ULAANBAATAR (Reuters) – U.S. Protection Secretary Mark Esper met senior Mongolian leaders on Thursday in a uncommon go to to the strategically necessary nation because the Pentagon seeks to implement its technique of specializing in countering China and Russia.
U.S. Secretary of Protection Mark Esper is presented a horse in Ulan Bator, Mongolia August eight, 2019. REUTERS/Idrees Ali
On a map, Mongolia, locked between Russia and China, finest represents the Pentagon’s priorities over the approaching many years.
“It’s my deep privilege to be right here, to be with you and to have the chance to take a look at alternative ways we will additional strengthen the ties between our two international locations,” Esper mentioned earlier than the beginning of his assembly together with his Mongolian counterpart.
Esper was welcomed to the capital Ulaanbaatar on Wednesday in response to customized, attempting dried milk curd upon stepping off the airplane at Chinggis Khaan Worldwide Airport, named after the nation’s warrior-emperor.
The ceremonial spotlight of the go to was when Esper was given a seven-year outdated caramel coloured horse as a gift. Esper named the horse Marshall after former U.S. Protection Secretary Normal George Marshall.
“He’s comfortable, he likes his identify,” Esper, standing subsequent to the horse, mentioned.
The horse will keep behind to be cared for in Mongolia, although Esper was given a framed photograph of the it. Esper, in return, gave the caretaker a blanket for the horse which is utilized by the U.S. Military Previous Guard.
Esper’s go to to Mongolia, on his first worldwide journey since being confirmed as protection secretary, highlights the significance the nation is seen as taking part in within the area.
That is the primary go to to the nation by a protection secretary since 2014, when Chuck Hagel spent about 4 hours there. Esper spent an evening in Ulaanbaatar.
Mongolia is raring for funding from america and different international locations it considers “third neighbors” to assist it cut back its financial dependence on China, via which most of its exports of cashmere and different items transfer.
Late final month, Mongolian President Battulga Khaltmaa visited Washington to fulfill with President Donald Trump.
Battulga, a businessman usually described as “Mongolia’s Trump”, was elected in 2017 on a populist and typically anti-Chinese language platform, with the nation more and more cautious of Beijing’s rising regional dominance.
“They’ve been a great ally that punches above its weight, and I believe Secretary Esper needs to acknowledge (that) and see if there are methods to develop the partnership additional,” mentioned a senior U.S. protection official, talking on the situation of anonymity.
The official mentioned that whereas this journey was not about selling any particular initiative, america was eager to take a look at increasing ties, probably in areas akin to army coaching, which may make the most of Mongolia’s chilly climate.
Esper’s journey to Mongolia comes at a very tense time in relations between america and China, that are locked into an escalating commerce warfare.
Final yr, the U.S. army put countering China and Russia on the heart of a brand new nationwide protection technique, shifting priorities after greater than a decade and a half of specializing in the combat in opposition to Islamist militants.
Mongolia has been a constant U.S. army associate, offering troops to U.S.-led missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the place it nonetheless has about 200 troops.
It additionally has a relationship with North Korea that Washington may leverage as Trump seeks to revive stalled denuclearization talks with Pyongyang. The nation is accessible by rail from North Korea.
“Mongolia just isn’t going to facet fully with anyone in opposition to anyone,” mentioned Abraham Denmark, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of protection for East Asia.
“However they want to bolster their relationships with america as a result of probably they need American financial engagement and political engagement, but in addition as a result of it offers them a bit extra respiration area of their relations with Beijing and Moscow,” Denmark mentioned.
Reporting by Idrees Ali; enhancing by Jonathan Oatis