- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2005

ULAN BAT0R, Mongolia — Nongovernmental organizations from Mongolia are working quietly with North Korea’s totalitarians to help bring democracy to the Stalinist state, said Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar.

Based on years of cooperation with North Korea, Mongolia has developed close ties to the isolated regime of Kim Jong-il, Mr. Enkhbayar told The Washington Times.

“We are just trying to show North Koreans that when the whole world is changing, somehow you have to respond to these changes, and it’s better by changing yourself,” said Mr. Enkhbayar, who was elected to office in May. “And that there is no danger in changing by yourself.”

The Mongolian president said his country is awaiting the scheduled visit of President Bush next month. It will be the first time an American president travels to Mongolia.

“Everyone is very much looking forward to seeing President Bush here on Mongolian soil, and, of course, this will be good support for our democracy,” Mr. Enkhbayar said, noting that Mongolia’s example shows democracy is “not dangerous.”

Mongolia hopes to reach a free-trade agreement during the visit and a deal to increase educational exchanges that will allow Mongolian students to attend U.S. universities, he said.

The government also is working with the United States on a project to change the Mongolian language from the Cyrillic to the Roman alphabet.

“In fact, being democratic makes you more stable and makes you more … protected. You feel safer when you are a democracy because you see other countries in the region, North Koreans for example, are not safer, although they are trying to keep their old regime as long as possible. So we think that democracy means a safer security,” he said.

Mr. Enkhbayar, 47, made the remarks in his office shortly before meeting Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Saturday, after the secretary’s visit to China.

China’s mixed blessing

Asked whether he is worried about the rise of China, Mr. Enkhbayar said the main challenge posed by that country is economic.

“Of course, we are very much closely watching what is happening in China,” he said.

Economic growth in China has been a mixed blessing for Mongolia, with China providing goods for Mongolians to sell at home, but also diverting foreign investment from Mongolia because China has a better climate and infrastructure, Mr. Enkhbayar said.

“We don’t see any direct sort of threat by the Chinese military,” he said. “But we do understand that we have to somehow face this. If there is any threat in the future from any country in the world, Mongolia as a small country can survive through the cooperation of other countries, through its active position in international organizations.”

Mr. Enkhbayar said the dispatch of a small number of Mongolian troops to Iraq and Afghanistan was part of an effort to promote democracy. About 150 Mongolian troops are in Iraq and 13 are in Afghanistan.

Coaxing Pyongyang

On efforts to bring democracy to North Korea, Mr. Enkhbayar said the message that Mongolian organizations are sending Pyongyang is: “Please look here and see our model, our achievements and maybe mistakes, and don’t do these mistakes but look at the achievements and successes we’ve had for all these 15 years.”

The Mongolian leader said he is optimistic that his message of democracy and market-oriented economy is getting through to North Korea. “We have seen some indications that they are interested in seeing what is happening here,” he said.

North Korea briefly closed its embassy here, then decided to reopen it, he said.

“This is a very good signal that they are trying to keep the door open,” Mr. Enkhbayar said.

Mongolia’s government has credibility in Pyongyang because it is not a next-door neighbor and poses no threat, he said. “We are not a big country, so there is no necessity for them to be scared of us,” he said.

‘Democracy no threat’

The message Mongolia is spreading to North Korea, through several recent meetings between representatives of nongovernmental organizations and North Korean officials, is that making the shift to democracy is not a threat for a small nation, “and in a majority of cases it is rather good in the sense of keeping the nation more secure, and being part of the global community,” Mr. Enkhbayar said.

Mongolia is trying to encourage North Korea to reform so that it will develop and become an active member of the international community, he said.

North Korea has been ruled by totalitarians who advocate a Marxist ideology called “juche” or self-reliance and “military-first” policies that place a priority on building and maintaining military forces.

North Korea has had severe economic problems in the past decade as well as natural disasters that have created famines resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions, of people.

Mongolia, which has cultural ties to Koreans dating to hundreds of years, thinks one of its exports to North Korea and elsewhere should be democracy and freedom. “I think they see this example in this part of the region, and we try not to impose ourselves but to be of assistance and to be a model for them,” Mr. Enkhbayar said.

Amid bigger neighbors

Mongolia fought China in 1921 to remain independent, with help from the Soviet Union, and gained independence from Moscow after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since then, it has established a democratic political system and is building democratic legislative and judicial institutions and a free press.

The new system was tested during the recent elections, when a runoff election was needed, he said.

“The democratic institutions have proved themselves, that they were able to overcome these difficulties and prove that they are here and they are working,” Mr. Enkhbayar said.

The two main economic problems that Mongolia’s 2.7 million people face are poverty and unemployment, and the need for greater economic development, Mr. Enkhbayar said.

“When democracy doesn’t bring good economic results, sometimes people ask the question ‘When will this transition end and economic life get better,’ ” he said.

Mr. Enkhbayar, a writer’s union leader under the former totalitarian government, is now with the democratic-socialist Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party. He said restructuring the Soviet-era system has been difficult.

12 million cattle lost

Moreover, bad weather from 1999 to 2002 caused the loss of 12 million head of cattle, dealing a blow to the economy.

“We are still too much dependent on this old lifestyle and the old way of running our husbandry and economy,” he said. “It is still a very difficult problem, keeping us from achieving our goals.”

Mongolia also has been helping North Korean refugees who manage to reach the country by crossing through China. After initially returning some refugees to China, which in turn sent them back to North Korea, Mongolia’s government now helps Korean refugees reach South Korea.

“We have been trying to deal with this question from a humanitarian point of view, respecting the view and desire and wish of these people,” he said. “And whatever direction they want to go, we just send these people toward it.”

Asked whether Mongolia’s support for refugees had angered the governments in North Korea or China, Mr. Enkhbayar said: “I think they understand also that it’s not Mongolia deliberately doing all the things, but it’s just from a very humanitarian point of view, trying to assist people who decided to make their own choice.”

Nuclear-free Peninsula

Mr. Enkhbayar said his government supports the recent agreement in Beijing to resolve the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program.

“We are really glad the six-party talks have reached some good first result,” he said. “And now, of course, other steps should be taken so there is a good final result for making the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons and that North Korea becomes a responsible member of the international community.”

Asked about the danger that Mongolia’s democracy could be snuffed out by totalitarian China and authoritarian Russia, Mr. Enkhbayar said: “Mongolia’s choice is democracy and a market-oriented economy.”

“And based on this, we will try to build up our cooperation with our two big neighbors and other countries of the world,” he said.

Mongolia seeks to balance the power of Russia and China by working with “third neighbors,” including the United States, Japan, South Korea, India, Southeast Asia or Central Asia, he said.

“I think our two neighbors do accept Mongolia’s right to have its own foreign-policy concept, and we have been quite successful in trying to build up our cooperation and relationships. So far, it has worked very well,” he said.

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