Name organizer Where
Frontier's "Invest Mongolia Tokyo 2018" Frontier Securities Tokyo Japan
"Open to Export" ICC WTO International business award ICC WTO London



Mongolian company to export meat products to South Korea www.news.mn

‘Ochir Daginas’, a Mongolian Company is ready to export international standard meat products to South Korea. The company has signed an agreement with the South Korean Natural Core Company to export meat products.

During the opening ceremony of the ‘Ochir Daginas’ plant, officials cut a 500 meter-long sausage instead red ribbon. The company has 86 employees and 80 percent of operation is automatated. In total, the plant processes 60 different kinds of meat products. Currently, the company produces 5-6 tonnes of meat products daily.

A total of 133 companies produce meat products in Mongolia; currently, only a small number meet international standards.



Rio Tinto to start building massive Koodaideri iron ore mine in 2019 www.mining.com

World’s second largest miner Rio Tinto (ASX, LON, NYSE:RIO) said Monday it will begin developing its Koodaideri iron ore mine in Western Australia's Pilbara region next year, highlighting parallel plans to de-bottleneck rail capacity, which should increase it to 360 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) in 2019.

The miner also said it would mine its first tonnes from the project, which it says it’s one of the world’s most technologically advanced, in 2021.

“The Koodaideri orebody is 50 kilometres long and 5 kilometres wide. It will be a new production hub which will be a key feature for the Pilbara for many years to come,” iron ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said in a presentation at Rio’s investor day.

He noted the mine would be the first one to take full advantage of automation in trucking and drilling.

Rio will begin operating its long-delayed AutoHaul robot rail system by the end of the year, which will remove the logistical bottleneck the miner faces in getting iron ore from the pit to the port.
The announcement comes on the heels of BHP’s decision to invest $2.9bn for the development of the South Flank iron ore project in the central Pilbara, which will replace depleting resources at the mining giant’s Western Australian operations and up its average grade from the region in the process.

It also follows a decision by Fortescue Metals Group (ASX:FMG) last month to go ahead with its $1.3-billion Eliwana project, also in the iron-ore rich Pilbara.

Rio also said that Pilbara sustaining capital would be about $1 billion over each of the next three years, including replacement mines at West Angelas, Robe Valley and Koodaideri, with the latter still to be formally approved.

Salisbury noted that Rio’s autonomous rail project AutoHaul was on schedule to be implemented by the end of the year, adding it was already providing benefits from an uplift in rail capacity.

“Removing our bottleneck in rail and increasing flexibility remain a key priority (…) Importantly, capacity is not the same as tonnes shipped. How we use the capacity of our integrated system will be dynamic, in line with a strict value-over-volume approach,” he said at the presentation.

Future remains rosy
Despite increased volatility and uncertainty around the globe, Salisbury said the general outlook remains solid, particularly when looking at its bigger customer — China.

Rio sees Beijing’s supply-side reforms and environmental policy improvements lifting demand for high quality iron ore.

“China's steel industry is undergoing a structural change. Removal of less efficient steel-making capacity and strong demand is supporting steel pricing and currently provides a robust backdrop for high quality iron ore,” the company said.

Rio Tinto's Australian iron ore exports guidance for 2018 remained at between 330 million and 340 million tonnes.

The price for benchmark 62% iron ore fines last traded at $68.49 a tonne, according to the Metal Bulletin.



Mongolia's absence at UN Israel votes signals warming ties www.jpost.com

A look at Mongolia’s voting record on Israel over the last few months shows an interesting pattern – the land-locked country sandwiched between Russia and China does not, like it’s two giant neighbors, reflexively vote against Israel in the UN.

Nor does it vote for Israel or abstain. Mongolia simply does not show up to vote.

If this had happened once, then it could be chalked up to the Mongolian envoy to the UN getting tied up in traffic. The same could be true if it happened twice. But if it happens again and again then it reveals a pattern apparently born of a conscious decision, and is seen in Jerusalem as a manifestation of warming ties between Israel and Mongolia.

Mongolia – a country of just over three million people – was not in the room when the UN General Assembly passed its anti-Israel resolution on Gaza last week. It was not in the room in May when the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva voted to establish an investigative committee into violence at the Gaza fence. And it was not in attendance in December when the General Assembly condemned the US for moving its capital to Jerusalem.

Hagai Shagrir, deputy head of the Foreign Ministry’s Asia-Pacific department, said Israel very much appreciates this pattern, and that Jerusalem is working hard to change the voting patterns in Asia.

“Mongolia is very friendly, like-minded, democratic country with whom it is important for Israel to strengthen ties,” he said. Shagrir said these friendly ties will manifest themselves in two weeks time when the two countries hold a diplomatic dialogue.

Israel does not have an embassy in Mongolia, nor does Mongolia have one in Israel, and Jerusalem’s interests in the country are represented by Israel’s ambassador in China, who travels to Mongolia three times a year.

Mongolia’s foreign minister visited Israel last August, and Z. Enkhbold – the chief of staff of President Khaltmaa Battulga – attended the AIPAC annual policy conference in Washington in March. Shagrir said, however, that Mongolia’s interests in stronger ties with Israel are not part of efforts to draw closer to the United States.

Battulga wrote a letter to President Reuven Rivlin on the occasion of Israel’s 70th anniversary earlier this year, wishing his “heartfelt congratulations” on the “historic occasion.”

“Mongolia and Israel are nations with ancient history and culture, and I am delighted to note that, presently, the cooperation between the two countries and the close relations between our two people are growing,” he wrote.

Mongolia’s interests in ties with Israel are believed to be based on three pillars.

First – as reflected in Battulga’s letter – there is a deep respect in Mongolia for a civilization that has maintained its traditions for thousands of years.

Secondly, the Mongolians have border security concerns, primarily on the Chinese border, and are interested in learning from Israel expertise about border security issues.

Finally, former US secretary of state John Kerry once referred to Mongolia as an “oasis of democracy” in a very tough neighborhood, and the Mongolians are looking to learn from the experience of Israel, which they recognize is a country very much in a similar predicament.



Select few emerging Asian economies comfortable with Fed hikes www.reuters.com

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Higher U.S. rates are rattling many emerging markets in much the same way past tightening cycles did, but the Federal Reserve’s hawkishness could also bring cheer for a small group of Asian economies that wouldn’t mind seeing their currencies weaken.

ed rate hikes this year and the prospect of more to come have lifted Treasury yields, prompting investors to switch out of riskier emerging market debt and triggering sharp falls in their currencies.

Markets in Argentina, Brazil and Turkey took the biggest hits and in Asia, the central banks of India, Indonesia and the Philippines have raised rates and intervened to defend their currencies.

However, unlike those countries, which run current account deficits, central banks in external surplus countries and territories such as Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan and, to a lesser extent, Malaysia won’t feel compelled to keep up with the Fed’s rate hikes, analysts say.

“I don’t see those countries just being forced by the Fed into action because some of them have such enormous surpluses that they would probably be happy to see weaker currencies and capital outflows, at the margin,” said Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian economic research at HSBC.

Weaker currencies from portfolio outflows could help lift below-target inflation and give exporters a shot in the arm at a time of heightened uncertainty over global trade and signs that the Chinese economy may be losing steam.

This week’s central bank meetings in Thailand and Taiwan are likely to reinforce that outlook, with most economists seeing at most one rate hike in Thailand, Taiwan and South Korea over the next 18 months, compared with the Fed’s five or six.

The Philippine peso PHP= lost almost 7 percent from January highs and is now trading at its lowest in 12 years. The Indian rupee INR= is near record lows having lost a similar amount, while the Indonesian rupiah IDR= is down about 5 percent after two rate hikes and heavy central bank buying.

By contrast, the Korean won KRW=, the Thai baht THB= and the Taiwan dollar TWD= are all down 3 percent from January levels close to multi-year highs while their central banks kept rates steady near record lows.

One of the reasons why the surplus economies are under less pressure is foreign investor positioning.

In deficit countries, investors tend to own shorter-term bonds, which are more liquid and less risky than longer-term debt. In countries with surpluses, investors are more comfortable holding longer-term securities.

Since the Fed started raising rates some three years ago, the premium that Indian and Indonesian short-term bonds offers over their U.S. equivalent US2YT=RR has dropped by roughly 200 basis points. In the Philippines, the premium has fallen by almost the same amount over the past 12 months.

That differential has narrowed some 200 bps in South Korea, Thailand and Taiwan as well and has even turned negative. However, investors’ greater preference for longer-term debt has helped limit downward currency pressure.

Differentials with U.S. 10-year yields shrank 100 bps or less. With the U.S. curve flattening as the economic cycle approaches its peak, that is likely to continue.

Another reason why those central banks don’t have to track the Fed is that China’s rise as a major economic power means that Asia is less synchronised with the U.S. cycle than it was before the global financial crisis.

The collapse of the Lehman Brothers in 2008 coincided with the moment when developing Asia’s trade with China surpassed the sums traded with the United States. Slowing economic momentum in China therefore may have more impact on the rate outlook in Asia than a peaking U.S. economic cycle.

“Asian economies — their synchronization with the U.S. economy has weakened because of China,” said Tan Hui, chief market strategist for Asia at J.P.Morgan Asset Management.

“It’s not easy to see many Asian central banks following the Fed.”

(This version of the story has been refiled to correct paragraph four to refer to countries and territories.)

Reporting by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Sam Holmes



Putin supports idea of building oil, gas pipelines from Russia to China via Mongolia www.caspianbarrel.org

Moscow supports Mongolia’s initiative to build oil and gas pipelines from Russia to China via Mongolia, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga, held in the Chinese city of Qingdao, the Kremlin press service reported.

“There are opportunities for cooperation in the energy industry,” Putin pointed out. “Our Mongolian partners have come up with an initiative to build major oil and gas pipelines from Russia to China. In general, we support [this initiative], it is a good idea. However, there is a need to conduct a thorough feasibility study, as always in such cases,” the Russian president added.

He also said that the three countries had been working together to remove excessive administrative barriers in order to ensure uninterrupted trade flows. “To achieve this goal, [there is a need] to ensure the full implementation of the 2016 agreement on mutual recognition of customs control. Introducing an electronic data interchange system in accordance with the agreement has significantly eased the border crossing process and goods clearance,” Putin added.

The Russian president also commended close inter-regional ties and cross-border cooperation between the three countries. “We believe it important to step up efforts aimed at boosting trilateral cooperation in the area of tourism. In this regard, I would like to mention the Tea Way cross-border tourist route that could connect the regions of Russia, China and Mongolia,” Putin said.

He also highlighted the importance of developing cross-border environmental protection programs aimed at preserving unique flora and fauna and develop protected nature areas. “Russia suggests considering the possibility to boost trilateral cooperation between public, scientific, cultural and educational organizations, as well as interaction between parliament members and political parties,” Putin added.

The Russian leader noted that Moscow also supported the idea of holding the next trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Kyrgyzstan in June 2019.




The Bank of Mongolia imposes ceiling on debt-to-income ratio www.montsame.mn

Ulaanbaatar /MONTSAME/ On June 15, the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of Mongolia made a decision to keep the policy interest rate at 10 percent and impose 70-percent ceiling on the debt-to-income ratio of the consumer loans.

As of May 2018, annual inflation measured by the consumer price index was 6.1 percent nationwide and 6.6 percent in Ulaanbaatar. Economic activity will continue to grow whilst inflation is expected to stabilize at the targeted level of 8 percent in the medium-term.

Despite the oil price rise in world market, Mongolia’s foreign trade is expected to be relatively stable as some export products’ price increases

Economic growth in the first quarter satisfied the expectations of the Bank of Mongolia. Investment in mining sector is continuing to increase, business environment is steadily improving as the confidence of investors and entrepreneurs have restored. The import growth simultaneously with the export growth may cause negative impact on the balance of payments.

Although household income is gradually growing, household debt level is increasing in connection with the rise in consumer loan rate. Therefore, the Bank of Mongolia decided to impose ceiling on citizens’ debt-to-income ratio, effective from 2019, in order to restrict debt burdens of citizens and prevent from the risk in financial sector.

These monetary policy decisions are consistent with the objectives of stabilizing inflation around the targeted level in the medium-term, further supporting economic growth and ensuring short and long-term sustainability of macroeconomics and financial sectors.




Google to invest $550 million in Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com www.reuters.com

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Google will invest $550 million in Chinese e-commerce powerhouse JD.com (JD.O), part of the U.S. internet giant’s efforts to expand its presence in fast-growing Asian markets and battle rivals including Amazon.com (AMZN.O).

The two companies described the investment as one piece of a broader partnership that will include the promotion of JD.com products on Google’s shopping service. This could help JD.com expand beyond its base in China and Southeast Asia and establish a meaningful presence in U.S. and European markets.

Company officials said the agreement initially would not involve any major new Google initiatives in China, where the company’s main services are blocked over its refusal to censor search results in line with local laws.

JD.com’s investors include Chinese social media powerhouse Tencent Holdings Ltd (0700.HK), the arch-rival of Chinese e-commerce leader Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N), and Walmart Inc (WMT.N).

Google is stepping up its investments across Asia, where a rapidly growing middle class and a lack of infrastructure in retail, finance and other areas have made it a battleground for U.S. and Chinese internet giants. Google recently took a stake in Indonesian ride-hailing firm Go-Jek, and sources have told Reuters that it may also invest in Indian e-commerce upstart Flipkart.

Google declined to comment on the rumored Flipkart deal. The JD.cominvestment is being made by the operating unit of Google rather than one of parent company Alphabet’s (GOOGL.O) investment vehicles.

JD.com Inc
Google will get 27.1 million newly issued JD.com Class A ordinary shares as part of the deal. This will give them less than a 1 percent stake in JD, a spokesman for JD said.

For JD.com, the Google deal shows its determination to build a set of global alliances as it seeks to counter Alibaba, which has been more focused on forging domestic retail tie-ups. Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp (9984.T), which is making big internet investments around the globe, is a major investor in Alibaba.

“This partnership with Google opens up a broad range of possibilities to offer a superior retail experience to consumers throughout the world,” said Jianwen Liao, JD.com’s chief strategy officer, in a statement.

Company officials said the deal would marry Google’s market reach and strength in analytics with JD.com’s expertise in logistics and inventory management.

(This version of the story has been corrected to remove erroneous reference to JD.com’s partnership with Carrefour in paragraph 4. A typo in paragraph 6 has also been corrected.)

Reporting by Jonathan Weber; Editing by Stephen Coates



#1218166: This Chinese hacking group pwned a bunch of Mongolian government sites www.brica.de

A Chinese hacking group broke into a national data center in Mongolia late last year in an expansive cyber-espionage campaign that allowed the attackers to quietly plant malware into government websites, according to a new research report by Kaspersky Lab and supplemental analysis provided to CyberScoop.

According to Kaspersky’s latest research, a known Chinese hacking group used watering hole-style attacks and spear phishing emails to breach specific employees of the Mongolian data center. After gaining individual access, they leveraged those accounts to gain additional control over the facility’s infrastructure.

The episode began around October 2017. It was discovered by Kaspersky in March 2018. The Chinese speaking group that’s responsible is widely linked to Beijing. It’s tracked by the cybersecurity community under different names, including APT27, EmissaryPanda, IronPanda and LuckyMouse. They’ve been known to also target U.S. defense contractors.

The Kaspersky report does not list Mongolia as the victim, but instead refers to it more ambiguously as a “Central Asia” country. A source familiar with the report revealed that country as Mongolia. The person spoke to CyberScoop on condition of anonymity to offer insight that the company chose not to publish.

In the past, APT27 has been tied to both government spying and financial crime, including bitcoin mining efforts. There are other cases where Chinese government-backed hacking groups appeared to be double-dipping; making money on the side while also conducting traditional intelligence missions.

It’s rare to see hackers breach an entire national data center though, especially to this degree.

“The most unusual and interesting point here is the target. A national data center is a valuable source of data that can also be abused to compromise official websites,” Kaspersky senior security researcher Denis Legezo wrote.

The purpose of hacking this data center was to compromise a “wide range of [Mongolian] government resources at one fell swoop.” Some websites hosted by the data center were then injected with malicious JavaScript code, which would cause people who visited the domains to also be potentially infected.

In some cases, compromised machines also received a remote access trojan (RAT) known as “HyperBro,” which provided customized controls to further manipulate or steal secrets from systems.

“There were traces of HyperBro in the infected data center from mid-November 2017. Shortly after that different users in the country started being redirected to the malicious domain update.iaacstudio[.]com as a result of the waterholing of government websites,” a Kaspersky blog post reads. “These events suggest that the data center infected with HyperBro and the waterholing campaign are connected.”

Researchers found that the attack server behind these Mongolian government breaches was mysteriously located in Ukraine. More specifically, the command and control (C2) could be tied back to a hacked Mikrotik router running old firmware. The hackers likely leveraged this Ukrainian machine in order to obfuscate their activities. It’s not yet clear how the hackers owned the Mikrotik router.

Multiple critical vulnerabilities in Mikrotik systems have been reported in recent months.

Historically, Mongolia and China maintain a complicated relationship.

China is one of Mongolia’s biggest trade partners and regional allies; almost 90 percent of Mongolia’s exports go to China, according to one study. But Beijing is also known for its persecution of ethnic and religious minorities, including buddhists, muslims, shamanists and others. Buddhism is the most prevalent religion in Mongolia.

In late 2017, around same the time that APT27 breached the aforementioned government data center, Chinese President Xi Jinping had just won re-election. Months earlier, Mongolia also had an election where their current President Khaltmaa Battulga dominated by riding a populist wave driven by anti-China rhetoric. At the time, some foreign policy experts predicted that Mongolia would shift their economic dependence towards Russia.

More info: https://www.cyberscoop.com/apt27-mongolia-kaspersky/



Russian rail option opens up for Aspire coal www.thewest.com.au

Aspire Mining’s proposed railway line that is critical for getting its giant Ovoot coking coal deposit in Mongolia to market is firming up with both the Chinese and Russian Government’s recognising the strategic value of Mongolia as a transportation hub in the region.

The company said a long-awaited intergovernmental agreement on transporting goods by rail was signed in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbattar on the 8th June by Mongolia’s Minister for Roads and the Russian Transport Minister.

The agreement allows for Mongolian-sourced freight to enjoy a tariff discount on Russian rail transportation for its exports to, and via Russia for 25 years.

In particular, Mongolian coal exports will now receive a whopping 66.4% discount on the Russian rail system to the north of Mongolia.

The agreement is a shot in the arm for Aspire, whose high-quality coal assets are perfectly placed to take advantage of the new discounted rail transportation opportunity into Russia.

A recent feasibility study based on the construction of a rail corridor from Aspire’s Ovoot coal deposit to the rail hub town of Erdenet, 548km to the east, confirmed attractive economics that would be largely underwritten by Aspire’s project.

Whilst the initial study was based on transporting coal south into China, the recent agreement on transport between Mongolia and Russia potentially opens other options for Aspire, whereby coal could be transported via Russia into sea borne markets.

The proposed hefty tariff reductions on coal transported via rail through Russia will place the Russian option on a more even economic playing field with the proposal to transport into China to the south.

Russia is already constructing a new rail line to the town of Kyzyl, which could potentially be connected into Erdenet via Aspire’s Ovoot coal deposit..

Additionally, plans are in place to upgrade the railway from Russia, through Mongolia and into China with an initial commitment of USD$260m over the next two years on the table.

The upgrading of the north south rail line that is connected to Erdenet, is an essential part of Aspire’s grand plan to transport coal into China as it seeks to make the case for an Erdenet to Ovoot rail line to be built.

Aspire Executive Chairman David Paull said: “This Rail Cooperation Agreement has two important positive impacts for Aspire. The first is that it lowers rail transit costs through Russia to Far East Ports and potentially west to the Black Sea Ports to a point where it is competitive with transport costs to Northern Chinese customers, opening up a larger and more diverse customer base.”
“The second impact is the agreement from the Mongolian Government side to cooperate to assist Russian exports south from the Russian city of Kyzyl to connect with the Erdenet – Ovoot Railway once the Northern Corridor is completed.”
Aspire is sitting on a 255 million tonne ore reserve of premium, metallurgical coal at Ovoot, which produces a high-grade “coke”, an essential fuel and reactant in the blast furnace process for primary steelmaking.

Recent test work completed on coal from the company’s Nuurstei project, 160km east of Ovoot and closer to Erdenet, has also returned outstanding results indicative of premium hard coking coals.

Nuurstei holds a JORC-compliant coal resource of 12.9 million tonnes and Aspire are planning more work at the deposit during the latter half of 2018.

Mr Paull added: “These coke results demonstrate that coal from Nuurstei will be potentially sought after by Japanese and Korean steel producers as well as from Chinese steel mills where higher quality inputs into the steel industry are being sought.”
On the face of it, the new spirit of cooperation between Mongolia and Russia and indirectly China, comes at a significant time for Aspire and almost by default, is enhancing the potential viability of its coking coal project.

The market is watching too, with Aspire’s share price jumping by nearly 400% since early April, giving Aspire a current market cap of just over $58m



Mongolia’s president, a former martial-arts champion, wrestles with some major problems www.washingtonpost.com

ARVAIKHEER, Mongolia — On the vast Mongolian steppe, birthplace of Genghis Khan, a strong man has arisen. Literally. Mongolia’s President Khaltmaa Battulga is a former world martial arts champion who still trains regularly, a friend of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and a business tycoon with a tough-guy image.

He is also a nationalist and something of a populist. Battulga swept into office last year by casting himself as a Trump-like outsider, a champion of the poor taking on a corrupt and self-serving political elite.

Like the U.S. president, this is a man who says he always wins, whose campaign motto was “Mongolia will win.” But he is now wrestling with the challenge of his life.

Mongolians overthrew an authoritarian communist regime in 1990 in a peaceful democratic revolution. Nearly three decades of democracy have fostered progress but also glaring inequality, leaving nearly 30 percent of the population in poverty. Corruption is rampant, the dark side of the country’s huge reserves of copper, coal and gold. 
“I asked before the election and I am still asking,” the gruff-voiced Battulga told a town hall meeting in Arvaikheer in central Mongolia last month. “Why are the people of a country so rich in resources still so poor?”

Battulga, 55, rose from poverty to the country’s highest post, leapfrogging from a sambo wrestling world championship to a successful business career, but his power as president is limited — parliament and the prime minister’s job are in the hands of a rival political party. Battulga has an important role in setting foreign policy, but his ambitions are much grander.

For the past three months, he has been touring Mongolia, holding town hall meetings in every one of the nation’s 21 provinces, asking for popular support in his battle to improve the way his country is governed.

“Do you get the feeling the president we chose is on his own?” he asked hundreds of people packed into a theater here. “It is time to start talking about president plus who? President plus the people, working together.”

Luvsandendev Sumati, director of the independent Sant Maral polling organization, underscores the parallels between the most recent Mongolian and U.S. presidential elections.

After the dirtiest presidential contest in Mongolia’s history, he said, many people stayed away or cast blank ballots in protest. In the end, though, Battulga’s anti-establishment status outweighed questions about his business record and past corruption allegations.

“The poor decided he is their president, and once people decide that, they forgive you everything,” Sumati said. “Anti-establishment politicians are taking over the globe. Why should Mongolia be any different?”

This is the most sparsely populated country in the world, the size of Texas, California and Montana combined but home to just 3 million people, living in the giant shadows of Russia to the north and China to the south. Culturally, it remains closer to its northern neighbor, but economically it is dependent on its booming southern neighbor, with more than 80 percent of its exports flowing there.

Distrust of China runs high here, however, and Battulga exploited that to portray himself as a pro-Moscow, anti-Beijing candidate during the campaign. As president, though, he takes a more pragmatic approach, saying that Mongolia should be friends with both countries while “rebalancing” to reduce China’s trade dominance.

A former president of Mongolia’s judo association, he shares a love of wrestling, and a friendship, with Putin.

“Because we both practiced judo, it is easier for us to communicate,” he said in an interview, noting that Putin is also “president of a country that has been our neighbor for thousands of years.”

But Battulga wants American support, too. In 1990, then-Secretary of States James A. Baker III pledged that the United States would be the “third neighbor” to the newly democratic Mongolia, a pledge repeated when President George W. Bush visited in 2005. More recently, another secretary of state, John F. Kerry, praised Mongolia as an “oasis of democracy” between Russia and China.

Yet U.S. defense and security ties with Mongolia are much stronger than economic ties, which account for less than 2 percent of Mongolian trade.

“The praises of the United States that Mongolia is ‘an oasis of democracy’ or ‘model of democracy’ have not brought any substantial contribution to the economy,” Battulga wrote in a letter to President Trump in December. “Discouraged by this fact, ordinary citizens of Mongolia are losing confidence in democracy and doubting the choice of democratic path.”

Battulga asked for improved access for Mongolian textile exports to the United States. Trump replied that he would be delighted to explore ways to boost trade in a “fair and equitable manner,” according to the Mongolian presidential office.

Battulga began his business life in modest fashion. After graduating from art school, he sold paintings to tourists in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, before sewing and selling jeans and then trading electronics across borders. He used the prize money and international connections gleaned from his sambo tournaments to get his start.

A taxi service, television station and nightclub followed, as well as a lottery business. During the privatization of state-owned assets, he acquired controlling interests in a hotel and a meat-processing factory. But he was also forced to flee the country for six months after he was falsely accused of illegally importing alcohol, according to his friend and biographer Dorjkhand Turmunkh. Another investigation into alleged corruption followed a more recent stint as roads and transport minister, but no charges were brought.

Battulga underlined his nationalist credentials more than a decade ago by erecting a giant statue of Genghis Khan on horseback in an amusement park outside the capital. He burnished his populist credentials by pledging to use proceeds from mining to pay off personal debts held by ordinary Mongolians.
Today, Battulga is Mongolia’s most popular politician, Sant Maral polls show. Yet questions remain for many people: Is the president, with his vast business empire, part of the solution or part of the problem?

As president, he is supposed to renounce party affiliation and unite the nation, but is his nationwide tour a genuine attempt to raise and address problems — or an attempt to grab personal power and campaign for his party ahead of parliamentary elections in 2020? Is he a genuine man of the people or a wannabe strongman?

At the town hall meeting, complaints were manifold. They included requests to repatriate offshore funds held by the political elite and exposed in the Panama Papers, as well as pleas for better conditions for health workers. Some railed against Chinese workers in Mongolia, others about overcrowding in schools.

The president listened patiently for more than an hour before blaming voters for giving the rival Mongolian People’s Party a dominant position in 2016 parliamentary elections.

“One party got 65 out of 76 seats,” he said. “They have all the seats, but unfortunately these past two years they didn’t do anything.”

But at least one listener pushed back, accusing him of being no better than his rivals.

“You are blaming voters, saying this is our fault for electing thieves,” he said. “Look at our lives, look at the condition our kids live in. The Chinese are the owners of Mongolia now. The country is on the brink of disaster. I elected you. I voted for you. But Mongolia will only ‘win’ when we get rid of both these two parties.”

CORRECTION: A headline previously on this article misidentified Khaltmaa Battulga as a former world judo champion. He is a former world champion at the martial art sambo and former president of Mongolia’s judo federation.