border review | 18 July 2011

The Washington Post: China, rich with coal, seeks more next door in Mongolia to meet its energy needs

Andrew Higgins for The Washington Post on the coal mining boom and  Mongolia’s Tavan Tolgoi pit (Ömnögovi Province). He argues that the boom is driven by China’s continuing demand for coal. Although the PRC has huge coal reserves itself it still needs to import more to satisfy demand. However, there is competition over access to Mongolian coal:

China and Russia have offered money to help finance Mongolia’s railway-building plans from Tavan Tolgoi. Beijing wants the line to head south and use Chinese-gauge tracks. Moscow wants it to go toward Russia and to use Russian-width track, which is incompatible with China’s network.

For the moment, tangled feelings toward China have trumped linear economic logic. But, predicted Od, the former diplomat in Washington, this will change. China is “like a big vacuum that sucks everything in,” Od said. “We are very lucky.”

Higgins works out the paradox quite nicely. He cites a recent opinion poll on the question what country would the best partner for Mongolia. China came in last. However, at the same time:

There are now more students studying Chinese in Mongolia than Russian, once a lingua franca in what was until 1991 an effective Soviet colony.