Mongolia frustrates imperialist-backed regime change

The country’s vast mineral wealth attracts imperialism’s unwelcome attentions.

The land-locked northeast Asian country of Mongolia was shaken by political violence in the first week of July after the right-wing opposition disputed the results of a parliamentary election deemed fair by international observers.

Initial results gave the ruling Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) 45 seats, giving it a clear majority in the 76-seat parliament. The main opposition, the Democratic Party (DP), won 28 seats, with three seats going to minor parties.

Subsequently, on 16 July, the country’s election commission confirmed that the MPRP had won 39 seats, the DP 25, and one each were taken by two small parties. The results for the remaining 10 seats were in dispute and would be recounted, the commission said. Even if all 10 seats end up going to the opposition, which is not likely to be the case, the MPRP will still have an absolute parliamentary majority.

Alleging fraud, the Democratic Party called protests in the capital, Ulan Bator, which soon turned into riots in which five people were killed and more than 300 injured. The headquarters of the MPRP was ransacked and set on fire. The central Cultural Palace, which houses a theatre, museum and the national gallery, was among the other major landmarks attacked and set ablaze, resulting in the destruction or loss of more than 1,000 national treasures and valuable works of art.

In response, President Nambaryn Enkhbayar declared a four-day state of emergency, the first in the country’s history, and troops and police were deployed to restore order. At the time of writing, life had returned to normal in the capital, but the political crisis in the country is far from over.

On 17 July, the outgoing parliament rejected a DP motion to impeach the MPRP government On 23 July, the swearing in of the new parliament by the president was stalled, when all the DP legislators declared a boycott and walked out, leaving the assembly without a quorum.

It is certainly true that the opposition was able to tap into legitimate grievances to bring people onto the streets. Despite strong economic growth, most working people are yet to see the benefits and inflation is running at more than 15 percent.

In the poor suburbs of Ulan Bator, many are without sewage treatment or electricity. According to the World Bank, one fifth of the population is unemployed, as the rural poor move to the capital looking for work. More than 36 percent of the population live below the poverty line.

However, besides the people’s legitimate grievances, other factors were clearly at work in the protests. Mongolia is a huge country, approximately the size of western Europe. However, it has the lowest population density in the world, with just under 3 million people.

Mongolia is immensely rich in mineral resources. Its estimated reserves include 3,000 tonnes of gold, 30m tonnes of copper, the largest in Asia, and 150bn tonnes of high quality coal, the largest in the world. It also has the world’s second largest reserve of uranium, a large quantity of silver and substantial reserves of other minerals, including molybdenum, tungsten, phosphates, tin, nickel, zinc, fluorspar and iron, as well as oil.

Moreover, this thinly-populated, resource-rich country is strategically located, being entirely surrounded by China and Russia.

Imperialism, therefore, has two key interests in the country – to grab as much of its natural wealth as possible, and to reduce Mongolia to a satellite state in pursuit of Washington’s strategic goal of encircling, containing and threatening Russia and, especially, socialist China.

The riots, and the attempts to overturn a legitimate election result, were, therefore, following the script of earlier western-orchestrated ‘colour revolutions’, which were used to effect regime change in Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia and elsewhere.

As Russia’s RIA-Novosti news agency noted: “Mongolia’s civil movements and the opposition Democratic Party receive funds through NGOs (non-governmental organisations), leading analysts to suspect western involvement. The west would benefit from bringing the Democratic Party to power, because this would give it a chance to negotiate access to Mongolia’s mineral resources.” (‘Mongolia stumbles on its way to democracy’, 3 July 2008)

Blunt as ever, the Wall Street Journal noted: “As mining companies have depleted resources elsewhere, many of the country’s best mineral assets were left untouched. That puts Mongolia among a handful of developing countries – including troubled places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and other parts of Africa – that still hold promise of big riches for western miners.” (7 July 2008)

In fact, both major parties share the view that major foreign investment is needed to adequately develop and exploit the country’s immense riches. Their disagreement centres on the terms under which this should happen, and especially on the role of the state and therefore, ultimately, who in Mongolian society will benefit.

Following popular protests in 2006, parliament enacted a windfall mining tax of 68 percent on gold profits when the price exceeds $500 per ounce and copper over $2,600 per tonne.

Prior to this, foreign mining companies had been operating in Mongolia under practically give-away terms, which included full ownership and years of tax exemption. The MPRP government also introduced a law that gives the state the right to take a stake of up to 50 percent in a mineral deposit if state funds were used to discover it and a maximum of 34 percent in other cases.

Then, in March this year, the MPRP proposed that this stake be at least 51 percent, giving the nation crucial majority ownership and control over its major resources.

This has led to howls of protest from major mining companies, such as Rio Tinto, which, together with Canada’s Ivanhoe, in which it owns a 10 percent stake, is seeking a $3bn investment in the Oyu Tologoi mine development, which Rio considers to be the world’s largest underdeveloped copper-gold resource.

Until now, the MPRP had been unable to pass the new legislation as it lacked a majority in parliament. With its clear majority, the party can now get the law through, which is not at all welcomed by the great mining multinationals.

Besides this, the MPRP and the DP are divided as to how Mongolia’s wealth is to be shared. The DP wants the Mongolian stake in mining ventures to go to private individuals, with a view to creating a tiny class of super-rich oligarchs on the model of Yeltsin’s Russia.

The MPRP stands for majority state ownership, and its election manifesto promised a review of all previously issued licenses for mineral exploration and extraction, so as to “strengthen national sovereignty, achieve stable development for the country and raise the living standards of the people”, with the aim of realising per capita GDP of $5,000 by 2012, which would make Mongolia a middle-income country.

Mongolia was actually the second country after the Soviet Union to pioneer the building of socialism. The MPRP, originally known as the Mongolian People’s Party, came to power, with support from the Red Army, in 1921, and the People’s Republic of Mongolia was set up in 1924.

When revisionism emerged in the Soviet Union, Mongolia was essentially forced to take the same path, due to its heavy economic dependence and the presence of large numbers of Soviet troops in the country.

However, the MPRP did try not to join in the calumnies directed against Joseph Stalin. Indeed, a statue of Stalin stood outside the national library in the heart of the capital until the end of the 1980s.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the traitors Gorbachev and Yeltsin pulled the plug on Mongolia in a most brutal fashion, plunging the country into a deep crisis. The MPRP renounced communism and was forced to adopt a capitalist economy and agree to a multi-party political system.

However, it won elections in 1990 and 1992 and again overwhelmingly in 2000 and with a reduced majority in 2004.

In foreign policy, post-socialist Mongolia has followed a contradictory path, often seeking to ingratiate itself with the United States. In 2005, Bush became the first US president to visit Mongolia, seeking to turn it into a base against Russia and China.

Most shamefully, Mongolia has sent token military contingents to support the imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, the MPRP has always insisted that China and Russia must remain the country’s main foreign partners. On the party-to-party level, it has kept close ties with the Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese communists.

In its election manifesto this time, Russia and China were the only countries mentioned by name, with a pledge to “strengthen good-neighbourly relations with [them] at all levels”.

In contrast, the DP sent a clear signal of its intentions, with a statement that, “from the Sea of Japan to the eastern border of Europe, we are the only functioning democracy and we have a duty to save it”.

The US Ambassador to Mongolia, Mark C Minton was equally blunt: “Since the overarching aim of our foreign policy is to promote the expansion of democratic society in the world, Mongolia is a poster child for that.”

Clearly, US imperialism is not willing to abandon its designs on Mongolia, spelling dangers both for the Mongolian people and the country’s neighbours.