Sunday, September 30, 2012

NEWS: Amanpour interviews President Elbegdorj

Originally posted on CNN.com on September 25, 2012

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What's the fastest growing economy in the world?

If you answered China, you'd be wrong, because it's Mongolia!

This country of just under three million people is landlocked between China and Russia, but it's growing at more than twice the rate of China.

Its staggering rate of more than 17%-a-year growth may explain why U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a pilgrimage to Mongolia, along with Vice President Joe Biden and before him George W. Bush.

Not to mention a parade of other Western and Asian powers, including China, along with corporate titans by the planeload.

Mongolia's secret? It sits atop a mountain of mineral wealth: coal, copper, gold and a torrent of global money are all forcing revolutionary changes.

Mongolia has managed the change from traditional nomadic herding culture to major economic political power. And it’s gone from a Soviet-style communism to democracy.

“This is a great opportunity,” President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour Monday. “But we have to manage that. We have to share that great opportunity with all our people.”

Despite this huge wealth, there is growing inequality and worry that it won't be spread around.

There are also concerns about corruption, as so often happens in rapidly emerging economies.

“I see corruption as a mortal enemy for young democracies,” President Elbegdorj said.

He believes the zero-tolerance policies the country is attempting to implement can help shield the country.

It’s neighbor China is a natural trading partner, but Elbegdorj believes the country must build more infrastructure to create gateways between both China and Russia.

And he believes the U.S. and Mongolia have a common strategic interest.

“Our men and women in uniform actually serve together in Iraq; now we're serving in Afghanistan, in other hot spots."

Elbegdorj was recently in Iran for the non-aligned meeting.

He was the first foreign head of state to visit Natanz - Iran's main center for uranium enrichment.

Why did he visit?

“There was open opportunity to any head of state who is participating in the non-alliance movement meeting, and I thought, why I do not use that opportunity? And I went.”

He said Mongolia’s position is that Iran should comply with the U.N. Security Council resolution.

On the subject North Korea - and the possibility of reform under its new young leader, Kim Jong Un- Elbegdorj sounds optimistic. He says his country has established good relations with North Korea.

“I think Mongolia is really uniquely positioned towards North Korea. We have an embassy in North Korea. We have an embassy in Seoul.”

He says foremost for North Korea must be economic reforms, but that Mongolia could help guide that country because of a potentially shared experience in the transition to democracy and a market economy.

But questions still linger about democracy back in Mongolia.

Elbegdorj was instrumental in fighting for democracy, but the country’s previous president, Nyamdorj Enkhbayar, has since been arrested and there are charges against him.

He and other independent observers have complained that this is entirely politically motivated and that he has not been treated according to internationally admissible norms. Some believe the charges are politically motivated.

“Mongolia has a policy, zero tolerance of corruption.” Elbegdorj says. “And I fought for freedoms since the cold winter in 1989, for 23 years. And I regard that corruption is the mortal enemy, but also no one is above the law. That's the essence of democracy. And because of that, we have to be very tough in order to sell our people's historic choice to freedom. And we need to rid of corruption.”

Mongolia's handling of the case will serve as a gauge of progress for Mongolia's young democracy.

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Word List:
  • staggering: so great, shocking or surprising that it is difficult to believe
  • torrent: a large amount of something that comes suddenly and violently
  • to linger: to continue to exist for longer than expected