Last year Mongolia celebrated its 20th anniversary of democratic governance and freedom. It proved to be a time of reflection for us. The winds of change that forced open the Brandenberg Gate and toppled successive Communist governments blew hard in Mongolia in 1989. Peaceful demonstrations by thousands of my countrymen lead to the collapse of communist tyranny. The following year democratic elections were held, a new constitution was drafted (that guaranteed individual human rights, freedom of speech and assembly, and established the rule of law), and free market reforms were implemented.
With generous financial and technical assistance from the U.S. and other countries Mongolians took advantage of their newfound economic and political freedoms and unleashed their creativity. Businesses began sprouting up, trade slowly increased, and gradually our standard of living began to improve. One would not recognize the skyline of our capital city from just two decades ago.
Now, recent discoveries that include coal, copper, and rare earth mineral resources have Mongolia’s GDP set to triple over the next decade. Mongolia has an open-door foreign investment policy that, coupled with investor friendly laws and transparency within the legal system is attracting attention and new businesses — especially from the West.
My country has made great strides but much more remains to be done. I am committed to improving Mongolia’s educational system and helping ensure that as we take advantage of our natural resources it is done in a manner that is respectful of the environment. By making each Mongolian a stockholder in the country’s largest mining operation we want to ensure that the wealth extracted from our land is shared directly with our people. This will help to create a social safety net for those less fortunate and provide a revenue stream that will allow Mongols to decide for themselves how best to invest their national dividend.
I believe Mongolia has made amazing progress on its democratic journey. If someone had told me twenty years ago, as we stood outside Parliament demanding the resignation of the Politboro, Mongolia would one day be asked to lead the Community of Democracies (CD) I would have shaken my head in disbelief.
Yet in just two short weeks Mongolia will assume the presidency of the CD. We look forward to lending our guidance, advice, hard work and support to this organization as new democracies struggle to be born, and others seek to strengthen democratic governance. I believe Mongolia can be the anchor in eastern central Asia for helping to convey the virtues of democratic governance within our region.
The U.S.-Mongolian bilateral relationship is based first and foremost on shared values: Individual liberties, human rights, and equal justice under laws passed by democratically elected bodies. I am proud of the fact that Mongolian soldiers have served with collation forces in Iraq and today stand boot-to-boot with U.S. troops and NATO forces in Afghanistan. It is no coincidence that my first official visit in Washington will be to Walter Reed Medical Hospital. It will be a privilege for me to meet and be among those wounded warriors and their families that have sacrificed so much for the cause of freedom.
My goal during my visit is to deepen and broaden U.S.-Mongolian ties. Increased trade coupled with U.S. foreign investment will strengthen economic links. Exchanges among educators and those in the think tank community can accelerate the understanding of events in our region and visits by elected officials and senior government leaders of both our countries can ensure that the roots of our relationship grow deeper.
Despite the physical distance between our two countries, our values bring us close together. I am convinced that with work and effort our friendship will grow and our peoples will prosper greatly from it.
Elbegdorj Tsakhia is the president of Mongolia and is on his first official visit to the U.S.