Mongolia (09/03)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.



Area: 1,566,500 sq. km. (604,103 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Alaska (land boundaries 8,114 km.).
Terrain: Almost 90% of land area is pasture or desert wasteland, of varying usefulness; 1% arable; 9% forested.
Climate: Continental, with little precipitation and sharp seasonal fluctuations.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Mongolian(s).
Population (mid-2000): 2.65 million.
Annual growth rate (2000): 1.54%.
Health (2000): Infant mortality rate--41.2/1,000. Life expectancy--67.25 yrs.
Ethnic groups (1995): 85% Mongol (predominantly Khalkha), 7% Turkic (largest group, Kazakh) 4.6% Tungusic, and 3.4% others, including Chinese and Russian. Languages: Khalkha Mongol, more than 90%; minor languages include Kazakh, Chinese, and Russian.
Religions: Tibetan Buddhist Lamaism 96%, Muslim 4% (primarily in the southwest), and Shamanism.
Education: Years compulsory--8 (provided free by the government). Literacy--more than 85%.

Type: Parliamentary form of government, president second in authority to the State Great Hural.
Independence: 1921; democratic reform and shift from dependence on the former Soviet Union declared 1990.
Constitutions: 1960 and February 12, 1992.
Branches: Executive--power is divided between a president (elected by a popular election in May 1997) and prime minister (current cabinet nominated by the prime minister was formed in August 2000 by the State Great Hural, which was elected in July 2000). Legislative--State Great Hural (76 deputies). Judicial--Constitutional Court is empowered to supervise the implementation of the constitution, makes judgment on the violation of its provisions, and solves disputes. Legal code based on Continental and Russian law is under revision. No provision for judicial review of legislative acts. Legal education at Mongolian State Univ. and private universities. Mongolia accepts ICJ jurisdiction.
Political parties: 24 announced political parties (19 listed under "Government" section).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
Administrative subdivisions: 18 aimags (provinces) and 3 autonomous cities (Ulaanbaatar, Darhan, and Erdenet).

Flag: flag of mongolia

GDP (2002): $1108 million.
GDP growth (2002): 3.9%.
Per capita GDP (2002): $450.
Natural resources: Coal, copper, molybdenum, iron, phosphates, tin, nickel, zinc, wolfram, fluorspar, gold, uranium, petroleum.
Agriculture (21% of 2002 GDP, livelihood for about 40% of population): Products--livestock and byproducts, hay fodder, vegetables.
Industry (includes mining, manufacturing, utilities and construction, 24% of 2002 GDP): Types-- Minerals (primarily copper), animal-derived products, building materials, food/beverage.
Trade (2002): Exports--$524 million: livestock, animal products, minerals, and textiles. Markets-- China 42%, U.S. 31.6%, Russia 9%, Korea 4.3%, Japan 1.2%. ImportsSuppliers-- Russia 34.4%, China 24.3%, Japan 6.2%, U.S. 3.4%, Germany 4.4%.
Aid received: It is estimated that donors have given one and half billion in aid, loans, and technical assistance over the past decade.
Fiscal year: Calendar year.

Life in sparsely populated Mongolia has become more urbanized. Nearly half of the people live in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, and in other provincial centers. Seminomadic life still predominates in the countryside, but settled agricultural communities are becoming more common. Mongolia's birth rate is estimated at 1.4% (2000 census). About two-thirds of the total population are under age 30, 36% of whom are under 14.

Ethnic Mongols account for about 85% of the population and consist of Khalkha and other groups, all distinguished primarily by dialects of the Mongol language. Mongol is an Altaic language--from the Altaic Mountains of Central Asia, a language family comprising the Turkic, Tungusic, and Mongolic subfamilies--and is related to Turkic (Uzbek, Turkish, and Kazakh), Korean, and, possibly, Japanese. The Khalkha make up 90% of the ethnic Mongol population. The remaining 10% include Durbet Mongols and others in the north and Dariganga Mongols in the east. Turkic speakers (Kazakhs, Turvins, and Khotans) constitute 7% of Mongolia's population, and the rest are Tungusic-speakers, Chinese, and Russians. Most Russians left the country following the withdrawal of economic aid and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Traditionally, Tibetan Buddhist Lamaism was the predominant religion. However, it was suppressed under the communist regime until 1990, with only one showcase monastery allowed to remain. Since 1990, as liberalization began, Buddhism has enjoyed a resurgence. About 4 million Mongols live outside Mongolia; about 3.4 million live in China, mainly in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and some 500,000 live in Russia, primarily in Buryatia and Kalmykia.

In 1203 AD, a single Mongolian state was formed based on nomadic tribal groupings under the leadership of Genghis Khan. He and his immediate successors conquered nearly all of Asia and European Russia and sent armies as far as central Europe and Southeast Asia. Genghis Khan's grandson Kublai Khan, who conquered China and established the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368 AD), gained fame in Europe through the writings of Marco Polo.

Although Mongol-led confederations sometimes exercised wide political power over their conquered territories, their strength declined rapidly after the Mongol dynasty in China was overthrown in 1368. The Manchus, a tribal group which conquered China in 1644 and formed the Qing dynasty, were able to bring Mongolia under Manchu control in 1691 as Outer Mongolia when the Khalkha Mongol nobles swore an oath of allegiance to the Manchu emperor. The Mongol rulers of Outer Mongolia enjoyed considerable autonomy under the Manchus, and all Chinese claims to Outer Mongolia following the establishment of the republic have rested on this oath. In 1727, Russia and Manchu China concluded the Treaty of Khiakta, delimiting the border between China and Mongolia that exists in large part today.

Outer Mongolia was a Chinese province (1691-1911), an autonomous state under Russian protection (1912-19), and again a Chinese province (1919-21). As Manchu authority in China waned, and as Russia and Japan confronted each other, Russia gave arms and diplomatic support to nationalists among the Mongol religious leaders and nobles. The Mongols accepted Russian aid and proclaimed their independence of Chinese rule in 1911, shortly after a successful Chinese revolt against the Manchus. By agreements signed in 1913 and 1915, the Russian Government forced the new Chinese Republican Government to accept Mongolian autonomy under continued Chinese control, presumably to discourage other foreign powers from approaching a newly independent Mongolian state that might seek support from as many foreign sources as possible.

The Russian revolution and civil war afforded Chinese warlords an opportunity to re-establish their rule in Outer Mongolia, and Chinese troops were dispatched there in 1919. Following Soviet military victories over White Russian forces in the early 1920s and the occupation of the Mongolian capital Urga in July 1921, Moscow again became the major outside influence on Mongolia. The Mongolian People's Republic was proclaimed on November 25, 1924.

Between 1925 and 1928, power under the communist regime was consolidated by the Mongolian Peoples Revolutionary Party (MPRP). The MPRP left gradually undermined rightist elements, seizing control of the party and the government. Several factors characterized the country during this period: The society was basically nomadic and illiterate; there was no industrial proletariat; the aristocracy and the religious establishment shared the country's wealth; there was widespread popular obedience to traditional authorities; the party lacked grassroots support; and the government had little organization or experience.

In an effort at swift socioeconomic reform, the leftist government applied extreme measures which attacked the two most dominant institutions in the country--the aristocracy and the religious establishment. Between 1932 and 1945, their excess zeal, intolerance, and inexperience led to anti-communist uprisings. In the late 1930s, purges directed at the religious institution resulted in the desecration of hundreds of Buddhist institutions and imprisonment of more than 10,000 people.

During World War II, because of a growing Japanese threat over the Mongolian-Manchurian border, the Soviet Union reversed the course of Mongolian socialism in favor of a new policy of economic gradualism and buildup of the national defense. The Soviet-Mongolian army defeated Japanese forces that had invaded eastern Mongolia in the summer of 1939, and a truce was signed setting up a commission to define the Mongolian-Manchurian border in the autumn of that year.

Following the war, the Soviet Union reasserted its influence in Mongolia. Secure in its relations with Moscow, the Mongolian Government shifted to postwar development, focusing on civilian enterprise. International ties were expanded, and Mongolia established relations with North Korea and the new communist governments in eastern Europe. It also increased its participation in communist-sponsored conferences and international organizations. Mongolia became a member of the United Nations in 1961.

In the early 1960s, Mongolia attempted to maintain a neutral position amidst increasingly contentious Sino-Soviet polemics; this orientation changed in the middle of the decade. Mongolia and the Soviet Union signed an agreement in 1966 that introduced largescale Soviet ground forces as part of Moscow's general buildup along the Sino-Soviet frontier.

During the period of Sino-Soviet tensions, relations between Mongolia and China deteriorated. In 1983, Mongolia systematically began expelling some of the 7,000 ethnic Chinese in Mongolia to China. Many of them had lived in Mongolia since the 1950s, when they were sent there to assist in construction projects.

Chronology of Mongolian History 1921-Present
March 13, 1921: Provisional People's Government declares independence of Mongolia.
May 31, 1924: U.S.S.R. signs agreement with Peking government, referring to Outer Mongolia as an "integral part of the Republic of China," whose "sovereignty" therein the Soviet Union promises to respect.
May-September 16, 1939: Largescale fighting takes place between Japanese and Soviet-Mongolian forces along Khalkhyn Gol on Mongolia-Manchuria border, ending in defeat of the Japanese expeditionary force. Truce negotiated between U.S.S.R. and Japan.
October 6, 1949: Newly established People's Republic of China accepts recognition accorded Mongolia and agrees to establish diplomatic relations.
October 1961: Mongolia becomes a member of the United Nations.
January 27, 1987: Diplomatic relations established with the United States.
December 1989: First popular reform demonstrations. Mongolian Democratic Association organized.
January 1990: Largescale demonstrations demanding democracy held in sub-zero weather.
March 2, 1990: Soviets and Mongolians announce that all Soviet troops will be withdrawn from Mongolia by 1992.
May 1990: Constitution amended to provide for multi-party system and new elections.
July 29, 1990: First democratic elections held.
September 3, 1990:First democratically elected People's Great Hural takes office.
February 12, 1992: New constitution goes into effect.
April 8, 1992: New election law passed.
June 28, 1992: Election for the first unicameral legislature (State Great Hural).
June 6, 1993: First direct presidential election.
June 30, 1996: Election of first noncommunist government.
July 2, 2000: Election of the former communist Mongolian Peoples Revolutionary Party (MPRP); formation of new government by Prime Minister N. Enkhbayar.

Until 1990, the Mongolian Government was modeled on the Soviet system; only the communist party--the MPRP--officially was permitted to function. After some instability during the first two decades of communist rule in Mongolia, there was no significant popular unrest until December 1989. Collectivization of animal husbandry, introduction of agriculture, and the extension of fixed abodes were all carried out without perceptible popular opposition.

The birth of perestroika in the former Soviet Union and the democracy movement in eastern Europe were mirrored in Mongolia. The dramatic shift toward reform started in early 1990 when the first organized opposition group, the Mongolian Democratic Union, appeared. In the face of extended street protests in subzero whether and popular demands for faster reform, the politburo of the MPRP resigned in March 1990. In May, the constitution was amended, deleting reference to the MPRP's role as the guiding force in the country, legalizing opposition parties, creating a standing legislative body, and establishing the office of president.

Mongolia's first multi-party elections for a People's Great Hural were held on July 29, 1990. The MPRP won 85% of the seats. The People's Great Hural first met on September 3 and elected a president (MPRP), vice president (SDP--Social Democrats), prime minister (MPRP), and 50 members to the Baga Hural (small Hural). The vice president also was chairman of the Baga Hural. In November 1991, the People's Great Hural began discussion on a new constitution, which entered into force February 12. In addition to establishing Mongolia as an independent, sovereign republic and guaranteeing a number of rights and freedoms, the new constitution restructured the legislative branch of government, creating a unicameral legislature, the State Great Hural (SGH).

The 1992 constitution provided that the president would be elected by popular vote rather than by the legislature as before. In June 1993, incumbent Punsalmaagiyn Ochirbat won the first popular presidential election running as the candidate of the democratic opposition.

As the supreme government organ, the SGH is empowered to enact and amend laws, determine domestic and foreign policy, ratify international agreements, and declare a state of emergency. The SGH meets semiannually. SGH members elect a chairman and vice chairman who serve 4-year terms. SGH members are popularly elected by district for 4-year terms.

The president is the head of state, commander in chief of the armed forces, and head of the National Security Council. He is popularly elected by a national majority for a 4-year term and limited to two terms. The constitution empowers the president to propose a prime minister, call for the government's dissolution, initiate legislation, veto all or parts of legislation (the SGH can override the veto with a two-thirds majority), and issue decrees, which become effective with the prime minister's signature. In the absence, incapacity, or resignation of the president, the SGH chairman exercises presidential power until inauguration of a newly elected president.

The government, headed by the prime minister, has a 4-year term. The prime minister is nominated by the president and confirmed by the SGH. The prime minister chooses a cabinet, subject to SGH approval. Dissolution of the government occurs upon the prime minister's resignation, simultaneous resignation of half the cabinet, or after an SGH vote for dissolution.

Local hurals are elected by the 18 aimags (provinces) plus the capital, Ulaanbaatar, and cities of Darhan and Erdenet. On the next lower administrative level, they are elected by provincial subdivisions and urban subdistricts in Ulaanbaatar and the municipalities, Darhan and Erdenet.

Political Parties
Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party
Democratic Party
Mongolian Green Party
Mongolian People's Party
Mongolian Republican Party
Mongolian Workers' Party
Mongolian Traditional United Party
Mongolian Solidarity Party
Mongolian Party for Tradition and Justice
Mongolian Democratic Socialist Party
Mongolian Youth Party
Mongolian Liberal Democratic Party
Mongolian Democratic New Socialist Party
Mongolian Communist Party
Mongolian Local Development Party
Mongolian Civil Democratic New Liberal Party
Mongolian Civil Courage Party
Mongolian New Social Democratic Party
Mongolian United Ethnographical Party

Legal System
The new constitution empowered a General Council of Courts (GCC) to select all judges and protect their rights. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial body. Justices are nominated by the GCC and confirmed by the SGH and president. The court is constitutionally empowered to examine all lower court decisions--excluding specialized court rulings--upon appeal and provide official interpretations on all laws except the constitution.

Specialized civil, criminal, and administrative courts exist at all levels and are not subject to Supreme Court supervision. Local authorities--district and city governors--ensure that these courts abide by presidential decrees and SGH decisions. At the apex of the judicial system is the Constitutional Court, which consists of nine members, including a chairman, appointed for 6-year terms, whose jurisdiction extends solely over the interpretation of the constitution.

Principal Government Officials
President--Natsagiyn Bagabandi
Prime Minister--Nambaryn Enkhbayar

Mongolia maintains an embassy in the United States at 2833 M Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20007; tel. (202) 333-7117, fax (202) 298-9227.

The rapid political changes of 1990-91 marked the beginning of Mongolia's efforts to develop a market economy, but these efforts have been complicated and disrupted by the dissolution and continuing deterioration of the economy of the former Soviet Union. Prior to 1991, 80% of Mongolia's trade was with the former Soviet Union, and 15% was with other Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) countries. Mongolia was heavily dependent upon the former Soviet Union for fuel, medicine, and spare parts for its factories and power plants.

The former U.S.S.R. also served as the primary market for Mongolian industry. In the 1980s, Mongolia's industrial sector became increasingly important. By 1989, it accounted for an estimated 34% of material products, compared to 18% from agriculture. However, minerals, animals, and animal-derived products still constitute a large proportion of the country's exports. Principal imports included machinery, petroleum, cloth, and building materials.

In the late 1980s, the government began to improve links with noncommunist Asia and the West, and a tourism sector developed. As of January 1, 1991, Mongolia and the former Soviet Union agreed to conduct bilateral trade in hard currency at world prices.

Despite its external trade difficulties, Mongolia has continued to press ahead with reform. Privatization of small shops and enterprises is largely complete, and most prices have been freed. Privatization of large state enterprises has begun. Tax reforms also have begun, and the barter and official exchange rates were unified in early 1992.

Between 1990 and 1993, Mongolia suffered triple-digit inflation, rising unemployment, shortages of basic goods, and food rationing. During that period, economic output contracted by one-third. As market reforms and private enterprise took hold, economic growth began again in 1994-95. Unfortunately, since this growth was fueled in part by over-allocation of bank credit, especially to the remaining state-owned enterprises, economic growth was accompanied by a severe weakening of the banking sector. GDP grew by about 6% in 1995, thanks largely to a boom in copper prices. Average real economic growth leveled off to about 3.5% in 1996-99 due to the Asian financial crisis, the collapse of the Russian ruble in mid-1999, and worsening commodity prices, especially copper and gold.

Mongolia's GDP growth fell from 3.2% in 1999 to 1.1% in 2000 and 1.0% in 2001. The disappointing results can be attributed to the loss of 2.4 million livestock in bad weather and natural disasters in 2000 and 2001. Prospects for development outside the traditional reliance on nomadic, livestock-based agriculture are constrained by Mongolia's landlocked location and lack of basic infrastructure. Mongolia's best hope for accelerated growth is to attract more foreign investment. From 1990 to 2002, more than 2,399 foreign companies from 72 countries have invested a total of $660.5 million in Mongolia. Many believe this number could be dramatically increased if investors had more confidence that their investments would be adequately protected.

As a result of rapid urbanization and industrial growth policies under the communist regime, Mongolia's deteriorating environment has become a major concern. The burning of soft coal coupled with thousands of factories in Ulaanbaatar has resulted in severely polluted air. Deforestation, overgrazed pastures, and efforts to increase grain and hay production by plowing up more virgin land has increased soil erosion from wind and rain. Most recently, with the rapid growth of newly privatized herds, overgrazing in selected areas also is a concern.

In the wake of the international socialist economic system's collapse and the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, Mongolians began to pursue an independent and nonaligned foreign policy. The Prime Minister called for coexistence with all nations, and Mongolia follows a general policy of expanding relations with as many countries as possible.

Due to Mongolia's landlocked position between the new independent states (NIS) of the former Soviet Union and China, it was essential to continue and improve relations with these countries. At the same time, Mongolia is reaching out to advance its regional and global relations.

As part of its aim to establish a more balanced nonaligned foreign policy, Mongolia is seeking active supporters and friends beyond its neighbors and looking to take a more active role in the United Nations and other international organizations. While it is downgrading relations with most of its former east European allies, it is pursuing a more active role in Asian and northeast Asian affairs. Mongolia is seeking to join APEC and became a full participant in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in July 1998. Mongolia became a full member of the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council in April 2000.

Mongolian relations with China began to improve in the mid-1980s when consular agreements were reached and crossborder trade contacts expanded. In 1989, China and Mongolia exchanged visits of foreign ministers. In May 1990, a Mongolian head of state visited China for the first time in 28 years. The cornerstone of the Mongolian-Chinese relationship is a 1994 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, which codifies mutual respect for the independence and territorial integrity of both sides. Today, relations between Mongolia and China are correct. The two foreign ministers exchanged visits in 1997, as did the leaders of the two countries' parliaments. President Jiang Zemin visited Mongolia in July 1999.

Mongolia is expanding relations with Japan and South Korea. Its Prime Minister visited Japan in March 1990 and Prime Minister Obuchi reciprocated with a visit to Mongolia in July 1999. Japan has provided more than $120 million in grants and loans since 1991 and coordinated international assistance to Mongolia. Diplomatic relations were established with South Korea in 1991, and during the Mongolian President's visit, seven agreements and treaties were signed, providing the legal basis for further expanding bilateral relations. Japan is Mongolia's largest bilateral aid donor. In 2001 President Bagabandi made state visits to India and Nepal.

After the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, Mongolia developed relations with the NIS. Links with Russia and other republics were essential to contribute to stabilization of the Mongolian economy. The primary difficulties in developing fruitful coordination occurred because the NIS were experiencing the same political and economic restructuring as Mongolia. Despite these difficulties, Mongolia and Russia successfully negotiated both a 1991 Joint Declaration of Cooperation and a bilateral trade agreement. This was followed by a 1993 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation establishing a new basis of equality in the relationship. Mongolian President Bagabandi visited Moscow in 1999, and Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Mongolia in 2000 in order to sign the 25-point Ulaanbaatar Declaration, reaffirming Mongol-Russian friendship and cooperation on numerous economic and political issues. Russia claims that Mongolia owes it $10 billion for assistance rendered during the Soviet period. To date, this dispute has not been resolved.

Mongolia seeks closer relations with countries in Europe and hopes to receive most-favored-nation status from the European Union (EU). During 1991, Mongolia signed investment promotion and protection agreements with Germany and France and an economic cooperation agreement with the United Kingdom. Germany continued former east German cooperative programs and also provided loans and aid. The Prime Minister has traveled to Germany, France, Belgium, and EU headquarters in Brussels seeking economic cooperation. President Bagabandi visited several European capitals in 1999-2000.

The U.S. Government recognized Mongolia in January 1987 and established its first embassy in Ulaanbaatar in June 1988. It formally opened in September 1988. The first U.S. ambassador to Mongolia, Richard L. Williams, was not resident there; Joseph E. Lake, the first resident ambassador, arrived in July 1990. Secretary of State James A. Baker, III, visited Mongolia in August 1990, and again in July 1991. Mongolia accredited its first ambassador to the United States in March 1989. More recently, Secretary of State Madeline Albright visited Mongolia in May 1998, and Prime Minister Enkhbayar visited Washington in November 2001.

The United States has sought to assist Mongolia's movement toward democracy and market-oriented reform and to expand relations with Mongolia primarily in the cultural and economic fields. The United States granted Mongolia most-favored-nation status and has supported Mongolia's transition to political democracy and a market economy. In 1989 and 1990, a cultural accord, Peace Corps accord, consular convention, and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) agreement were signed. A trade agreement was signed in January 1991 and a bilateral investment treaty in 1994. Mongolia was granted permanent NTR status and GSP eligibility in June 1999.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided more than $100 million over the past 7 years in technical assistance and training for Mongolia's democratic and economic reform program. Of that total, some $38 million has gone for emergency energy assistance, which has been instrumental in keeping Mongolia's power and heating system operable through the country's harsh winters. By FY 2000, rural development replaced energy as USAID's main program emphasis. Nearly half of USAID's annual program--$10.8 million in FY 1999 and $12 million in FY 2000--is devoted to the Gobi Regional Economic Growth Initiative and the farmer-to-farmer program of ACDI/VOCA.

The U.S. also is directly supporting Mongolia's democratization by working with U.S. nongovernmental organizations to provide training for parliamentary committee organization and constituent service and has recently launched a program to establish public affairs organizations and legislative relations offices in every ministry. U.S. assistance also provided technical assistance for the drafting of the 1992 constitution, nonpartisan voter education guides, and an election-observer mission for the July 2000 elections.

The United States provides support for the Mongolian Government's economic reforms through its Economic Policy Support Project that includes a full-time American policy adviser in the prime minister's office. The adviser has worked closely with the Government of Mongolia to set the policy agenda of the current government and provides policy advice and expert technical assistance for the government's major reform initiatives, including privatization, energy, pension, and banking reforms.

The Peace Corps currently has more than 80 volunteers in Mongolia. They are engaged primarily in English teaching and teacher training activities. At the request of the Government of Mongolia, the Peace Corps has developed programs in the areas of public health and the environment.

Principal U.S. Embassy Official
Ambassador--Pamela J. Slutz

The U.S. Embassy is located in Micro Region 11, Big Ring Road, Ulaanbaatar; tel. [976] (1) 329-095 or 329-606, fax 320-776. Consular and commercial information also is available at the embassy's Web site.

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.