Opinions

Alaska and Mongolia: more alike than you might think

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In January, Mongolia celebrates Tsagaan Sar, the Lunar New Year. Across our country extended families, whether in the glistening skyscrapers of our capital or in traditional ger tents on our unspoiled grasslands, will gather and celebrate traditions which have been passed down for millennia.

I find this period to be a chance to reflect on the last year and to make goals for the year ahead. While many do not associate Mongolia and Alaska, our partnership is quite strong and the best is yet to come.

On Jan. 27, 1987, the United States recognized Mongolia. Shortly thereafter with the mentoring of the United States, Mongolia emerged from nearly 70 years of communism and dependence on the former Soviet Union. In 1992, our constitution established a parliamentary democracy charged with guaranteeing fundamental human rights, freedom of expression and gender equality.

Alaska and Mongolia share a similar topography, climate and rural (often isolated) populations. Our commonalities and challenges allow for a better understanding of one another. Mongolia and Alaska share a rich culture and traditions that date back millennia.

More specifically, a very special partnership started in 2003 between the Alaska National Guard and the Mongolian Armed Forces. Indeed, this has evolved into a strategic nation-state relationship.

As I reflect on this past year, I am most impressed with the Alaska Army National Guard Medical Detachment that visited Mongolia last June. Our soldiers learned tactical combat casualty care in adverse conditions. Over the course of two weeks, they practiced wound stabilization in remote wilderness.

It is with these unique skills and knowledge that, for the eighth time, our young soldiers left this November for the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission. More than 4,500 Mongolian military personnel have participated in NATO-led missions in Afghanistan since 2003. It is not coincidental that we began our partnership with the Alaska National Guard this year.

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Much has been written over the last year about the United States and our region. Indeed, in my first year in Washington attention has been fully devoted to relations with our neighbors – Russia, North Korea and China.

While our population is one of the smallest in Asia, our commitment to deepening ties with the United States is one of the largest. Indeed, our alliance is based on shared values. We have a robust legislative branch and, according to the World Bank, have gender equality levels higher than Japan or South Korea.

I have been honored this past year to spend time on Capitol Hill. Congressman Don Young had the foresight to help found and serves as co-chair of the Congressional Friends of Mongolia Caucus. This has promoted legislative exchanges. Sen. Dan Sullivan, with his own impressive military service, has taken the helm this past year as Chairman of the Board of the International Republican Institute. They have an office and advance democracy in Mongolia. They are both working with Sen. Lisa Murkowski on a unique legislative initiative to buttress our cashmere wool garment sector and, ultimately, employ an additional 40,000 Mongolian women.

During Glasnost and Perestroika, I completed my studies in Moscow. I was exposed to speeches of President Ronald Reagan. Quoting the Founding Fathers of the United States, he would often suggest America is a “city on the hill.” My New Year’s resolution is that Mongolia can be a similar beacon of liberty, justice and free market capitalism for our region. I know that through our partnership with the Alaska National Guard and with the committed leadership of Alaska’s delegation on Capitol Hill, our shared values will blossom in what promises to be a memorable year ahead.

Ambassador Otgonbayar Yondon has served since March 2018 as Mongolia’s Ambassador in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was Vice Minister for Education, Culture, Science and Sport.

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