After China brought down the economic hammer on its impoverished neighbor, Mongolia seems to have learned its lesson, vowing that it will no longer allow the Dalai Lama to visit.
The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader visited Ulaanbaatar in November. The six-day visit was met with a strong warning from Beijing. Soon afterward, relations between China and Mongolia entered a deep freeze, as China closed an important border crossing and cut off talks about providing Mongolia with a much-needed $4.2 billion loan.
In a recent interview with a local newspaper, Mongolian Foreign Minister Tsend Munkh-Orgil expressed his regret over how the visit had damaged ties with Beijing.
“You can understand that during the full term of this government, the Dalai Lama will not be allowed to visit Mongolia even for religious purposes,” Munkh-Orgil was quoted as saying, in an apparent official apology to Beijing.
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying “attached importance” to her Mongolian counterpart’s remarks, hoping that Mongolia would “honor the commitment” in the future.
Of course, if they do not, China has already shown what it can do to threaten Mongolia’s fragile economy. After the Dalai Lama’s visit China shut down the important Gants Mod crossing in southeastern Mongolia, leaving hundreds of trucks carrying copper and coal backed up on the highway in sub-zero temperatures. Facing economic recession with a $4.2 billion loan in jeopardy, Mongolia also tried turning to India for help, but has apparently since decided to reconcile with its old benefactor.
Tens of thousands of Mongolians flocked to see the Dalai Lama during his stay in Ulaanbaatar last month, with some traveling hundreds of miles to see the spiritual leader in the mostly Buddhist nation. The Dalai Lama has said that his visit had no political purpose; however, China regards His Holiness as a political figure whose aim is Tibetan separatism. Besides, the Global Times notes that the Mongolian government threw the Dalai Lama a high-level reception and “even” held a gathering inside a gym that was partly funded by China.
For his part, the Dalai Lama maintains that he wants genuine autonomy for Tibet, not outright independence. He also says that when he dies, he probably won’t come back, further pissing China off.