Monday, August 22, 2011

Joe Biden and Lee Myung-Bak in Mongolia, cause major traffic jams

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President of South Korea, Lee Myung-Bak arrived in Mongolia Sunday evening, and US vice president Joe Biden arrived this morning in Mongolia. The police have set up major roadblocks throughout the day, causing traffic jams across the city. As we headed back to the office after our lunch, a cop ordered us to stop walking until the motorcade passed. (and I later found out that if we did, we would've been standing there for at least 40 minutes). I don't know what the logic is, but perhaps they were afraid we might be carrying banners with slogans against using Mongolia as a nuclear dump site [details here], which some people apparently did this morning during Mr. Biden's arrival.  

When foreign emissaries visit Mongolia, it is a source of major headache for the commoners: ambiguous headlines as to the purpose of their visits, e.g. promotion of bilateral relations, encourage democracy and boost trade, with traffic jams being the most obvious and direct outcome of the visits. It seems every time a US representative arrives in Mongolia, the purpose is to praise and laud our democratic efforts, the way one  might praise a retarded child that somehow managed to tie their own shoelaces. Or at least, that's the impression the news reports give us. Most reports follow the standard template phrases for Mongolia: 
" land-locked Mongolia", "lauded for efforts at democratization", "a country that is strategically located between China and Russia".  


The occasional positive outcome would be the filling of potholes in the roads the emissary might take. Before the President of India visited Mongolia, they filled all the road potholes leading to Hotel Mongolia where she was to have been staying, leaving the gaping potholes that come after Hotel Mongolia as they were. 



In any case, we know that the visits are all about coal and uranium. Specifically:
"The [S.Korean and Mongolian] ministers also signed [a] MOU pledging to work together closely to jointly explore and develop uranium ore and earth materials. Mongolia is believed to have the world's 14th largest deposits of uranium." It also said that the two countries agreed to expand defense cooperation.[Source: Korea Times]

The last bit about defense cooperation is intriguing. How does it affect our relationship with the North Koreans, with whom our relationship has so far been friendly. Speaking of which, the news reports for the Biden trip:
"[Mongolia's] location between Russia and China, untapped mineral wealth and ties to North Korea give it added importance. Biden said the U.S. was “very proud to be considered a third neighbor” for the landlocked country... One possible purpose of the vice president’s trip is to glean information on North Korea’s intentions, said Elizabeth Economy, director of Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York." [Source: Bloomberg News]
and:
Last month US mining giant Peabody Energy said it was among the firms chosen to help develop a section of the highly coveted Tavan Tolgoi coal mine in the Gobi desert, although later reports said the deal was still under negotiation. Tavan Tolgoi is one of the world’s largest coal fields with 6.4 billion tonnes of reserves... In June, President Elbegdorj promised to give US companies a role in its booming energy sector during talks in Washington with President Barack Obama. [Source: The Gulf Today]

The US Vice President left for Tokyo this afternoon, while the S.Korean President will stay on for another day. 

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