Saturday, May 25, 2024

Chinese troops sent by rail to Mongolia for first drill, signalling growing ties

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China used a railway to deliver troops to the Gobi Desert for its first ever joint army drill with Mongolia on Thursday, the Chinese defence ministry said, in a sign of growing strategic ties between the two neighbours.

The Chinese and Mongolian militaries are conducting the joint military training exercise – dubbed “Steppe Partner-2024” – in the southeastern Mongolian province of Dornogovi, according to a statement issued on Friday by the ministry.

China used railway transport to send a brigade from the 79th Group Army with various weapons and equipment from the border city of Erenhot in northern China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region to Mongolia on Monday.
Mongolian military soldiers welcome the arrival of Chinese troops participating in a joint drill. Photo: Ministry of National Defense

It is the first joint training exercise between the Chinese and Mongolian armies, China’s military said, adding that the theme is “dealing with the activities of illegal armed groups”.

The training area is deep in the Gobi Desert, according to the ministry, with strong sandstorms and steep temperature differences from day to night, requiring soldiers to “strictly” follow actual combat requirements.

The two militaries established command communications and defence facilities, set up camps, conducted terrain surveys, and streamlined supply links. Specific consultations on military operations will also be conducted during the exercise.

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Cross-border transport of Chinese troops by railway is only conducted with a small number of Beijing’s neighbours, with which a high level of strategic trust has been established. China has previously sent its personnel and weapons to Laos and Russia for joint drills.

Ulaanbaatar has used a strategy to balance its military ties between the US and China. Last August, Mongolian Prime Minister Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene visited the Pentagon during a trip to Washington and said the US is not only Mongolia’s “strategic third neighbour” but also its “guiding pole star for Mongolia’s democratic journey.”

Oyun-Erdene had also said his country’s relationship with China was “at its highest level”, and that both sides were developing a “comprehensive strategic partnership” during an interview with the South China Morning Post.

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Last June, China took part in the “Khaan Quest 2023” multinational peacekeeping exercise in Mongolia. Beijing, which has participated in the drill since 2015, sent its second largest contingent of troops to Mongolia, marking the event’s 20th anniversary.

Railways have played a significant role in ties between China and Mongolia, not only in military training but also through economic engagement, such as the China–Mongolia–Russia Economic Corridor, which is part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

The landlocked country is reportedly planning to add seven more new dry ports to expand trade with neighbouring China and Russia.

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