The Importance of Mongolia in the North Korea Issue

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The political situation that emerged during the Korean War has caused the Korean Peninsula to be a troubled region for more than seventy years. North Korea is a very problematic actor in the region for both the United States (US) and the Washington administration’s allies. The fact that Pyongyang is so disturbing for the US and its allies is due to both its military activities and nuclear tests. In addition, incidents such as illegitimate moves against the financial assets of other countries and the abduction of citizens of other countries by intelligence agencies increase the tension between North Korea and Western states.

North Korea has often been separated from the countries of the world and has not made reliable friends, but it did not suffer from its deficiency. China and recently Russia set an example for these countries and their closeness with North Korea is increasing. North Korea’s increasing closeness with China creates a negative impression on the US and its allies; on the other hand, China’s importance is increasing to the point of reining in North Korea.

Sure, among Western countries, some countries think that the increasing importance of China and all kinds of loyalty to China may cause problems for them in the future, as in the case of Russia. Finland is an example of this. On this issue, on November 2, 2022, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin suggested that being dependent on China, like Russia, would have negative consequences.[1] Moreover, during the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit in Bucharest, Romania, on November 29-30, 2022, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said:[2]

We’ve seen what dependence on Russia means to all of us in the West. I just hope we’ve learned our lesson and not repeat the same mistakes a second time with China.”

In addition, a news report by the BBC on November 30, 2022, pointed out that British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s relations on the London-Beijing line have come to an end. In this context, while the West is trying to intimidate North Korea militarily; on the other hand, it is seen that it does not want to be reined in by China. However, the possible dangers posed by China in the eyes of the West make it difficult for the West to get help from China regarding North Korea. It is also seen that there is a fear of dependence like in Russia. Moreover, the actions of the Beijing administration led to this. For example, on November 30, 2022, two Chinese and six Russian warplanes entered South Korea’s air defence area.[3]

Mongolia, like China, has good relations with North Korea. To better understand Mongolia’s relations with North Korea, it is necessary to look at the history of bilateral relations. Founded on September 9, 1948, the first country to recognize North Korea was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Just after the USSR, Mongolia recognized North Korea in the same year and established diplomatic relations.

Although diplomatic relations sometimes progress in a negative direction, they generally have a positive atmosphere. For example, when North Korea was bombed in 1950; the only ambassador who did not leave the country was the Mongolian Ambassador.[4] In addition, at the end of the 1990s, the Ulaanbaatar administration went on the path of democratization and even though it had different ideological views from Mongolia, Mongolia-North Korea relations were not adversely affected by this situation. Ulaanbaatar administration provided food aid to Pyongyang in 1997 despite the economic difficulties.[5]

In this context, the good relations between Mongolia and North Korea increase the importance of Mongolia in the eyes of the West. The calls made by Western countries to North Korea along with Mongolia in the recent period should also be evaluated in this direction. Meeting on October 28, 2022, Takehiro Funakoshi, Head of the Asian and Oceanic Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Mark Lambert, Deputy Undersecretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs of the US Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Nyamdorj Ankhbayar, State Secretary of the Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called on North Korea for talks on its nuclear program and missile system.[6]

In addition, on November 30, 2022, the Prime Minister of Japan Fumiyo Kishida and the President of Mongolia Ukhnaa Khurelsukh met in Tokyo and called on North Korea to abandon its ballistic missile tests and nuclear activities. Moreover, the leaders invited the Pyongyang administration to comply with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions on Northeast Asia in a statement issued to resolve the problem of Japanese citizens abducted in the 1970s and 1980s.[7]

As can be seen, the West, which faced many difficulties during the Russia-Ukraine War, especially the deepening energy crisis, is worried that similar problems will arise by replacing Russia with China. Mongolia has not escaped the attention of the West due to its good relations with North Korea.

As a result, contrary to the positive signals given at the G20 Leaders’ Summit held in Bali, Indonesia, and the ASEAN Plus Defence Ministers Meeting, the tension between China and the West continues. Both the political fault lines like Taiwan and the lessons learned from the Russia-Ukraine War, as mentioned before, push Western countries to act cautiously towards China. Also, while the West, willing to work with China on North Korea, considers Beijing’s ongoing alliance with Moscow; it will also consider Chinese warplanes entering South Korea’s air defence area. Moreover, while China is waiting for concrete steps from the US and the West on Taiwan; The Taiwan visits of deputies from Australia[8] and the UK[9] are also an element of distrust for China. Therefore, there is an ongoing distrust in West-China relations. On the other hand, Mongolia can act as a mediator in the North Korean issue since it is not a threat to the West like China and has close relations with North Korea.

[1] Andrew Tillett, “Finnish Prime Minister Warns About Naive Reliance on Russia, China”, Financial Review,, (Date of Accession: 02.11.2022).

[2] Natalia Drozdiak et al., “NATO Allies Warn on China with Eye on Beijing’s Ties to Putin”, Bloomberg,, (Date of Accession: 30.11.2022).

[3] “South Korea Scrambles Jets After Chinese and Russian Warplanes Enter Air Defence Zone”, The Guardian,, (Date of Accession: 30.11.2022).

[4] “Mongolia’s Balancing Act Between the Two Koreas”, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Mongolia,, (Date of Accession: 02.12.2022).

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Japan, US, Mongolia Want Dialogue with N. Korea Amid Nuke Test Fear”, The Mainichi,, (Date of Accession: 31.10.2022).

[7] “Japan, Mongolia Urge North Korea to Stop Missile, Nuclear Activities”, The Mainichi,, (Date of Accession: 02.12.2022).

[8] Tom Lowrey, “Government andOopposition MPs to Visit Taiwan as Part of Australian Parliamentary Delegation”, ABC News,, (Date of Accession: 03.12.2022).

[9] “U.K. Parliamentary Delegation Arrives in Taiwan for Five-Day Visit”, Focus Taiwan,, (Date of Accession: 29.11.2022).

Elcan TOKMAK, 2022 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi İktisadi İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü'nden mezun olmuştur. Eylül-Aralık 2022 tarihleri arasında ANKASAM bünyesinde Kariyer Staj Programı'nı tamamlayan Tokmak, Temmuz 2023 tarihinden itibaren ANKASAM Asya-Pasifik Araştırma Asistanı olarak çalışmalarını sürdürmektedir. Şu anda Hacettepe Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü'nde Yüksek Lisans eğitimine devam eden Tokmak'ın ilgi alanları Çin-Japonya-Kore ilişkileri ve Çin Dış Politikası'dır. Tokmak; profesyonel düzeyde İngilizce, orta derecede Çince ve başlangıç düzeyinde Korece bilmektedir.