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All neighbouring countries are, while Mongolia is not. Why?

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There seems to be two main reasons for this policy. In an essay posted on the East Asia Forum, Jargalsaikhan Enkhsaikhan, an expert on Mongolian foreign policy for the UN explains Mongolian foreign policy objectives writ large:

Strengthening its relationship with its two immediate neighbours — China and Russia — is a priority in Mongolia’s foreign policy. This does not necessarily mean that it will be aligned with any one of its neighbours or any third power. Rather, Mongolia aims to promote, to the extent possible, a balanced relationship with both of its neighbours. This policy is in line with China’s and Russia’s policies not to use their neighbours against each other. At the same time, Mongolia’s foreign policy objective cautions against becoming overly reliant or dependent on any country or falling under any form of condominium. This caution applies equally to both its political and economic relationships.

Beyond China and Russia, Mongolia is also diversifying its foreign relations through its ‘third neighbour’ policy, whereby it is attempting to align its interests with highly developed democratic countries and influential international organisations. Third neighbour countries are selected according to their potential contribution to Mongolia’s economic development and common values—among them are the United States, Germany and Japan. It also seeks to complement and sustain its political interests with economic ones by attracting investment and establishing economic interests in those countries.

[Emphasis Added]

Therefore, there are two reasons for Mongolia to maintain only observer status at the Shanghai Forum:

  1. Observer status allows Mongolia to maintain cordial relationships with its only neighbors, without becoming overly reliant upon them, whereas full membership might cultivate a reliant relationship, and non-membership might cultivate a hostile relationship.
  2. Mongolia has decided to throw in with democratic countries, especially like the U.S., Germany and Japan and the Shanghai Cooperative is essentially in competition with those countries. Full membership would make such cooperation and relationship building, difficult.

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