Mongolia: Potential Mediator between the Koreas and Proponent of Peace in Northeast Asia

Mongolia / North Korea / February 18, 2015

By: David L. CapraraKatharine H.S. Moon and Paul Park

2014 was a relatively friendless year for the Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea). It publicly lost its best friend and patron, China, to its erstwhile nemesis, the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea), when Presidents Park Geun-hye and Xi Jinping celebrated their growing friendship at the July summit in Seoul. Recently, retired PLA General Wang Hongguang wrote in the Chinese language site of Global Times, which is closely linked to the Chinese Communist Party, that China tired of cleaning up North Korea’s “mess” and would not step in to “save” North Korea if it collapses or starts a war.[1] And there is a vigorous debate in Beijing on whether the DPRK should be treated on a “normal” basis with China’s interests as the sole guide and purpose or be treated as a special case needing China’s indulgence and protection.[2] Since the Sony hack of November, North Korea has been under tighter scrutiny, both real and virtual, by Seoul, Beijing and Washington, accompanied by tighter sanctions in the new year. Bludgeoned by global condemnation of its atrocious human rights record, Pyongyang’s pariah status has intensified. Only Russia has been warming up to North Korea out of its own economic and political self-interest.

Is there any sizab country with good intentions for the region that is not giving up or beating up on North Korea? Is there any country Pyongyang likes and possibly even trusts? Mongolia stands out as the sole candidate, and it is friendly with both the East and the West.

Since the 2000s, Mongolia has played an increasingly constructive and steady role in in its bilateral ties with the DPRK and in its promotion of peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia. President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, who visited Pyongyang in 2013, was the first head of state to reach out to the DPRK since Kim Jung Un assumed power and helped author the “Ulaanbaatar Dialogue on Northeast Asia Security,” which held its first meeting in June, 2014. It is a unique forum that combines official (track one) and unofficial academic/think tank/NGO (track two) participants, on a variety of important regional issues. The goals are to decrease distrust among nations and increase cooperation and peace. Both the DPRK and the ROK (Republic of Korea or South Korea) were represented at the inaugural meeting, as were the United States, China, Russia, Japan, and some European nations.

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