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   Vol. 17 No. 32
Wednesday May 23, 2018

Building Mongolian Connections

     An air corridor between India and Mongolia could start soon.
     Coming as it does on the heels of the success of the India-Afghanistan air corridor overflying Pakistan, the decision to explore the possibility of starting direct air services to land-locked Mongolia was taken during the recent visit by India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Mongolia.


Third Neighbor

     Mongolia considers India a “third neighbor” as well as a “spiritual neighbor” (the late venerable Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, a Buddhist monk who is revered in Mongolia, was the Indian ambassador to Ulaanbaatar for 10 years). With China on three sides and Russia on the other, Mongolia has close relations with India, which is referred to as the third neighbor.


Act East

     The Mongolia air corridor is part of the India’s Act East policy to reach out to close nations.
     “We agreed to remove institutional and logistical impediments to boost our trade, tourism, and people to people contacts.
     “In this regard, we also agreed to explore the possibility of launching direct air connectivity between our two capitals,” Sushma Swaraj said during the joint media briefing with Foreign Minister of Mongolia Damdin Tsogtbaatar.


India & Dalai Lama

     Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Mongolia in 2015 and promised a $1 billion line of credit to the country, meant basically for an oil refinery. However, soon after that, the Dalai Lama went to Mongolia and that upset China, which hit back with high tariffs on commodity exports from Mongolia.
     For its part, Mongolia came out with a statement that it firmly supported the ‘One China’ policy, which maintains that Tibet is an inseparable part of China.


Meaningful Relationships

     The relationship with Mongolia plays a critical role in India's association with Northeast Asian nations.
     While the volume of India-Mongolia trade has been growing at a fast pace over the last decade, it is still way below its potential. India’s bilateral trade with Mongolia reached U.S.$12.31 million in 2015: U.S.$8.26 million of exports and U.S.$4.05 million of imports.
     While Delhi and the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar are at an aerial distance of 3330 km, the time taken for a plane journey ranges from 13 to 22 hours and that too with one or two stops en route.
     As for the maritime distance, it is 7000 km with transit at Tianjin Port in China. In fact, it takes 45 days for a container to reach Ulaanbaatar from Delhi.
     For the record, the India-Afghanistan flights continue.
     Recently, a direct flight was launched between Herat and Delhi.
     It was inaugurated by the Second Vice President of Afghanistan, Sarwar Danesh, the Indian Consul General in Herat, Kumar Gaurav, and Herat Governor Asif Rahimi.


Cargo To Kabul

     India has opened two air corridors with cargo flights between Kabul, Kandahar, Delhi, and Mumbai.
     Incidentally, Minister Swaraj went on to mention (she was in Beijing after Ulanbaataar) that connectivity with the Shanghai Cooperation countries (the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO, is an international alliance comprising eight countries as full members: India, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan; four countries— Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia—as observers and six countries—Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey, and Sri Lanka—as dialogue partners) was India’s priority. India has been actively involved in the air corridor with Afghanistan, the International North-South Transport Corridor, the Chabahar Port Development, the India-Myanmar-Thailand Highway Project, and Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Initiative.
Such “initiatives would further strengthen the entire spectrum of multi-modal networks in the SCO space,” she said.
Tirthankar Ghosh

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