Jacopo Dettoni in Almaty -
Mongolia's president Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj has ruled out any possibility of hosting a US military base on the country's territory, silencing speculation that followed US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel's visit to Ulaanbaatar last spring.
“When someone somewhere asks whether an American military base may appear on Mongolian territory, [I can say:] it will never be like that,” Russian news agency RIA quoted Elbegdorj as saying.
Mongolia's government has long pursued a “third neighbour” policy to develop ties with countries other than China and Russia, its largest trade partners and former colonial overlords. An increasing number of Western governments' representatives have visited Ulaanbaatar over the last few years, including among others then US president George W. Bush in 2005, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso in November 2013 and Hagel in April 2014.
Western business links have also deepened. A horde of Australian junior mining companies are exploring the country's soil looking for the next Oyu Tolgoi (OT), Mongolia's flagship copper-gold developed by another western company, British-Australian mining powerhouse Rio Tinto.
Mongolia has also strengthened military and security ties with the US and Nato. The country's sent troops to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and to Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. In the meantime, the Pentagon repeatedly deployed marines on Mongolia's territory to carry out military exercises with local troops. “We visited Mongolia to discuss increasing US help in their military modernisation programmes,” then Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was quoted as saying during a visit to Ulaanbaatar in 2005.
Elbegdorj has now played down any chance that such ties could eventually lead to the establishment of a US military base on Mongolia's territory, as it was rumoured during Hagel's visit in April. Elbegdorj remarked that the country's constitution bans any foreign military base on its territory and that the Mongolian population seem to consider Russia as the country's partner of choice when it comes to foreign policy.
As many as 53.3% of the people surveyed by local polling institute Santa Maral in March 2014 picked Russia as the best partner for Mongolia; 16.1% also indicated China as the second best partner, whereas only 9.6% of those surveyed mentioned the US as a possible second partner of choice.
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