. The Mongolian delegation was lead by the Head of General Authority on Border Protection (GABP) of Mongolia, Brigadier General Lkhachinjav.

Both countries have agreed to increase their collaboration on defence matters, with India promising to help Mongolia increase its capabilities in the areas of special operations, cyber security, bomb disposal, and tactics. The officials further stated that they would increase cooperation to prevent transnational crime, according to reports in the Indian press. The Indian delegation included senior officials from the Indian Border Security Force (BSF).

Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh has reportedly told the Mongolian delegation that the two countries ought to cooperate in the interest of increasing the ‘effective prevention and detection’ of terrorism and crimes including drug trafficking, smuggling, and illegal arms trading. The Indian home minister had emphasised the commonalities in the terrain where the Mongolian GABP and Indian BSF operate.

The Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi set out to recast this policy as the ‘Act East Policy’, indicating a greater desire for actionable deliverables in India’s diplomacy with these countries.

To take relations to newer heights, the Indian prime minister may make an offer for the two forces to conduct joint exercises in future to increase operational, training, and technological exchange.

Uranium Supply Remains a Key

Uranium is another big ticket agenda for Modi’s official talks with his Mongolian interlocutors. Mongolia was among the first few countries to sign a uranium deal with India. Though India and Mongolia signed a civilian nuclear deal for uranium supplies way back on September 14, 2009, unfortunately India is still awaiting its first uranium supply from Mongolia. However, Mongolian uranium supply won’t materialise during PM Modi’s visit to that country. That’s because the Mongolian internal processes are still to be completed.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Mongolia visit should at best expedite this process, but India would still have to wait for its first uranium consignment.

Though India has enjoyed good diplomatic relations with Mongolia over years, but scope of bilateral cooperation, particularly on security and defence issues, has remain limited. Reports in the Indian press are eager to note that both India and Mongolia share borders with China. This is also something that the Indian home minister mentioned during his remarks to the Mongolian delegation. The inference to be drawn is that India’s offers of assistance to Mongolia could be directed at countering China’s influence over the landlocked Northeast Asian state. This, however, does not square with the current state of affairs between Mongolia and China. The two states continue to increase their bilateral engagement, and their trilateral cooperation with Russia most recently. Mongolia’s increasing cooperation with India is the product of a broader international push by the current government under President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, a leader known for his foreign policy activism.

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