The US will expand military training and exercises with Mongolia following the signing of an agreement by US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at the close of his 10-day trip to the Asia-Pacific region.
Hagel’s stop yesterday in Ulan Bator put him in between China and Russia, two global powers that have been sparring with Washington over territorial disputes involving US allies. Hagel has repeatedly urged nations to respect their neighbors and resolve disagreements peacefully during his trip.
After spending three days in China, Hagel was expected to thank the Mongolians for their contributions to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He was to meet with Mongolian Minister of Defense Dash Demberal Bat-Erdene.
The agreement signed by Hagel noted that the fledgling democratic nation “serves as a stabilizing influence in Asia and is seeking to modernize its military in a transparent fashion.”
Mongolian troops have been a visible and frequent force in Iraq and Afghanistan, often providing security at US facilities.
All the commanders who led Mongolian troops during the Iraq and Afghanistan deployments went through US training programs, the Pentagon said.
There are about 10,000 active-duty Mongolian troops, and to date 9,500 have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or other peacekeeping missions around the world.
The US provides about US$2 million in foreign military sales annually to Mongolia, and another US$1 million in military education and training.
Landlocked with 2.8 million people spread over an area twice the size of Texas, Mongolia is dwarfed by China, but also relies on the Asian nation for much of its economy. It has worked to maintain its independence from Beijing and Moscow by increasing its ties to other world powers, including the US and Japan.
Hagel’s visit was expected to be warmer than his visit to China, where he spent much of his time talking about the need for increased openness from Beijing about its military growth and intentions.
The US has criticized Beijing’s recent declaration of an air defense zone over a large swath of the East China Sea, including the disputed Diaoyutais Islands (釣魚台), which are controlled by Japan but claimed by Taiwan and China. Hagel and the Chinese leaders have delivered sharp exchanges on those issues, as well as Washington’s continued close ties with Taiwan, at meetings and public events.
Meanwhile, Beijing leaders have asserted their right to protect and regain their territories using diplomacy and military action if necessary, and they have questioned US claims that it remains neutral on the sovereignty of the disputed islands. The US has also committed to protect Japan, which is a treaty ally.
On Wednesday, Hagel met with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in a session US administration officials described as more positive than some of the sharper meetings earlier in the week with the defense minister and others.
At the start of the meeting, Xi, speaking through a translator, said Hagel’s visit “will definitely push forward the development of our new model of military-to-military relationship.”
Senior US officials said the ongoing tensions with North Korea, including Pyongyang’s threats to conduct additional missile launches and a nuclear test, were a key topic during the meeting.
Hagel said that China and the US must work together, and both agreed that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was a priority, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about the private session.