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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 32 New Delhi August 1, 2015

Dynamics of India-Mongolia Relations: Spiritual Neighbour to Strategic Partner in Post-Cold War Era

Friday 31 July 2015

by Madan Yadav


Geopolitical and geo-economic factors, strategic counter-balance against China in Central Asia and South-East Asia are the new dynamic approach of Indian diplomacy with Mongolia in international relations. The recent visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has changed the discourse of bilateral relations with Mongolia. He is the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Mongolia. India and Mongolia are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the forging of their diplomatic relations in 2015. India is the hallmark of the largest liberal democracy, while Mongolia is a young democratic and parliamentary republic in the world commu-nity. India and Mongolia are among the fast growing emerging economies in Asia.

Mongolia has also held the presidency of the ‘Community of Democracies’ in 2011-2013. The ‘Community of Democracies’ is a new global inter-governmental coalition of democratic states for promotion of democratic norms and institutions around the world.1 During the Cold War, Mongolia was a close Soviet ally but emerged as a democratic state after the disintegration of the USSR in 1991.

India-Mongolia relations have shifted from spiritual neighbour to strategic partnership; reflect the realism of international politics in the post-Cold war era. Under PM Modi, India has increased its engagement in South-East Asia including China’s neighbours and transformed the ‘Look East Policy’ to ‘Act East Policy’. Mongolia is an emerging strategic partner.

Mongolia is situated at the geographical heartland of Asia. It is located at the cross-roads of Central Asia, North-East Asia, and Far-East Asia, Russia and China. Mongolia also links the ‘Great Silk Road’ and ‘Eurasian Steppe Corridor’ and connects the East and West.2 It is known for its rich natural resources and educated human resource in the South-East Asian states. Mongolia is popularly known outside as ‘Outer Mongolia’ in the global geographical-political map. Being a neighbour of China, Mongolia remains an important factor in India’s ‘Act East’ policy in the South-East Asian region.

Mongolia has a ‘Third Neighbour Policy’, which is a fundamental framework of Mongolia’s multi-pillar foreign policy for mutual cooperation with major powers that could help it to maintain strategic balance against its powerful neighbours, China and Russia.3 Buddhism is the glue and remains in the forefront for enhancement of the historical and cultural connectivity between India and Mongolia.

Mongolia is a historical ‘spiritual neighbour’ of India, which has been accorded a status higher than the third neighbour under Mongolia’s new approach of ‘Third Neighbour Policy’ in its foreign policy in the post-Cold war era.4 India and Mongolia share common values and understanding on a wide range of issues. Therefore, there is potential scope for future strategic cooperation.

Historical and Cultural Relations

India and Mongolia enjoy civilisational links and cultural connectivity covering over 2700 years of history. The foundation of the historical relations is based on ancient literatures, languages, medicine, folklore, religion, especially Buddhism, social and cultural traditions. Buddhism was the first bridge to connect India and Mongolia in the Hun period of 3rd century. The historical ‘Nalanda University’ was one of the favourite learning places for the Mongolian monks in India during the 5th-8th centuries. The great ruler of Mongol Empire, ‘Chinggis Khan’, did not conquer India because India was a sacred land of Buddhism. Popular and holy books of India like Ramayana and Mahbharata are a part of Mongolian literature along with other Indian famous stories of Bhoja, Vikramaditya etc.5 Indian literary works, especially Godan, Gaban, Kamasutra, Shakuntala, important Vedic and religious books including Buddhist scriptures of Indian origin have been published in Mongolian literature. Popular Hindi films and religious TV serials, including Mahabharata, Ramayana, have been dubbed in Mongolian and telecast on Ulaanbaatar TV.6

Mongolia was one of the countries which participated in the First Asian Relations Conference held under Jawaharlal Nehru’s initiative in March 1947.7 India was the first country outside the Soviet bloc to establish political and diplomatic relations with Mongolia in December 1955. India had also supported Mongolia for its UN and NAM memberships.8 There have been regular high level bilateral visits from both sides since 1955. Indian Vice-President S. Radhakrishan paid the first visit to Mongolia in 1957. The Chairman of Mongolian Presidium, U. Tsendenbal, visited India in 1959 and lastly President Ts Elebegdorj visited India in 2009.9

India and Mongolia signed the ‘Indo-Mongolian Joint Declaration’ when the Mongolian Prime Minister paid a visit to India in 1973. India and Mongolia signed the ‘Treaty for Friendly Relations and Cooperation’ during Mongolian President P. Ochirbat’s visit to India in 1994.10

Prime Minister Modi has highlighted the spiritual links during his recent visit to Mongolia. He visited the ‘Ganden monastery’ and also inaugurated the colourful and vibrant ‘mini—Naadam festival’ in Ulaanbaatar. He also addressed the Mongolian Parliament ‘State Great Hural’, a rare honour for a foreign leader in Mongolia’s history. The Mongolian Prime Minister gifted a horse to the Indian Prime Minster; this is a symbol of Mongolian great culture.11 Mongolia has also a small number of Indian diaspora.

Economic Relations

Mongolia has enormous natural and energy resources. The Mongolian economy has transformed from the Soviet style to the market economic model in 1991. Coincidentally India’s economic reforms too were launched in 1991. Mongolia is the largest landlocked country; therefore, Mongolian foreign trade relations have been dependent heavily on Russia and China. China is its largest trading partner and dominates the Mongolian market. India and Mongolia have been enhancing their economic cooperation after signing the ‘Treaty of Friendly Relations and Cooperation’ during the visit of Mongolian President Ochirbat in India in February 1994.

India is emerging as a significant trading partner of Mongolia. India and Mongolia have granted Most Favored Nations (MFN) status to each other with reference to custom duties and all other taxes on export and imports under the bilateral trade and economic agreement in 1996. India and Mongolia have also signed an ‘Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement’ during President Bagabandi’s visit to India in 2001.12

Indian exports to Mongolia mainly include medicines, animal vaccines, mining machinery, auto parts, silk, jute, yarn, dying chemicals, etc., while imports from Mongolia are raw wool, fluorspar, hides and skins.13

India has also established a Rajiv Gandhi Polytechnic College for Production and Art (RGPCPA) in Ulaanbaatar for vocational training. India has set up the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Centre for Excellence (ABVCE) in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and five Community Information Centres (CICs) in different provinces of Mongolia since 2001.14 India has further agreed to upgrade and expand these facilities in all provinces of Mongolia during the visit of Prime Minister Modi in 2015. India granted a line of credit of US $ 20 million for Joint Information Technology Education and established an outsourcing centre in Ulaanbaatar during President Pratibha Patil’s visit to Mongolia in 2011.

Prime Minister Modi has extended US $ 1 billion line of credit for infrastructure develop-ment in Mongolia during his recent visit this year. India and Mongolia have also signed 14 agreements for closer cooperation in renewable energy, dairy production, cyber security, air services, culture etc.15

 India-Mongolia bilateral trade has gained new heights from US $17.4 million in 2010 to US $ 35 million in 2013.16

Defence and Strategic Cooperation


Mongolia is sandwiched between two dominant and influential powers—Russia and China. Ulaanbaatar has had painful experiences with these neighbours. Therefore, Mongolia has adopted the ‘Third Neighbour Policy’ for enhancement of mutual cooperation with other major powers in the post-Cold War era. Mongolia wants more ‘strategic autonomy’ from these two neighbours. Defence and strategic cooperation with major powers, including the US, Japan, Germany, the EU, and India, have been the hallmark of this approach to gain ‘strategic autonomy’.17

Mongolia adopted three new conceptual documents for national security, foreign policy and military doctrine in the context of regional and global cooperation in 1994. The main concerns of these documents are promotion of strategic stability, use of strategic resources including uranium, peace and security in Central Asia and the Asia-Pacific. Mongolia’s ‘Third Neighbour Policy’ has conformed to the ideas of pragmatism in international relations.18

India’s geopolitical interests in South-East Asia and access of strategic resources, including uranium, are primary factors for enhancement of strategic cooperation with Mongolia. Mongolia is increasing its military and defence cooperation with India under its strategic ‘Third Neighbour Policy’. India considers Mongolia a trusted ally under its new strategic vision of ‘Act East Asia’ policy.

India and Mongolia have a joint annual military exercise ‘Nomadic Elephant’ along with multila-teral military exercise for peacekeeping cooperation under ‘Khan Quest’. India and Mongolia have agreed to enhance their cooperation for radioactive minerals and nuclear energy. India and Mongolia have an institutional mechanism for defence cooperation through the ‘Joint Working Group’ (JWG).19

The JWG has been set up for bilateral nuclear energy cooperation through the nuclear agencies of both countries. India and Mongolia have inked ‘a civil nuclear deal’ for uranium supply in September 2009. Both are also observers at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

India and Mongolia are dialogue partners of the ASEAN; both are actively engaged in emerging regional confidence building measures, economic, security architectures (ARF) and other multi-lateral cooperation in the Asia Pacific region.20 Given the rise of China, Mongolia remains apprehensive of its powerful neighbour and it cooperates with India to balance China.



India and Mongolia have been exploring new horizons of mutual bilateral and multilateral cooperation. The recent visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Mongolia has revitalised the mutual relations. India-Mongolia relations are bound by a comprehensive approach—from spiritual to strategic cooperation. Both are also democratic states and India can help Mongolia in democratic institution-building. Mongolia is a hub of natural resources. It can become an alternate source of uranium and other important natural minerals for India. Mongolia is a territorial buffer between China and Russia in the post-Cold War era. Mongolia is an emerging valuable partner in China’s neighbourhood. Mongolia has also considered India as an important strategic partner under its ‘Third Neighbour Policy’ to maintain geopolitical balance against China’s influence. The future of bilateral relations looks bright and will pick up in the coming years.


1. Community of Democracies’ retrieved from https://www.community-democracies.org/The-Community-of-Democracies/Our-Community

2. Soni, S.K. (2002), Mongolia-Russia Relations: Kiakhta to Vladivostok, New Delhi : Shipra Publication.

3. Soni, Sharad K. (2015), “The ‘Third Neighbour’ Approach of Mongolia’s Diplomacy of External Relations: Effects on Relations between India and Mongolia”, New Delhi: India Quarterly, March 2015.

4. Mohan, C. Raja (2015), “Chinese Takeaway: PM Modi in Mongolia”, Indian Express, New Delhi, May 12, 2015.

5. Gupta, Gauri Shankar (2010), “India and Mongolia” in K.Warikoo and S.K. Soni (eds.), Mongolia in the 21st Century: Society, Culture and International Relations, New Delhi: Pentagon Press.

6. Ministry of External Relations, India (December 2014), India-Mongolia Relations.

7. Gupta, Gauri Shankar (2010), “India and Mongolia” in K.Warikoo and S.K. Soni (eds.), Mongolia in the 21st Century: Society, Culture and International Relations, New Delhi: Pentagon Press.

8. Ministry of External Relations, India (December 2014), India-Mongolia Relations, retrieved from http://www.mea.gov.in/Portal/ForeignRelation/Mongolia_ Dec2014.pdf

9. Ministry of External Relations, India (December 2014), India-Mongolia Relations.

10. CASS-India http://www.cassindia.com/ inner_page.php?id= 28&&task=diplomacy

11. The Financial Express, New Delhi, May 19, 2015.

12. Ministry of External Relations, India (December 2014), India-Mongolia Relations.

13. Paswan, N.K (2010), “Trade and Investment Coope-ration between India and Mongolia” in K.Warikoo and S.K Soni (eds.), Mongolia in the 21st Century: Society, Culture and International Relations, New Delhi: Pentagon Press.

14. Ministry of External Relations, India (December 2014), India-Mongolia Relations.

15. Terrence Edwards (2015), Reuters, New York, May 17, 2015.

16. Business Standard, New Delhi, May 22, 2015

17. Mohan, C. Raja (2015), “Chinese Takeaway: PM Modi in Mongolia”, Indian Express, New Delhi, May 12, 2015.

18,19. Soni, Sharad K. (2015), “The ‘Third Neighbour’ Approach of Mongolia’s Diplomacy of External Relations: Effects on Relations between India and Mongolia”, New Delhi: India Quarterly, March 2015.

20. Ministry of External Relations, India, ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), retrieved from http://www.mea.gov.in/Portal/ForeignRelation/asean-regional-forum-august-2012.pdf

The author is a Doctoral Research Scholar, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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