BACKGROUND NOTES: MONGOLIA
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
US DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Official Name: Mongolia
Area: 1,566,500 sq. km. (604,103 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Alaska
(land boundaries 8,114 km.). Cities: Capital--Ulaanbaatar (pop.
575,000). Other cities--Darhan (90,000), Erdenet (58,000). 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 (1992): 2.3
million. Annual growth rate (1992): 2.6%. Health: Infant mortality
rate (1992)--47/1,000. Life expectancy (1992)--63-68 yrs. Ethnic
groups (1989): 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 94%, Muslim 6% (primarily in the southwest), and Shamanism.
Education: Years compulsory--8 (provided free by the government). The
traditional Mongolian script has been revived, and there are plans to
officially replace Cyrillic by 1994. Literacy--more than 90%.
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 divided between a president (elected by a
popular election in June 1993) and prime minister (cabinet nominated by
the new prime minister was formed in Aug. 1992 by the State Great Hural
which was elected in June 1992). 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 under revision. No
provision for judicial review of legislative acts. Legal education at
Mongolian State Univ. Recently, Mongolia began accepting ICJ
Political parties: 11 announced political parties (see box pg. 5).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
Administrative subdivisions: 18 aimags (provinces) and 3 autonomous
cities (Ulaanbaatar, Darhan, and Erdenet).
Flag: Three vertical bands--red, sky-blue, red; on the left red band
the Mongolian national emblem, in yellow.
GDP: $2.2 billion (1992). Per capita GDP: $998 (1992).
Natural resources: Coal, copper, molybdenum, iron, phosphates, tin,
nickel, zinc, wolfram, fluorspar, gold, uranium, petroleum.
Agriculture: 22% of 1992 GDP, livelihood for approximately 50% of
population (1992). Products--livestock, wheat, oats, barley, hay
Industry: 34% of 1992 GDP; minerals (primarily copper), animal-derived
products, building materials, food/beverage, mining (esp. coal);
industrial growth rate in 1991 fell 12%.
Trade: Exports (1992, $400 million)--livestock, animal products, wool,
hides, fluorspar, nonferrous metals, minerals. Imports (1992, $368
million)--machinery and equipment, fuels, food products, industrial
consumer goods, tea, chemicals, building equipment, sugar. Partners
(1992)--Russia and other NIS states, 55%; China, 14%; Japan, 7.6%;
Germany, 4%; Switzerland, 3%; U.S., 0.7% ($13 million, 1991).
Aid received: Donors promised $325 million in aid, loans, and
assistance at 1992 Tokyo Donor's Conference (millions): Japan, $68;
U.S., $35; Republic of Korea, $15; Germany, $9; U.K., $5; European
Official exchange rate (July 1993): 399 tugriks=U.S.$1.
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. Nomadic life still predominates in the countryside,
but settled agricultural communities are becoming more common.
Mongolia's birth rate is estimated at 3.3%. About three-fourths of the
total population are under age 30, 45% of whom are under 16. Forty-
nine percent of all children are pre-school age. More than 50,000
families have five or more children.
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) related to Turkic (Uzbek, Turkish,
and Kazakh), Korean, and, possibly, Japanese. The Khalkha make up 90%
of the 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. Many
Russians left the country following Mongolia's declaration of
*Mongol is an Altaic language (from the Altaic Mountains of Central
Asia--a language family comprising the Turkic, Tungusic, and Mongolic
subfamilies) related to Turkic (Uzbek, Turkish, and Kazakh), Korean,
and, possibly, Japanese.
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
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, Moscow again
became the major outside influence on Mongolia. The Mongolian People's
Republic (M.P.R.) was proclaimed on November 25, 1924.
Between 1925 and 1928, M.P.R. power under the communist regime was
consolidated. The M.P.R. 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.
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
build-up 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 post-war 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. The M.P.R. and the Soviet Union
signed an agreement in 1966, which introduced large-scale Soviet ground
forces to part of Moscow's general build-up along the Sino-Soviet
During the period of Sino-Soviet tensions, relations between Mongolia
and China also deteriorated. In 1983, the M.P.R. systematically began
expelling some of the 7,000 ethnic Chinese in Mongolia to China. Many
of them had lived in the M.P.R. since the 1950s, when they were sent
there to assist in construction projects.
Many factors may have motivated this shift: a historical Mongolian
antipathy for the Chinese; continued tensions on the Sino-Mongolian
border (despite a 1964 demarcation); statements attributed to Beijing
suggesting a continued interest among some Chinese for re-annexing
Mongolia; Russia's historical counterbalancing of Chinese influence; and
heavy Mongolian dependence on Soviet economic aid.
Chronology of Mongolian History 1921-Present
March 13, 1921: Provisional People's Government declares independence
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
May-September 16, 1939: Large-scale fighting takes place between
Japanese and Soviet-Mongolian forces along Khalkhyn Gol on M.P.R.-
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 M.P.R. and agrees to establish diplomatic
October 1961: Mongolia becomes a member of the United Nations.
January 27, 1987: Diplomatic relations established with the United
December 1989: First popular reform demonstrations. Mongolian
Democratic Association organized.
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
July 29, 1990: First democratic elections held.
September 3, 1990: First democratically elected People's Great Hural
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
June 6, 1993: First direct presidential election.
Until 1990, the Mongolian Government was modeled on the Soviet system.
Until May 1990, only the communist party--the Mongolian People's
Revolutionary Party (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
The birth of perestroika in the former Soviet Union and the democracy
movement in Eastern Europe were mirrored in Mongolia. The first
demonstrations were held in Ulaanbaatar in December 1989; the
development of this democracy movement brought swift and peaceful
changes in Mongolia. The government adopted a positive approach toward
The dramatic shift toward reform actually started in 1990. At that
time, the first organized opposition group, the Mongolian Democratic
Union, appeared. In the face of popular demands for faster reform, the
leadership 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 (Baga Hural--small Hural), and establishing the office
of president. Mongolia's first multi-party elections were held on July
A People's Great Hural was elected on July 29, 1990. The MPRP won 85%
of the seats. It first met on September 3 and elected a president
(MPRP), vice president (SDP--Social Democrats--also chairman of the Baga
Hural), prime minister (MPRP), and 50 members to the Baga Hural.
In November 1991, the Great Hural began discussion of 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 constitution also provides that the president will 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 an opposition candidate. 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 semi-annually. 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 first SGH was
elected on June 28, 1992. The MPRP won about 57% of the popular vote,
but won 70 of 76 seats in the SGH.
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
-- Bourgeois Party (Bourgeois)
-- Buddhist Democratic Party
-- Green Party (Greens)
-- Mongolian National Democratic Party (MNDP)
-- Mongolian Independence Party (Independence)
-- Mongolian People's Party (MPP)
-- Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP)
-- Mongolian Worker's Party (MWP)
-- Social Democratic Party (SDP)
-- United Party of Farmers and Herdsmen (Herdsmen)
-- United Party of Private Property Owners (PPOP)
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--Puntsagiyn Jasray
Minister of External Relations--Tserenpiliyn Gombosuren
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
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.
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 non-
communist 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.
Prospects for development away from reliance on nomadic, livestock-based
agriculture are constrained by Mongolia's land-locked location and lack
of basic infrastructure. Mongolia's best hope for accelerated growth is
to attract more foreign investment by further liberalizing the economy
and expanding trade with non-traditional partners. A new foreign
investment law designed to provide increased incentive to investors was
enacted in mid-1993.
Foreign aid has been necessary, and, in the past, the former Soviet
Union was the principal source of aid and credit. Mongolia's estimated
debt to the former Soviet Union in 1992 was more than $10 billion in
transferable rubles. Considerable technical assistance also came from
the former Soviet Union and East European countries. Mongolia is
seeking foreign assistance and investment from the West and
international financial institutions to replace former Soviet bloc aid
and to promote development of a market economy.
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. The government responded by founding the Ministry
of Environmental Protection in 1987 and by increasing publicity on
In the wake of the collapse of the international socialist economic
system and the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, Mongolians
began to pursue an independent and non-aligned foreign policy. The
prime minister called for co-existence with all nations. Due to
Mongolia's landlocked position between the newly independent republics
and China, it was essential to continue and improve relations with these
Mongolian relations with China began to improve in the mid-1980s when
consular agreements were reached and cross-border 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. In 1991, the Chinese President and Executive
Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Yang Shangkun, visited
Mongolia, marking the first visit by a Chinese head of state. Several
agreements were signed during the visit. Yang praised the establishment
of direct ties between a number of Mongolian ministries, organizations,
local areas and private firms, and their Chinese counterparts. The
Mongolian premier visited Beijing in May 1992. That month, the Chinese
and Mongolians signed an agreement establishing new border-crossing
After the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, Mongolia developed
relations with the new independent states (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. The
Prime Minister's visit of March 1992 resulted in an Inter-governmental
Commission on Trade and Cooperation, allowing faster transport of goods
and exempting Mongolian exports from Russian customs duties. Soviet
troop withdrawals from Mongolia began in 1987 and were completed in
September 1992. In April 1992, the Russian Ambassador presented his
credentials to the Mongolian Prime Minister. President Ochirbat's
January 1993 trip to Moscow resulted in a new treaty on friendly
Mongolia aims to establish a more balanced non-aligned foreign policy.
It is expanding relations with Japan and South Korea. Mongolia's Prime
Minister visited Japan in March 1990. Mongolia's President attended
Emperor Akihito's coronation, and Japan's Prime Minister visited
Mongolia in August 1991. The Mongols expressed great appreciation for
the $67 million in grants and loans that Japan provided as well as
Japan's coordination of 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. In April 1992, a Mongolian delegation attended its first
forum of Parliament leaders of countries of Asia and the Pacific in
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. Mongolia seeks
closer relations with other countries in Europe and hopes to receive
most-favored-nation status from the European Community (EC). The prime
minister traveled to Germany, France, Belgium, and EC headquarters in
Brussels seeking economic cooperation.
Mongolians, in pursuing a general policy of expanding relations with as
many countries as possible, have made official visits (high-level
officials and/or parliamentarians) to other countries, including
Australia, Nepal, the Philippines, and Pakistan, and have established
diplomatic relations with a number of nations, even those as far flung
as Oman and Brunei, among others. Israel accredited an ambassador to
Mongolia from Tokyo.
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, and will be succeeded by Donald
Johnson. 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. Prime Minister Jasray
visited the United States and met with Secretary Christopher in June
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 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 also has been signed.
In 1991, the U.S. Agency for International Development initiated a
program of technical assistance and training in Mongolia. The United
States also provided about 25,000 tons of wheat and flour in 1992 to
help alleviate a severe food shortage. For FY 1993, the United States
has provided Mongolia with $10.3 million in infrastructure and
developmental assistance and $17 million in food and commodity
assistance, including 25,000 metric tons of wheat.
With strong support from the United States, Mongolia joined the
International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Asian Development
Bank in early 1991. All three institutions are providing technical,
financial, and project aid. The United States worked closely with Japan
and the international organizations to organize four donor group
meetings during 1991-93, which succeeded in raising and coordinating
substantial financial and development assistance for Mongolia. (###)
Department of State Publication 7955
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