I was visiting with one of my teacher’s families, talking with her husband, when he asked me what I would be doing after Mongolia. I told him I would be traveling, visiting my friends in Korea. He the asked me which Korea I was going to. It didn’t register at first until he said “North Korea or South Korea?” I said South very quickly, and added “North Korea dislikes Americans.” He laughed.
Sometimes you forget out here that Mongolia has normal relations with Pyongyang. They have an embassy in Ulaan Baatar. They have steady trade agreements, with Mongolia sending beef and cattle to the North. I get the impression that for most Mongolians, North Korea is just another country. They don’t seem to dwell on the Kim cult of personality quite like we do in the States.
One has to wonder why the two have normal relations. There seem to be many things that one would imagine would prevent them. First, North Korea is rather cozy with China (although the intensity seems to be cooling off with time), and Mongolians, by and large, have negative feelings towards China. Also, Mongolia has a democratic political system, and with its “Third Neighbor” policy, is courting foreign nations that are at odds with North Korea, such as the USA, Australia, and many nations in Europe.
But their relationship is normal, I feel, for many reasons, the most important being their shared socialist and communist pasts. Also, many nations in the West feel they can use Mongolia as a link the North, allowing them to have a friend there to mediate if talks and agreements are to be made. Mongolia and North Korea want to strengthen their economic ties, but both nations face a unique set of challenges that makes any major or significant actions herculean. Mongolia has no borders with the North, and is completely landlocked. The North has… well… diplomatic issues tied to its nuclear programs that scare off many foreign investors.
It will be interesting to see how this relationship develops going into the future.