On October 10 Mongolia’s president, Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh, landed in Paris. Upon arrival, as he stepped onto the boarding ramp he was formally welcomed by the French Ambassador to Mongolia, the Mongolian Ambassador to France and the French Minister of Energy.
On October 11, the Mongolian president had a meeting with the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo. Among the matters they touched on during their meeting were a number of the most pressing issues affecting Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, and the Mayor shared her experience in such fields as combating air pollution, reducing traffic congestion, city planning and sustainable development. These topics are of particular relevance for Mongolia at the moment, as was underscored by the recent replacement of the heads of Ulaanbaatar’s Mayor and of the national committee to combat traffic congestion in the capital. In fact, the new Mayor was appointed the day after the meeting between Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh and Anne Hidalgo, October 12, 2023, while the new head of the national committee was appointed on October 5, 2023.
On October 12 a formal ceremony was held in the Hôtel des Invalides to mark the Mongolian president’s visit to Paris. It was attended by French Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti and General Christophe Abad, Military governor of Paris. Despite all the ceremony, which was reminiscent of that which accompanied the meeting between the two heads of state several months ago, President Khürelsükh’s esteemed counterpart was not present at this event.
During his trip to Paris, the Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh took part in a Franco-Mongolian business forum. In his welcoming address to the participants, the president pointed out that the mining sector accounts for more than 80% of all French investments in Mongolia, informed his French audience about Mongolia’s success in improving the investment climate and reducing customs duties, and then, after mentioning the Visit Mongolia Years national program, invited them to visit the country.
The two presidents had a meeting in the Élysée Palace on October 12. The joint statement on the meeting mentioned a number of fields in which the two countries cooperate, including space, energy, mining, sustainable development, education and the arts. The parties also announced that they would coordinate their efforts to implement national environmental initiatives. Meanwhile in a meeting between the Foreign Ministers of France and Mongolia, the participants agreed on plans to upgrade their bilateral relationship to the level of a strategic partnership. In the meeting the two Foreign Ministers signed a Program for Bilateral Cooperation between Mongolia and France. The document is a kind of “road map,” and sets out the activities and plans for bilateral cooperation between the two countries in the period 2023-2028, expanding on the general terms stated in the Joint Declaration signed following the visit of Emmanuel Macron to Mongolia in May 2023.
President Khürelsükh’s visit to Paris resulted in the signing of a large number of other documents relating to various aspects of cooperation between the two countries, including agreements on financing the provision of additional training to the air rescue unit of Mongolia’s National Emergency Management Agency and the supply of fire trucks to that same Agency, a memorandum of understanding between Mongolia’s Ministry of Communications and the French aerospace corporation Thales Alenia Space, an agreement on cooperation in the fields of geological research and technology, and a memorandum of understanding between France’s Bureau of Geological and Mining Research, the Compagnie Générale de Géophysique (CGG) and Mongolia’s National Geological Service.
During the trip, a number of major economic deals were also signed. Thales Alenia Space signed a $15 million agreement under which it will build Mongolia’s first satellite, to be named “Chinggis Sat,” launch it into orbit and train the specialists responsible for servicing it. The Mongolian representatives also signed a protocol agreement with the French mining company Orano, for the development of two uranium deposits in southwestern Mongolia, Zuuvch Ovoo and Dulaan Uul. The implementation of the project under the protocol agreement will cost 1.6 billion euros. The parties are expected to enter into the final investment agreement by the end of this year. French experts estimate that if the project is fully implemented the total yield from the two Mongolian deposits could represent up to 4% of the entire global uranium market. By developing the Zuuvch Ovoo and Dulaan Uul deposits, Orano hopes to compensate for the loss of its position in another important country, Niger, as a result of the political upheavals there.
The highlight of the trip’s cultural program was the Mongolian president’s visit to the exhibition Chinggis Khaan – How Mongols changed the world, in the French city of Nantes. The exhibition is the result of a partnership between France and major Mongolian museums, especially the recently opened Chinggis Khaan National Museum.
In connection with President Khürelsükh’s visit to France an exhibition of Mongolia’s national handicrafts was organized, showcasing goods made in Mongolia using traditional recipes and techniques, including yurts, cashmere and leather goods, and decorative items.
Overall, a detailed analysis of the trip suggests that the progress on the uranium deal between Mongolia and France is the main achievement of the Mongolian president’s five-day trip. However, there remains a great deal of work for the newly-appointed officials to do, as the protocol is a preliminary document that, in all likelihood, does not fully resolve all the areas of disagreement between the parties. If we view the protocol as Orano’s attempt to find a new source of uranium, instead of Niger, then the irony of the situation is already obvious, as the cost of building new infrastructure and transporting uranium from Mongolia would make it more expensive than African uranium. Moreover, in spite of Mongolia’s ongoing attempts to optimize the country’s investment climate, which President Khürelsükh referred to during his visit, Mongolia’s laws and the increasingly negative attitude of the Mongolian public to foreign mining investors will certainly prevent France from taking vast profits out of the country as it was able to do during its many decades of “fruitful cooperation” with the countries in West Africa.
Boris Kushkhov, the Department for Korea and Mongolia at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.