I like stories about seemingly trivial issues that open a window onto big geopolitical events. This Washington Post story on the international implications of Mongolia’s huge coal reserves is a case in point. China is the natural market for Mongolia’s high quality coal, and the Mongolians are building a rail line to ship the coal — to Russia.Mongolia wants to play a triple game and get America and Russia onside in its efforts to avoid the smothering embrace of the giant panda next door, and the story helps readers follow the intricate steps of the dance.A lot of Central Asians feel that way — though some are more worried about Moscow than about Beijing. The game is complicated by secondary players and wannabes: the two Koreas and Japan in Mongolia; Turkey, Iran, India and Pakistan in Central Asia.America’s goal is a multipolar Asian order in which no single chicken rules the whole roost. That goal gives us a lot of diplomatic flexibility and more allies than enemies in the region; for most Asian states the distant superpower enhances their bargaining position with the superpower next door.The Post’s Mongolia story (by Andrew Higgins) points to these bigger regional truths; it’s a smart piece of journalism and well worth your time.
The Panda, The Bear, and the Bag of Mongolian Coal