Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan commit to intensifying bilateral cooperation

The flags of Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan, hanging in Mongolia's capital Ulaanbaatar. Photo from the website of the president of Mongolia.

From July 9–11, Kyrgyzstan’s president Sadyr Japarov arrived on an official visit to Mongolia. During talks, the parties discussed deepening relations and cooperation, strengthening mutual political trust and the legal framework of relations, as well as regional and international issues of mutual interest. The main outcome was the signing of the Joint Declaration of Establishing Friendship and Cooperation as well as 10 other cooperation agreements in the trade, environment, security, and cultural spheres. The visit was capped off with the inauguration of the Kyrgyz Embassy in Mongolia on July 11.

the presidents of Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan with their wives. Photo from the website of the President of mongolia.

There have been several examples of successful social and economic cooperation between the two sides. The outcomes of Japarov’s visit outcomes were similar to the outcomes of numerous previous visits by Kyrgyz and Mongolian leaders that may have fallen short of their stated goals in the economic sphere. However, his visit coincided with growing trade and an organic, bottom-up, people-to-people interaction, giving this effort a higher chance of bringing the two countries closer together.

Long common history and shared culture

Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia have a shared history and culture. Their interaction counts thousands of years. The ancestors of the current day Kyrgyz people originally inhabited the Yenisey River valley in central Siberia as early as 201 BCE and later the Minusinsk Hollow in southern Siberia in the 12th century CE.

Living in these areas meant neighboring and interacting with the Mongol people. The modern-day manifestations of this centuries-old interaction and shared history and culture are the extensive use of yurts and the central role of the horse in Kyrgyz and Mongolian culture, common among nomadic people. Another proof of the past geographic proximity and interaction between them is the lake called Khyargas Nuur (Kyrgyz lake), located in western Mongolia. The country is home to 2,000–3,000 ethnic Kyrgyz people who live in the western province of Bayan Olgii. One of them, Bulany Beisen, serves as a member of Mongolian parliament.

Here is an Instagram video of the Khyargas Nuur (Kyrgyz Lake) located in western Mongolia.

The modern history of cooperation between the two countries dates back to the Soviet Union, when Kyrgyzstan was a part of it and Mongolia was a satellite state. In 1986, the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, J. Batmunkh, arrived on an official visit to the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). The two sides signed an agreement establishing direct friendly ties. In the same year the two sides signed an agreement on the main areas of cooperation for 1987–1990, aimed at exchanging experiences in the development of mining, agriculture and animal husbandry.

Independent diplomatic relations

The history of cooperation between Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan can be described as slow and steady. In 1991, Kyrgyzstan became independent following the collapse of the Soviet Union and started its transition to democracy. In 1992, the People’s Republic of Mongolia ceased to exist and the country switched from the socialist regime to a democratic one under the name of Mongolia. That same year the two countries established diplomatic relations as sovereign states.

In 1993, Kyrgyzstan’s first president Askar Akayev arrived on an official visit to Mongolia, and the two countries signed several documents that formed the legal basis for relations between them. Among them were the Treaty of Friendly Relations and Cooperation between Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan as well as agreements on economic, cultural, scientific, and environmental cooperation. Akayev visited Mongolia again in 2002. The negotiations ended with similar statements on mutual interest in economic, agricultural, and cultural cooperation.

Despite the ambitious plans, the relations developed slowly and did not yield any major results. In 2012, Mongolia’s former president Elbegdorj Tsakhia visited Kyrgyzstan. The visit somewhat revived bilateral cooperation as the parties reaffirmed the importance of further developing cooperation between the two countries. It was followed up by the opening of the Ulaanbaatar–Bishkek–Istanbul flight that established a direct flight between the two countries for the first time.

In 2014, Mongolia opened a General Consulate in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek. In 2015, Elbegdorj Tsakhia visited Kyrgyzstan for the second time and stated that the two countries were interested in active trade and economic cooperation. In 2017, Kyrgyzstan’s Ambassador to China, Azamat Usenov, was appointed Ambassador to Mongolia concurrently. In 2019, Mongolia’s former president Khaltmaa Battulga visited Kyrgyzstan and inaugurated Mongolian Embassy in Bishkek.

Growing trade and people-to-people diplomacy

The meager trade turnover between Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan hint at the fact that the cooperation between them has carried a political tone. The high-level meetings and agreements have not yielded any impactful results in the economic sphere. However, there have been positive changes in the last several years.

The trade turnover between the two countries in 2017 was only USD 1.6 million. It has since grown and reached USD 2.756 million in 2022. In the first four months of 2023, the number stands at USD 3.456 million, which is 5.8 times higher than from the same period in 2022. Food items make up most of the trade. These numbers are still meager compared to even the tenth largest trading partner of each country. The trade turnover between Kyrgyzstan and its tenth largest partner, India, is almost USD 118 million. Kyrgyzstan does not appear in Mongolia’s top 10 export or import partners. As optimists might say, there is a lot of room for growth.

Here is a YouTube video about the growing bilateral trade between Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan.

Japarov’s visit is expected to continue the positive trend of the last several years. His visit resulted in the agreement that Mongolia will supply meat, meat products and leather to Kyrgyzstan and import fruits and vegetables from Kyrgyzstan. Similar outcomes were reported after Kyrgyzstan’s foreign minister visited Mongolia earlier in May. In this regard, the parties agreed to intensify cooperation between veterinary and quarantine institutions. Exchange of experiences in the mining industry and tourism are two other opportunities that make the most sense, given the countries specificities and strenghts.

Perhaps the more effective driver of interaction between the two countries is the budding car trade between South Korea and Kyrgyzstan, which is taking place with the help of Mongolia. Global Voices spoke to Tolotai, a businessman from Mongolia who facilitates this trade as the middle man. He says that the first time Kyrgyz businessmen came to Mongolia for cars was in 2019. They did so after realizing that such a route exists, and it is cheaper and faster to import cars to Kyrgyzstan from South Korea via Mongolia than from other parts of the world via Georgia and Armenia.

The COVID-19 pandemic put these plans on hold until 2022, when Mongolia finally opened its borders. That is when the car trade finally took off, according to Tolotai, who is one of many local businessmen involved in the trade. Between 100 and 200 cars leave for Kyrgyzstan every month. Some of them are sent off further to Russia, after being registered and receiving number plates in Kyrgyzstan. Russia and Kyrgyzstan are both members of the Eurasian Economic Union, which allows registering a vehicle in one member and driving it freely in all others. The car trade is made possible by Mongolian Kazakhs like Tolotai. Their linguistic and cultural similarity allows them to freely communicate with Kyrgyzstani businessmen.

The outcomes of the past official visits and talks show that the two countries remain friendly toward each other and ready to explore avenues for cooperation. The mutual establishment of embassies promises to speed up bilateral cooperation and take it to the next level. The high-level political engagement is supplemented with people-to-people trade and interaction. Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan’s slow and steady approach to cooperation may soon turn into swift and dynamic.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.