Mongolia Extends Its Reach in the Pacific

Korea-blogger The Marmot, who keeps a weather eye out for Mongolia (where his in-laws reside), has noticed some unusual signs of Pacific outreach by that landlocked nation.

In August, Mongolia hosted a military contingent from Fiji for joint exercises in global peacekeeping. The Fiji military has posted photos from Mongolia on its website. Let’s hope they weren’t teaching the Mongolian military how to stage a coup. I wonder if any Mongolian sumo scouts have their eyes on any likely Fijian recruits. The Pacific is no longer adequately represented in Japanese sumo.

Also in August, Flickr photographer Joe Jones in Hakodate snapped the stern of one of the growing number of ships registered in Mongolia, homeported in thoroughly landlocked Ulaan Baatar. A 2004 article in the New York Times explains the origins of Mongolia’s bluewater fleet.

Mongolian flags are not expected to become a common sight at American docks. But it was an unexpected twist of fate that brought Mongolia, a nation of nomadic herders, to the high seas.

In the 1980’s, a Mongolian university student known only as Ganbaatar won a scholarship to study fish farming in the Soviet Union. But the state functionary filling out his application put down the course code as 1012, instead of 1013. As he later told Robert Stern, producer of a documentary on the Mongolian Navy, that bureaucratic error detoured him from fish farming to deep-sea fishing. Upon graduation, he was sent to work with the seven-man Mongolian Navy, which patrolled the nation’s largest lake, Hovsgol. The lone ship, a tug boat, had been hauled in parts across the steppes, assembled on a beach and launched in 1938. After the collapse of Communism here in 1990, Ganbaatar wrote Mongolia’s new maritime law, which took effect in 1999.

The registry opened for business in February, 2003. Perhaps to play down any negative connotations of being landlocked, the glossy color brochure of the Mongolia Ship Registry shows Mongolia surrounded on three sides by a light blue blob that, on closer inspection, turns out to be China. One clue to the international intrigue behind the registry may be in plans to reopen the North Korean Embassy here this fall.

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Filed under China, Japan, Mongolia, sumo

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