Institute for Geopolitical Studies of Mongolia
June 4, 2018
The relationship between Mongolia and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a developing one. In 2001, when SCO first began its organizational goals, member countries cooperated on keeping the post-war status quo and counterterrorism intelligence sharing efforts.
Original member states include Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. In 2004, Mongolia became the first observer state at the Tashkent Summit. Having an observer states, like, Mongolia, expands the potential role of the SCO at a regional level, and depending on the leading actors, in this case, Russia, and China, there are possibilities of global expansion. On the other hand, for Mongolia to change its status from observer state to a member state requires realistic evaluation of the pros and cons politically, economically, and from a security standpoint. From an analytical perspective, Mongolia’s possible member status to the SCO highlights some opportunities and concerns coming from the Mongolian government and possibly some Western nations. While the decision is solely up to the government of Mongolia, some perspectives are worth mentioning and considering.
There are many speculations, debates, and narratives on why Mongolia should or should not become an SCO member state, but this article highlights three main arguments:
1) Neighboring Russia and China, Mongolia’s possibility of adopting member status to the SCO indicate a long-lasting economic gateway via two neighbors. At the same time, because of the controlled and very much selective inflow of economic aids and investments in only certain sectors, provided by Russia and China, this may gradually reduce the influence of Mongolia’s third neighbor foreign policy, specially with countries that have issues with Russia and China for political, economic, and geopolitical purposes.
2) According to the Council on Foreign Affairs based in Chicago, “Economic cooperation has become one of the organization’s more pressing goals in recent years. At the Ufa summit in Russia, member states adopted the SCO Development Strategy, which included bolstering finance, investment, and trade cooperation as a priority over the next ten years. Beijing has pushed the organization to focus on economic cooperation with proposals like launching a development fund and a free-trade zone.” As such, while SCO targets regional economic development within the member states, it prioritizes China’s One Road One Belt (OBOR) initiative and Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) at large. Hence, this will have an enormous effect on Mongolia’s economic goals and bilateral relations at large.
3) Another important question must be raised, how the West views these narratives and developments on Mongolia and SCO? To the IR experts, it is no secret that the US and its allies (South Korea, Japan, and India) in the Asia-Pacific have maritime, economic, and geopolitical issues with China. Although Mongolia is not part of the US alliance system in the Asia-Pacific, it is one of the leading democratic nations that support international peace efforts, democratic values and principles. From this standpoint, the US and its allies may not favor Mongolia’s possible member status to the SCO. Moreover, for the future sake, if Mongolia’s economic goals and achievements are bound to be limited by Russia’s EEU or China’s OBOR, the potential of the third neighbor foreign policy will be downgraded or further land-locked between only the two neighbors. Therefore, it is wise for the Mongolian government to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages very carefully before fully committing to SCO as a member state. While it is not the intention of the government to be part of any or all organization regionally and globally, it is highly suggested that if economic bilateral agreements can be achieved without committing to regional economic blocs, the state must pursue so. While all these are speculations and analyses, in any case, Mongolia will continue its good-neighbor relations with Russia and China and beyond SCO to strengthen economic ties.