With one hand resting on the mane of a healthy Mongolia horse, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Asper invoked the name of one of America’s great soldiers as he sandwiched between the U.S. and this landlocked democracy Russia to strengthen military ties And China.
[“I want to name this fine-looking horse marshal, after General George Marshall,” Esper said on Thursday as he was presented with a 7-year-old buckskin during a time-honored traditional ceremony at Mongolia’s Ministry of Defense Was.
In recent weeks, the third U.S. relationship with Mongolia, Esla in Ulaanbaatar, has closed, underscoring its important role in the U.S.’s new defense strategy that lists China and Russia as priority competitors.
With just over 3 million people spread over an area twice the size of Texas, Mongolia has worked to maintain its independence from Beijing and Moscow by increasing its ties to other world powers, including the U.S. It describes America as [“the third neighbor.]”
Asper made it clear during his week-long visit to the Asia Pacific that the administration’s top priority is to counter China’s aggressive and volatile activities in the region. These activities, he said, include Beijing’s militarization of human-made islands in the South China Sea, efforts to use violent economics and debt to sovereignty deals, and campaigns to promote state-sponsored theft of other countries’ intellectual property.
“We have become aware of toeholds that they are trying to get involved in many of these countries,” Esper told reporters traveling with him to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and Mongolia this week.
Asper, who was sworn in as Secretary of Defense in July, said that the U.S. is working to build relationships with key countries in the Indo-Pacific that share values and respect for each other’s sovereignty, “whether That trip to Mongolia, Vietnam, is a future trip, Indonesia, other countries which I think are essential.]
His stay in Mongolia was less than 24 hours, but he told his defense counterpart, Nyamaagiin Enkhbold, that it gives him “opportunities to see different ways we can further strengthen relations” between the two countries.
As they stood outside the ministry, Espar told a story of a marshal in a small statue of a famous statue of Mongolia’s renowned founder Genghis Khan in which he attacked a Mongolian horse who was stubborn. Asper, Marshall said, had high regard for horses.
As he spoke, the new name Marshal stood patiently and patiently as Esper patted his neck.
“He’s happy,” Esper said. “He likes his name.”
Asper presented the horse-keeper with a saddle blanket bearing the name and signature of the Old Guard of the U.S. Army.
Horses, which are bred for endurance, always live in Mongolia, and tradition dictates that the recipients name them after something they consider essential.
Just last week, the Mongolian government gave one of the horses to President Donald Trump’s 13-year-old son, Barron, who named it Vijay.
A former Pentagon chief, Chuck Hagle, found a Mongolian horse when he visited in 2014, and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld received one when he left in 2005. Hegel named his 9-year-old buckskin jailing shamrock after his high school mascot, and Rumsfeld named his Montana, as the dry, mountainous landscape around the Mongolian capital reminded him of that state.
Esper’s visit is the first by a Pentagon chief since Hagle, and it comes on the heels of a visit to the White House last week by Khaltmaa Battulga, the President of Mongolia, the first since 2011. Also, National Security Advisor John Bolton visited Mongolia in June.
Espar said he had no specific goal for the trip, including how the Pentagon could expand its military cooperation with Mongolia. Instead, he said that he wants to build strong ties at the senior defense level.
The State Department’s 2019 budget for foreign operations was clear in outlining Mongolia’s importance, stating that the primary goals of U.S. aid are – “The United States remains a preferred partner over geographical neighbors Russia and China.” ] “
And while U.S. officials have insisted that America is not asking countries to choose between the United States and China, Asper said, “We have been able to compete with them.”
A senior U.S. official said the U.S. wants to expand its defense and intelligence cooperation with Mongolia, noting that its location makes it ideal for listening positions and surveillance stations for peering into both U.S. opponents. The officer was not authorized to discuss the details publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mongolian troops have consistently been a visible force, often providing security at U.S. facilities. The nation still has more than 200 soldiers in Afghanistan.
Also, U.S. troops commonly conduct cold-weather preparation in Mongolia. And in June, U.S. and Mongolian forces participated in the annual Khaan Quest military training focusing on peacekeeping and other interoperability training.
More broadly, Mongolia wants to enhance its trade with the U.S., and that was a key topic when Battulga met with President Donald Trump last week. The country is looking to diversify its trade flows since China gets more than 85 percent of Mongolia’s exports.
The U.S. is interested in Mongolia’s economic resources, including rare earth metals and cashmere. Most of Mongolia’s raw cashmere is finished in China, triggering interest in locating another market to bolster competition.
The U.S. is open to supporting Mongolia to expand its access to the trans-Siberian pipeline, thereby providing a route for shipping goods to the West other than through China.