As Chinese president Xi Jinping readies to meet his counterpart in Mongolia this weekend, China's neighbor to the north confirmed that cementing better ties between the two countries is a top priority.
Huge, dry, remote, and sparsely populated, Mongolia is emerging as one of Asia's key players. Germany, Japan, and Canada have already signed trade agreements, pulling what had long been a peripheral player on the world stage closer to the spotlight.
"Mongolia is endowed with good resources and our economy is developing at a growth rate of more than 10 percent," says Batchimeg Migeddorj, a member of Mongolia's parliment, the State Great Khural, said in the capital of Ulan Bator of Xi Jinping's visit. "This is a great chance for us."
"Now, the imminent challenge facing us is how to develop more scientifically, how to achieve a long-standing balance between development and environmental protection and how to narrow the yawning income gap as a result of rapid and explosive development," she added.
Most famous for being the homeland of Ghengis Khan, a Mongol nomad that forged an empire stretching from the Korean Peninsula to Hungary, Mongolia later fell under Chinese rule and was a constituent part of China from the 17th century until its independence in 1921. Closely tied to the Soviet Union (the country still uses the Cyrillic alphabet over the native Mongol script), Mongolia peacefully transitioned to a democratic form of government in 1990.
Sandwiched between Russia to the north and China to the south, Mongolia maintains good relations with both.
But despite Mongolia's humming economy, its vast size, lack of infrastructure, and encroachment of the Gobi Desert along the border with China hampers growth. Furthermore, owing to its cool, dry climate, 40 percent of Mongolia's 2.6 million people are nomadic.
Closer economic ties to China and its cosmopolitan markets have long been seen as a gateway for Mongolia to participate in the global economy.