Foreign Policy Blogs

Moscow Takes Ukraine, Beijing Takes Mongolia?

China's Lost Territory

map: ChinaSmack

Tensions escalated in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, as Ukrainian forces killed up to five pro-Moscow separatist rebels, and Russia launched army drills near the border in response, raising fears its troops would invade. The Ukrainian action took place to recapture territory from the rebels, who have seized swaths of eastern Ukraine since April 6 and proclaimed an independent “People’s Republic of Donetsk,” and marks the first time Kiev’s troops have used lethal force against the rebels.

The events are being closely followed by nations around the world, with many leaders denouncing Russia’s actions to change the status quo. International sanctions have been imposed on Russia, and on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that unless Moscow takes immediate steps to de-escalate the situation, Washington will impose additional sanctions. Moreover, fears are growing Russia will not be content solely with changing the borders of Ukraine but will look farther afield. NATO’s top military commander argues Moscow may target other Russian-speaking regions, notably another ex-Soviet republic, Moldova, and Transnistria, a breakaway state that declared independence from Moldova in 1990. Though Moscow’s ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, denied Russia has “expansionist views,” should Moscow continue to annex territory, it could set a very bad precedent for how other nations might act in future.

One nation that may be watching the events in Ukraine more closely than others is China. China has several active border disputes with its neighbors, including arguments over territorial waters in the East and South China Seas. So far Beijing has acted in a pesky but restrained fashion, establishing an air defense zone that wasn’t taken too seriously, sending military ships into disputed waters in a show of force or as a blockade, and using water hoses to fire on fishing boats from neighboring countries.

Beijing’s reaction to the Ukraine crisis so far has been confusing and muted. When the U.N. Security Council called an emergency vote just prior to the referendum in Crimea, Beijing abstained from voting, falling back on its policy of non-interference and choosing not to antagonize its only ally on the Council. Reactions to Beijing’s abstention by the Chinese active on Weibo and WeChat, two of China’s microblogging platforms, was immediate and spirited. In Beijing’s refusal to condemn the referendum, Chinese netizens pointed to the hypocrisy of Beijing’s foreign policy, given its expected divergent reaction should the populations of Taiwan, Tibet or Xinjiang choose to hold a referendum on independence. As expected, the matter is no longer being discussed on Weibo, after all comments linking the Crimean referendum with Xinjiang, Taiwan or Tibetan independence were deleted.

Much foreign policy punditry has already focused on the above-mentioned territories and their quest for independence. But now that Putin has opened up Pandora’s Box, what if China decided to annex territory it had long lost? Mongolia is one such large area of territory, ruled by the Manchurians during the Qing Dynasty. Following the collapse of the Qing Dynasty, the Mongols established the Temporary Government of Khalkha in November 1911, and in December, Mongolia declared independence from the Qing Dynasty, ending 220 years of Manchurian rule. Eventually Mongolia came under Soviet influence, becoming a Soviet satellite newly proclaimed as the Mongolian People’s Republic in 1924. When the Soviet Union threatened to further seize parts of Inner Mongolia from China in 1945, China chose to set aside its claims and back a referendum on Outer Mongolia’s independence. The referendum, which took place in October 1945, resulted in 100 percent of the electorate voting for independence.

How would Beijing go about the annexation of Mongolia? President Xi Jinping would likely begin by sending welcoming signals to Ulaanbaatar that should Mongolia chose to hold a referendum on rejoining China, he would support the outcome. Prior to the referendum, Chinese troops would amass near the border of Mongolia and Inner Mongolia, awaiting further orders in case the Chinese population needs to be protected. International condemnation would surely follow, although given Beijing’s greater economic power, and Russia’s current status as one of the most hated nations, the penalties would likely be less harsh. Beijing would draw the wrath of Moscow, but Moscow would face territorial battles on two fronts simultaneously.

Of course, the above scenario is fanciful, given the ethnic makeup of most Mongolians and their fierce nationalism in opposition to the rule of Beijing. Ethnic Mongols account for about 95 percent of the population and consist of Khalkha and other groups – all speaking some dialect of the Mongol language, and support for a referendum along Putin’s model would fail miserably. Further, the Mongolians have a strong sense of nationhood and have fiercely opposed recent land grabs by Chinese companies. Yet Putin’s strategy of annexation might make more sense in areas where a Chinese-speaking minority find themselves under oppressive foreign rule. Other than Mongolia, China currently claims territory administered by Russia, India, Japan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Myanmar and Bhutan, as well as numerous islands in the East and South China Seas claimed by Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei.

Given the possibility that Putin’s expansionist policy should expand, U.S. President Barack Obama and European leaders should continue to pressure Moscow to restrain its aggression, and further press Beijing to condemn the Crimea referendum and to give assurance it will stand behind its policy of “peaceful rise.” While Beijing may never condemn the actions of its sole ally on the U.N. Security Council, Beijing will need to give the international community reassurances that what Putin has engineered in the Crimea will not now be regarded as fair play and copied by Beijing in order to assert any one of its disputed territorial claims in the region.


  • bob

    What nonsense. Can’t believe i actually wasted my time reading this.

    Dream on in your fantasyland.

  • Micah Christie

    Russia has much to gain by having a secured port that they can run a pipeline to uncontested. I don’t think China has as much to gain by taking any of their neighbors land besides a few of the contested islands and they certainly wouldn’t have a large portion of the population that would seem themselves as both Chinese and sympathetic to the PRC. Certainly not Mongolia.

  • Goody

    So stupid you to write about this nonsense…
    Mongolia was never under China! Ching Dynasty that controlled both china and Mongolia is in extinct….wake up and read books!!!

    • Gary Sands

      If the Qing Dynasty ruled China, and controlled Mongolia, then Mongolia was part of China…please read your sentence again.

      • Braulio Cavalcanti Filho

        Flawed logic, which is typically Chinese!

        • sebhai

          Modern china is established by qing dynasty,is it not?

          • boss

            no machu ruled both china and mongolians.

    • awfiof


  • to Gary Sand

    This is big bullshit

    • Batu Batu

      He just want to create trouble around.

  • Boy

    hahahaha, who was your history teacher? First better ask why chinese built that stone wall? protect themselves. its too obvious. Secondly, better study before write. Thirdly, false information can hurt many people, including you. Lastly, who was your history teacher? hope was not Mr.Li.

  • Batu Batu

    We should close Taiwanese Center in Ulaanbaatar and kick them out of Mongolia.

  • FUCK

    What a Nonsense. Mongolia not part of China. FUCK Chinaaaaaaaa

    • Sabra Simpson

      Be polite! This is not the place for you to F. Go home do that in your bed!!!

  • Zandan

    Gary Sands. What nonsense. What do you want by this provocation? Unfortunately, you don’t have any idea about the geopolitical situation and historic truth of this region.

  • Zandan

    I agree with this: I don’t think China has as much to gain by taking any of their neighbors land besides a few of the contested islands and they certainly wouldn’t have a large portion of the population that would seem themselves as both Chinese and sympathetic to the PRC. Certainly not Mongolia.

  • Greg

    To put it bluntly, China’s glorious national mission is to restore the status quo ante, that is, reclaim all the old territories of the Qing, reassert China’s greatness and especially its position as the kingpin of Asia, and avenge its humiliation at the hands of the West and Japan. You might argue that ‘irredentism’ and ‘hegemonism’ is in China’s DNA. But China was set on its current path (one-party control, subjugation of all civil life to the party, stress on military power, quest for the nation to ‘stand up’, etc.) by Chairman Mao, and it’s his thinking that still propels China on its current course. Chairman Mao agreed to let Mongolia go, and that is China’s position. Despite the rubbish put around by nationalist hotheads, China does not have designs on territories that Chairman Mao relinquished. This is a silly article imagining very far-fetched scenarios based on a very warped view of reality.

    • Proud Mongolian

      To be real, China was afraid of Chingis Haan when they built that great wall as a protection, read history and you’ll find how Chingis Haan crossed that “great wall” of yours like a boss still on his horse. It is your luck that you still exist on the face of earth so be grateful!!

  • Bat

    The great wall is the border line between Mongolia and China, so get real and shut up

  • looool

    fuck you motherfucker and fuck china

    • Sabra Simpson

      Fuck yourself!!!

      • MNG

        What the fuck…fuck yourself…come to mongolia…we will see…come please

  • dkmsdkskd2

    fuck china

    • Sabra Simpson

      Fuck yourself!!!

  • Ariya Bilegsaikhan

    “..he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing..” (The apology of socrates)
    Graduated in finance and business administration, now he feel the need to write about geopolitics. After seeing the map he chose to display i didn’t even bother reading.

  • Amar

    We will depending our country. VIVA MONGOLIA

  • remember the time

    remember the time who was robbery parts of the our brothers, inner mongolia was part of the main mongolia our brothers, give it to me my part of the brothers, world don’t like china and chinese people, they said fucking china, there are like cockroach something like that

  • Greencar

    The strong shall ruled the weak. soon Outer Mongolia and Taiwan will join China. It is better that way, someone to protect them and look after them.

  • Greencar

    This way the USA wil not have to police Taiwan nor Outer Mongolia, take it off our hands.

  • Munk the Mongol

    I’d become a terrorist before I let China take over my country

  • Ocea

    Once china was a part of Mongol Empire. Read history books.


    china has existed as one nation for 2000 years now. like all nations, the population, land, and the dynastices (family -based changed over time.

    1. china was rule for 2000 years by emperor or dynasty (family based rule)

    saudi arabia (house of saud) is current ruler of saudi arabia.

    2. china was replaced by the “”” republic of china in 1911″”” and “”” people republic of china in 1949″”””

    3. china in 21st century must be the “federal republic of china” “federal union of china. ” all nations like Russia, India, Brazil, Germany Canada, USA, mexico are



    china can only survive as a Federal union of semi-independent republic

    china is too big to governed from the center.


  • HistoryTho

    Oh wow. China is so fucked up. One of the 7 Wonders of the World BECAUSE of Mongolia. And Mongolia was never a part of China wholly, there was always a small, single group of Mongols that resisted and rebelled against all forms of China that tried to conquer them. In the end, Mongolia always managed to come back surviving, while every time China was conquered, they only had a chance to break free because of inner strife in Mongolia, not by military or political tactics. Currently, Mongolia is very high on the list by IQ, far outstripping both Russia and China. If they were to increase their population by reacquiring Inner Mongolia, they can rise to become one of the world’s superpowers. China’s best move at the moment is to encourage and help Mongolia by giving them back both the people and the land of Inner Mongolia and after helping them become a superpower, ally themselves with them. It would both heal a 1000 years of aggression against each other and would benefit both parties.

    • Guest

      Can’t agree about IQ or knowledge. Both are in fact pretty low!

  • H3llf1re

    Oh for fuck’s sake, the wall was built to defend China from Mongolia IN THE MING DYNASTY

    They broke through and China+Mongolia became the Qing dynasty, WHICH MEANS MONGOLIA IS PART OF CHINA.
    The people who said ‘go read history books’ are only looking at the small picture.

  • Sabra Simpson

    Mongolia WAS part of China!!! My ancestors were Mongolians, so I know about this very well. For those who said otherwise, you should do your homework and study some history before putting your opinions on the public web in order to show your intelligence!

  • V

    What a lovely comments there, actually, we don’t need get Mongolia back, as we can live happily WITHOUT Mongolia, but Mongolia can not. The only reason the Mongolia exist was becuz of Russia. Yes, a nation even abandoned their own culture and their letters and want make something big? Don’t be ridiculous! By the way,when we Chinese people build that stone wall, your Mongolian people wasn’t there yet, it was the Hun. And one more thing, Inner Mongolia is a part of China, want it? Come on and get it with your poorly 2.4 million people and a place without industry.

  • Guest

    Chinese are so weak through out their existence and always conquered by its neighbors. Mongolians ruled Chinese almost 200 years and Manchurian s ruled them since then until 1911. Not long after they occupied by Japanese. Great wall is historical evidence that Chinese hoped to protect them from Mongolians. Mongolia never been under Chinese rule.

  • Guest

    Mongolia is independent nation and will always be as it is. Referendum must held in Inner Mongolia without Chinese involvement, surely they will choose back to Mongolia, be careful that day will come

  • Ajay Krishna

    China is going to annex Mongolia in the coming decades, if not in the coming years, even at the cost of antagonizing Russia. This will be a serious threat to its neighbors. It already controls parts of southern Mongolia, known as inner Mongolia. Inner Mongolia is already struggling for independence from China. If Russia is under severe pressure the West, it might even tactically support China. Even though it might not be in Russia’s own interest. China also has eye on Siberia, which it also claims was part of China once. Even though China will not try to annex Siberia, as Russia is still strong militarily with more nukes. Countries like India, US and Japan should support breaking away of Tibet, East Turkestan and Taiwan to counter China’s expansionists and bully attitude. This will force China to focus internally instead of trying to claim territories held by India, Japan, Korea and other countries. Else, it will embolden Beijing to annex territories held by India, Japan, Korea, etc. If Tibet and East Turkestan are independent, the Chinese influence in Asia will reduce considerably. Similarly, countries like India, US, EU, Japan, etc should accept Taiwan as an independent nation and establish formal diplomatic ties, disregarding China’s one China policy. India, US, EU and Japan should also curtail trade with China. Growing global trade is making China a powerful military with expansionist attitude. If this is done, it will have 2 benefits. It will slow the growth of China’s military. It might also lead to more stronger movement for democracy.

  • XXX

    What is for China to annex the almost poorest country in the world ? millions of lazy drunkies ?

    If it is for natural resource , it can be done without using force.

  • Battulga

    The cockroaches will never get the tiger. The great wall couldn’t stop us, only the piles of their corpses.

  • bb

    Qing is not a chinese dinasty, because manchuurians were mongolian tribe in east. They were called the Forest tribe. When they conquered both china and Mongolia they did not allowed chinese to enter mongolia w/o special permission, so that chinese will not swarm in mongolia.

  • True Mongolian

    China illegally send men into Mongolian borders so they could rape Mongolian women, make them pregnant and force them to give birth so the Chinese could slowly take over our beautiful nation. China also illegally steal big amounts of gold and import them to their own land to sell them to others like if it were their own. These actions keep happening whether the Chinese try to hide it or not and we Mongolians are well aware of this. Those Chinese people who do such dirty business should be ashamed of themselves, keep hiding behind that great wall of yours that you built when you were afraid of us, keep your dirty penises inside your pants and go spread your blood into your own Chinese women who would dare give birth to your selfish children.
    China and Mongolia are separate countries, nations. It has been that way for a long time and will continue to be. I would rather fight with my bare fists for my nation and I would suggest China to do so too, instead of being cowards sneaking in their dicks into our land.

  • Fr33Th1nk3r

    I can’t believe Russia is willing to start ww3 over a different country wanting to be part of the EU. So stupid!!

  • Song

    Just let Mongolia continue to be independent from China, they are not one of us. We should focus on our Economy and our military. There are too many people in Mongolia they are not real Mongolia people, they forget their real mongolia language, they are using the language like Russia. They eat different food and they are son of Russia or the other people with mixed blood. The real Mongolia people are in inner Mongolia of China. Without outer Mongolia we could live better. Do not bring troubles to us. ZHONGGUOREN is the group of people who has the same culture and who respect ZHONGGUO culture. Not the groups who oppose it. Let them go.

  • M

    Go ahead and try. ROC-Taiwan is not an independent country. It should be silently join its country.
    by the way, It must be done just opposite way. Mongolia has to have referendum to get their lost territories and nations in China (they are called Inner Mongolia) and Russia Tuva and Buriats. History proves that Great Wall of China was a borderline and still a border between the Hans and Mongols.

  • Han Xin

    are you typo ? , Republic Of China = Taiwan

  • Richard Ruby

    Russia wants back the entire Russian Empire. Yet, even that would not be enough to satisfy Russia.

  • Jack Jupiter

    Mongolia interest and well being is best served by integration with China….This way Mongolians will automatically become the greatedt power again, like before in the age of Genghis Khan…I forsee Mongolia future is with China. China will be too strong for any other countries to interfere. Mongolia return to China will be the next after Taiwan…HongKong and Macau are just low hanging fruits. The Chinese are not dumb. Who ever has the power rule the day…just like USA and Russia….

  • Jack Jupiter

    Mongolia returned to China is only a matter of time. Chinese are very patient people.They waited 150 years for Hong Kong and Macau. How long did India waited for Goa? The Indian kicked the Portugal out in no time.This is how great powers work. It is still great power and time that decide the faith of Nations. Stop wasting time arguing logics. Just observe how nature carves out boundary of land form…we cannot stop it. Power is at play in all human relations and in nation building.

  • Jack Jupiter

    Mongolia was created by Russia as a puppet state as an intermediary boundary of Russia and China. That was when Russia was powerful to impose on China.So when China become powerful again, Russia will just have to bargain the return of Mongolia to China. In the meanwhile China accelerates her power even further….to provide Notice of things to come….so that there will be no war but a smooth handover…just like Hong Kong. If China were weak, UK would have no interest to return Hong Kong back to China.

  • Jack Jupiter

    Where are my 3 postings.

  • Joshua Tep

    I want to correct some of the listed disputes as China has resolved its disputes with Pakistan, Tajikistan, Myanmar, and Russia. I doubt China will do anything to provoke Russia or the world right now as Taiwan is first on the agenda. Mongolia as a government and entity has proven itself to be an inefficient state as its people are painfully naive and subservient to Western idealism. They want to be independent and wealthy but cronyism and reality are staunch reminders that that is a far flung dream. The status quo works for Beijing. Mongolia is a mining state in which China and Russia exploit. Mongolia will always be in China’s orbit. The days of the Yuan Dynasty and Mongol Empire are over.

  • Qephetzial

    That map is about Taiwan’s claims. Taiwan’s official name is Republic of China

    • Gary Sands

      true, but It is unclear how both Beijing’s and Taipei’s claims to China’s territory would differ in future – some islands in the South China Sea are claimed by both.


Gary Sands
Gary Sands

Gary Sands is a Senior Analyst at Wikistrat, a crowdsourced consultancy, and a Director at Highway West Capital Advisors, a venture capital, project finance and political risk advisory. He has contributed a number of op-eds for Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek, Washington Times, The Diplomat, The National Interest, International Policy Digest, Asia Times, EurasiaNet, Eurasia Review, Indo-Pacific Review, the South China Morning Post, and the Global Times. He was previously employed in lending and advisory roles at Shell Capital, ABB Structured Finance, and the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation. He earned his Masters of Business Administration in International Business from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and a Bachelor of Science in Finance at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. He spent six years in Shanghai from 2006-2012, four years in Rio de Janeiro, and is currently based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. [email protected]