LETTER: Life in Mongolia is no joke

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From Mr Alan Sanders

Sir. It's a pity that in his "extruded polystyrene" sneer at Hillary Clinton (Diary, 21 September) John Walsh had to poke fun at the Mongols as well. Mongolia is a fun place, but it's not a joke. It's also not part of China, but has set out to build itself into an independent democracy with a market economy. This is proving to be a lengthy and painful process.

The US has been generous in helping the Mongols keep to their chosen path, pledging for 1991 to 1995 grants alone worth more than $82m. Mrs Clinton was given a warm welcome. During her visit she promised another $3.5m for urgent aid projects. Many Mongols live in poverty, especially the abandoned children in whom Mrs Clinton has taken a special interest.

US aid pledges to Mongolia are less than those of the biggest donor, Japan ($170m), but considerably more than Germany's $39m and the UK's $4.8m. The UK was the first of these countries to establish diplomatic relations with Mongolia, in 1963, and the first to open a permanent embassy in Ulaanbaatar (Ulan Bator), but it has not built on this long relationship. There is a lack of commitment to help ensure the economic, social and political viability of independent Mongolia. The debate over the value of UK foreign aid has been renewed, but amid the drive to reduce public expenditure.

Today there has been news of another airliner crash in Mongolia. Like so much of Mongolia's Soviet legacy, its airline equipment urgently needs replacement. Mongolian President Ochirbat, who has no plans to visit London, is currently in Germany, which has promised the Mongols another DM25m. No wonder they see Germany as their main European partner.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Sanders

Lecturer in Mongolian Studies

School of Oriental and

African Studies

London, WC1

21 September