Author: Justin Li, ICE
Sinophobia on the steppes
High dependence on China for trade and investment is causing an unprecedented wave of Sinophobia in Mongolia. This fear has been driven by geopolitical fear, historical legacy and sometimes open racism. Sandwiched between two former imperial masters, Mongolia’s landlocked geography can be described as nothing but a geopolitical nightmare for its leaders. Its national strategy is often a case of a depressing choice between the lesser of two evils. It is understandable that vast and sparsely populated Mongolia, at the doorstep of an emerging superpower, is anxious for anxiety’s sake itself.
The imperial legacy of China still lingers in the minds of some Mongolians and this landlocked country only gained independence from China as late as 1921. Ironically, Taiwan still officially recognises Mongolia as part of its official territory, and it is not uncommon to hear mainland Chinese refer to Mongolia as ‘outer Mongolia’, a dated name alluding to its status as a former imperial possession of China.
The influx of Chinese businessmen and labourers is also provoking racial tension in the country. Whether it be disapproval of Chinese migrant labourers’ behaviour as unhygienic, or Chinese businessmen’s behaviour as philandering, many Mongolians feel alienated by the arrival of large numbers of Chinese. Consequently, anti-China themes are rapidly capturing the airwaves and newspaper headlines, from unfounded allegations of rape and pillage to more justified concerns over Chinese disregard for industrial relations laws and regulations. Chinese construction workers are fast becoming random victims of Mongolian neo-Nazis, and some Mongolian politicians are more than happy to jump on the anti-Chinese bandwagon to attract popular votes.
Justin Li is principal of the Institute of Chinese Economics and an associate of EAF.