Mongolian Hedging Strategy

AuthorPavel Hlavacek,David Sanc
Published date01 August 2022
Date01 August 2022
Subject MatterResearch Articles
Research Article
Mongolian Hedging
Pavel Hlavacek1 and David Sanc2
The aim of this text was to evaluate Mongolian foreign policy by applying the
hedging strategy. We have arrived at the conclusion that the way Mongolia strives
to secure itself against insecurities and risks in the fast-changing environment
of East Asia corresponds to main principles of the hedging strategy and in basic
outlines that it is not different from procedures applied by countries in Southeast
Asia. After 1990, Mongolians enrolled in the Non-Aligned Movement; they
voluntarily enlisted their country in the nuclear-free zone and started to apply
to a friendly relation policy towards powers in their neighbourhood. These are
basically same methods copied by all ASEAN member states. In its foreign policy,
Mongolia applies a full range of hedging options: both acceptance and rejection of
China’s power. In the context of East and Southeast Asian smaller state strategies,
we consider Mongolian efforts as a light form of hedging.
Mongolia, foreign policy, hedging strategy, China, Russia, Third Neighbor Policy
The struggle for power between China and the USA in East Asia,1 which has
increased in intensity in recent years, has induced a wide debate among
academics regarding the consequences of expected changes (Betts, 1993–1994;
Friedberg, 1993–1994; Kang, 2003; Katagiri, 2015; Ross, 1999). Conclusions
can be expressed with a great level of generalization. However, it turns out that
smaller or weaker states neighbouring China act—at least viewed by a European
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
9(2) 318–346, 2022
© The Author(s) 2022
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23477970221098500
1 Metropolitan University Prague, Prague, Czech Republic
2 University of West Bohemia, Faculty of Arts, Pilsen, Czech Republic
Corresponding author:
Pavel Hlavacek, Metropolitan University Prague, Dubecska 900/10, 100 00 Prague 10, Czech Republic.
Hlavacek and Sanc 319
observer—rather strangely. On the one hand, they manifest their willingness to
intensify the political, economic and cultural engagement with China, but on the
other hand, they strengthen their security links with the USA and other significant
powers. Theories of international relations created several names for this foreign
policy strategy—which consists of elements of constraint and defiance, as well
as engagement and deference (Hiep, 2013, p. 334; Segal, 1996, pp. 107–108).
However, the term ‘hedging’ has been asserted most frequently (Chung, 2004,
pp. 35–37; Fiori & Passeri, 2013, pp. 8–12).
It has been argued by some that ‘a classic case of weaker-state hedging behaviour’
(Kuik, 2016, p. 4) is represented by ASEAN member states. If this is so, Mongolia
is literally far from a ‘classic case’. While almost all the states of Southeast Asia
have direct access to the sea,2 Mongolia is a landlocked country, which shares
borders with only two neighbours (Russia and China) and has no navigable rivers
that flow into the sea. Mongolian foreign policy options are more limited than those
of a classic ASEAN member state. Despite these differences, Mongolia has all
reasons to hedge against undesirable risks. It is ‘a prototype of a buffer state’ that
‘operates under the geopolitical and economic forces of rising China, reactive Japan
and Russia and retrenching America’ (Mendee, 2015, pp. 1–2).
If we consider the growing strategic insecurity in the region of East Asia and
the geopolitical position of Mongolia, it comes as a surprise that many authors
dealing with the topic of hedging overlook Mongolia (Fiori & Passeri, 2013,
p. 11; Graham, 2013; Roy, 1994, 2005; Tow, 2004; compare with Acharya, 1999;
Barno et al., 2012; Foot, 2006; Koga, 2018; Medeiros, 2005–2006). It is not easy
to determine reasons for the relative lack of interest in Mongolia. We can only
agree with Jeffrey Reeves from the Centre for Asia Pacific who once noticed
(Reeves, 2012a, p. 591) that theoretical analysis of Mongolian foreign policy was
‘largely absent from Mongolian studies.’
Despite the relatively limited debate, most authors agree that Mongolia is not
willing to confirm its foreign policy to external actors (Bulag, 2017; Krishna,
2017; Lkhaajav, 2019; Mendee, 2015; Narangoa, 2009; Radchenko, 2013; Reeves,
2012a). When advocating for its national interests, it seeks its own path, which
does not copy the strategy of pure balancing, but also does not copy the strategy
of pure band-wagoning. However, such widely conceived bases of Mongolian
foreign policy offer a rather broad area for interpretation, especially in relation to
the growing power ambitions of China.
Some authors tend to point out that Mongolia does not contest the Chinese rise
of power at all. This is an opinion expressed, among others, by the American
political scientist, Stephen Chan (2012, pp. 60–62).3 In his opinion, putting up
resistance in the form of active resistance would be too expensive for Mongolia,
and even if it did take place, it would not yield desirable results. According to
Chan, Mongolia represents a typical example of an East Asian country, which
applies no elements of balancing policy, as it has no reason to see China as a real
or assumed enemy. The author documents this claim with the example of military
expenses, among other things. Such data (expressed in percentage of GDP) reveal
that Mongolian expenses kept decreasing after the end of the Cold War, and they

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