May 12, 2015
With barely three million people deep inside the Eurasian steppe and sandwiched between Russia and China, Mongolia is an unlikely destination for Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week. China will certainly loom large over Modi’s three-nation tour, beginning Thursday. For, Modi is trying to move the Sino-Indian relationship out of the stasis that it finds itself in. Given his focus on “Make in India” and attracting foreign direct investment, Modi would want to end India’s prolonged political neglect of South Korea, one of the world’s leading economies, located at the heart northeast Asia. But Mongolia? Why has Modi chosen to be India’s first prime minister to visit Mongolia?
Some point to Mongolia’s potential as a source of natural uranium and other valuable minerals for India. But New Delhi already has agreements on uranium supplies with many countries from where it is easier to ship uranium than the landlocked Mongolia. Others would see rivalry with China as the driver behind Modi’s brief sojourn in Mongolia. If China spends so much political energy in cultivating India’s neighbours in the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean, it has been argued, Delhi should be doing the same on China’s periphery.
Mongolia is indeed a very sensitive neighbour of China, and the investment of the PM’s time in Mongolia seems worthwhile. To be sure, there has been a geopolitical dimension to India’s engagement with Mongolia. Over the last few years there, India and Mongolia have steadily expanded their defence exchanges and security cooperation.