By Graham Earnshaw, Reuters
ULAN BATOR, May 13, Reuter – Mongolia is waiting for a positive response from China on the current withdrawal of Soviet troops from its territory before considering any more moves to improve relations, officials and diplomats said.
The withdrawal of an estimated 11,000 Soviet troops from this huge, sparsely-populated nation sandwiched in central Asia between the two giants of world communism began last month and will continue through mid-June.
China has so far indicated it will be satisfied with nothing less than a total withdrawal of Soviet troops along their entire border, which overlaps the east and western ends of the Sino-Mongolian frontier.
Mongolian officials told Reuters the troop withdrawal was meant as a gesture of goodwill towards China.
They said they wanted a clear statement from China that it harbours no territorial ambitions in Mongolia before any further steps could be taken.
Relations between China and Mongolia, a close ally of Moscow, have been slow to resume in spite of increasing ties between Peking and other Soviet bloc countries.
“In order for our relations (with China) to be fully normalised, we expect the Chinese side to indicate that their policies and attitudes towards Mongolia have changed,” said senior Foreign Ministry official J. Enkhsaihan.
“We have had a long history with the Chinese, and many times they have laid claims on Mongolia,” he added.
He declined to say how many troops were being withdrawn, but when presented with the western estimate of 11,000, he said: “That’s sounds about right.”
The Soviet Union moved its forces into Mongolia after Moscow’s bitter ideological split with China in the early 1960s and there are now bases strung along the 4,600 km (3,000 mile) Sino-Mongolian border equipped with tanks, MiG fighters and missiles.
Diplomats said they were not aware of any nuclear missiles in Mongolia. A Soviet embassy spokesman in Ulan Bator, asked if there were any SS-20 missiles in the country, replied: “I have never seen anything like a missile here.”
The diplomats said they understood from Soviet sources about 10 per cent of the total Soviet military personnel in Mongolia were being withdrawn, though western military estimates usually place the total at about 60,000.
It is not clear exactly from where the troops are being withdrawn.
Mongolian and Soviet embassy officials say most are being removed from a base at Saynshand about 100 km (60 miles) from the Chinese border and southeast of the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator.
Some diplomats said they understood the bulk of the troops were being withdrawn from the Choibalsan region of eastern Mongolia.
Mongolia, as big as western Europe, was ruled from Peking as the province of Outer Mongolia for more than 200 years but the country and its population of two million people and 24 million livestock have now been dominated by the Soviet Union for more than six decades.
There is still great unease here about Chinese intentions.
Chinese officials dismiss the charges that they covet Mongolia and point out that the government in Peking recognised Mongolia as an independent state almost immediately after the communist victory in China in 1949.
The Mongolian Foreign Ministry official, Enkhsaihan, said China had many times laid claim to Mongolia, and referred to comments made by China’s late leader Chairman Mao in the 1950s as proof that the present Peking government continued to view Mongolia as rightfully Chinese territory.
“There were Chinese maps showing Mongolia as part of China even up to 1985. We believe this is not a coincidence, it is a policy.”
Asked to produce such a map, Enkhsaihan referred me to the Mongolian embassy in Peking, which said the latest such map was published in the May 1985 issue of the official Chinese magazine World Knowledge.
The troop withdrawal from Mongolia was first proposed by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in his landmark Vladivostok speech last July and diplomats say Moscow appears to be going out of its way to be conciliatory towards Peking.
“The Chinese are looking ultimately for the withdrawal of all troops from along the border, but at least it’s a start,” said one diplomat.
Asked if more withdrawals were possible, the Soviet embassy spokesman said:
“The first step has been taken by the Soviet Union. The presence of Soviet troops in Mong and along the Sino-Soviet border is not our desire. It is necessary to defend our border and stabilise the situation.
“If the situation were to change, for instance if an atmosphere of mutual confidence arises, and if the other side — including China, the U.S. and Japan — take steps in this field, many problems could be resolved and it would not be necessary to have so many troops along the border.”
One East European working in Mongolia said he knew that Soviet troops were being replaced by fresh units at some bases, but added:
“I don’t know about withdrawals. If they are withdrawing troops, I hope they withdraw the Soviet troops from my country too.” REUTER NNNN