40 years of Mongolian-Canadian diplomatic relations is taking “leaps and bounds”

By AMY REDING

Canadians and Mongolians are spending 2013 proudly celebrating 40 years of diplomatic relations, but 2013 also marks the fifth year since the inception of Canada’s first embassy in Ulaanbaatar.

“I think the fact that we set up an embassy was an appropriate reflection of how the relationship between the two countries has grown, is growing, and will continue to grow,” says Canadian Ambassador Gregory Goldhawk.

“We have a lot to celebrate in 2013. We’ve got a relationship that’s growing by leaps and bounds,” says Goldhawk.

Although Canada is Mongolia’s second largest investor aside from China, with approximately $5 billion invested financially, Goldhawk says that this relationship has developed beyond economics. He acknowledges that mining was certainly the “starting point” of the relationship, but a partnership has grown out of commonalities between the two countries.

“We have an awful lot as peoples that sort of tie us together,” he says.

Democracy, human rights, and a value on the importance of civil society are a few of the many reasons that Canada looks to Mongolia as a “trusted confidant.” Beyond that, the countries share many similarities; both are comparatively large countries with small populations, big neighbors, challenging geography and climate, and economies that were initially founded on natural resources.

Mongolia also looks to Canada for advice on dealing with powerful neighbors, as both China and the US are world superpowers. $1.6 billion in trade and 300, 000 people cross the border daily between the US and Canada. We may be “highly integrated” with America but that does not come without its challenges, says Goldhawk.

Having a “like minded” partner in Asia with similar views on issues, ranging from anything like nuclear nonproliferation to human trafficking, is part of the reason the relationship has developed so naturally.

“Most often, we find were on the same side of issues.”

The two countries are united in most concerns tackled by the UN or the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and in addition, Canada supported Mongolia’s partner status within NATO.

“Canadians can understand the world better through Mongolian eyes,” Goldhawk says. “They can offer us insights that we really wouldn’t get otherwise.”

The beauty of the relationship is found in both countries looking to each other for ways to strive towards improvement.

“In Canada we have a tendency to take democracy for granted. It’s kind of the air we breathe and the water in which we swim,” admits Goldhawk. “It’s the way it’s always been for us.” Goldhawk is repeatedly impressed with how Mongolia has dealt with struggles, and the impressive progress they have made towards democracy.

“Is their democracy perfect? No. Is ours perfect? No,” says Goldhawk. “We’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, and maybe Mongolia can profit from some of the things we’ve learned.”

At the end of April, Mongolia will be hosting the international organization, “Community of Democracies” for the first time, drawing many major world leaders to the country. Civil rights groups and activists in Ulaanbaatar are consistently working to maintain the “momentum” behind democracy and drive it forward.

Mongolian Governor Bat-Uul visited Calgary, Alta. recently to view a city in Canada with the potential to be a “development model” for Ulaanbaatar. The two cities are approximately similar in size, population, and climate, and are both divided by a river and surrounded by rolling hills.

“Embassies don’t create the relationships between countries,” explains Goldhawk. “That relationship is built by the interactions of ordinary Mongols and ordinary Canadians.”

The companies, the students, and the tourists are the ones that “build bridges between people.”

“Our job as an Embassy is to create the environment in which those interactions can multiply.” A key factor is cultural exchange, something Goldhawk hopes the embassy can begin to do more of.

Canadians and Mongols are working diligently on building connections, and one organization in particular is helping write the “Curriculum for Democracy Education,” teaching school age children about what democracy looks like in everyday society.

The government of Canada is also funding the CFLI (Canada Fund for Local Initiatives) which, after its inception 11 years ago, has funded nearly 400 community-based projects. Local groups address local needs in regards to poverty alleviation and community development. Funded projects are generally simple needs such as roofing, plumping for schools, and providing training materials. The Down Syndrome Association was given help translating and publishing Canadian manuals into Mongolian to help parents of children with Down syndrome.

Goldhawk calls it “humbling” to watch little amounts of money, anywhere between $5-15 thousand CAD per project, produce such massive results in the hands of passionate and engaged local people.

For students, perhaps the most exciting promise lies in the very first Canada- Mongolia education fair scheduled to take place in October. Twenty Canadian post-secondary institutions are sending representatives to talk with young Mongols about being educated in Canada. There has been a “veritable explosion” of Mongolian youth travelling to Canada to study, up to 28 per cent. As Canada’s interest in Mongolia continues to grow, as do the numbers of Canadian visitors to the country, which doubled last year.

“I feel extraordinarily privileged to be Canada’s representative in Mongolia at this point in this country’s history,” says Goldhawk. “They are on the cusp of dynamic change; politically, socially, economically, in every way. It’s very exciting to be here right now.”

Ambassador Gregory Goldhawk will leave Ulaanbaatar in the summer of 2014, and predicts a long line of people eagerly waiting to fill his shoes. “Mongolia is emerging onto the world’s consciousness,” he says.