President Emmanuel Macron made a brief but symbolic visit to Mongolia on Sunday. He will be the first French president to visit a country sandwiched between China and Russia that is of growing strategic interest to the West.
The French head of state was greeted by the traditional Mongolian honor guard after landing in the capital Ulaanbaatar after the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.
President Macron then attended a reception at Sukhbaatar Square, home to a large statue of Mongolian revolutionary hero Damdin Sukhbaatar and a monument to Genghis Khan.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was a featured guest at the G7, addressing leaders of Western allies and non-aligned countries such as Brazil and India.
Since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, France has stepped up diplomacy with countries that have not explicitly condemned Ukraine, including Mongolia.
In Ulaanbaatar, President Macron attended a state dinner at the Genghis Khan Museum, named after the 13th-century Mongol conqueror.
The institution will loan part of its collection to the Nantes Historical Museum in western France for an exhibition scheduled for October.
– “Diversification” –
“The fact that Mongolia is on its way home makes this historic first[visit]possible and gives it special meaning,” said an Elysee official.
Mongolia is considering “diversifying its partnerships to better deal with its larger neighbors Russia and China,” the official added.
A French presidential official said Paris aims to “relax restrictions placed on Russia’s neighbours” and expand its options.
The official added that Mongolia could join Europe’s efforts to diversify its supply “to ensure our country’s energy sovereignty.”
The sprawling North Asian nation has been of increasing interest to the United States in recent years as part of a strategy to stem China’s rise.
China accounts for 86% of Mongolia’s total exports, half of which is coal.
Mongolia has suffered from political instability since 1992, when it fell out of Soviet orbit and adopted its first democratic constitution.