20 October 2016
A Mongolian honor guard performs during the opening ceremony of Khaan Quest, an annual multilateral military exercise near the capital Ulan Bator. Photo: Reuters
A Mongolian honor guard performs during the opening ceremony of Khaan Quest, an annual multilateral military exercise near the capital Ulan Bator. Photo: Reuters

What’s behind the Mongolians’ hostility toward mainlanders

A recent attack on Chinese tourists in Mongolia has caused a diplomatic ruckus.

The Chinese consulate in Mongolia complained to the government in Ulan Bator which later apologized, but the Chinese media accused Mongolia of being insincere.

To understand how Mongolians regard China, it’s important to consider the subject in the context of international relations.

Professor Wang Hao of the Mongolia Research Center of Peking University says Mongolia has a “small country complex” that comes from being sandwiched between two big neighbors — China and Russia.

Increasingly, Mongolia has been engaged in multilateral diplomacy in recent years to improve relations with Japan, the United States and the European Union.

Since 2003, it has been holding a series of military exercises, dubbed Khaan Quest, with the US.

In 2010, it contributed peace-keeping troops to the US-led coalition effort in Afghanistan and signed a partnership framework agreement with the European Union that same year.

These actions have shown that Mongolia is keen to balance the influence of different powers, particularly China.

With the rise of the mainland, many Chinese businessmen are investing in Mongolia’s mining and energy sectors.

However, while Chinese companies bring foreign capital to Mongolia, they also stand accused of taking jobs from local workers, causing disaffection in the population.

Many rightist organizations have emerged in Mongolia, usually targeting China.

These include the neo-Nazi group Khukh Mongol and other entities such as Tsagaan Khass and Dayar Mongol.

In Russia, neo-Nazism has given rise to so-called “skinheads” who are known to attack Asians in the streets.

Mongolia’s neo-Nazism can be traced to Russia.

In fact, their followers are very similar in that both emphasize the purity of blood and promote xenophobia.

In addition, Mongolia’s neo-Nazis appreciate German orthodoxy.

Members of the Tsagaan Khass have publicly said they respect Hitler for his efforts to preserve racial purity, although they don’t agree with his decision to start World War II.

Also, Tsagaan Khass strongly opposes the idea of Mongolian women marrying Chinese workers. Offspring from such unions are discriminated against.

A rightist group, Dayar Mongol, recently attacked Chinese workers of a mainland company.

Nyam Puruv, a scholar in Mongolian history and sociology, believes the rise and influence of neo-Nazis have been exaggerated.

After all, there are only several hundred neo-Nazi supporters in Mongolia.

They are mainly young unemployed people or individuals who have not received higher education.

They are the ones most affected by the influx of Chinese investment into Mongolia and are thus showing the strongest opposition.

But rightists in China are equally hostile.

After the latest incident, many Chinese netizens left messages in online forums, suggesting China should do to Mongolia what Russia did to Crimea when Moscow annexed it from Ukraine, in order to “reunify Mongolia”.

Such comments show how susceptible Chinese rightists can be to extremist manipulation.

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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