Members Area Logout
News News How Mongolia earned its nic...

How Mongolia earned its nickname as the “Switzerland of Asia”

Mongolia, a landlocked country between authoritarian superpowers Russia and China, doesn’t make international headlines nearly as much as its Asian counterparts. Despite this, journalists like Johan Nylander have set out to learn more about how Mongolia’s democratic efforts impact the region and the rest of the world.

“There’s so many fascinating things about this country, it’s such a beautiful place,” Nylander began. “Very friendly people, amazing history, a lot of interesting things happening at the moment.”

Speaking at the FCC with First Vice President Jennifer Jett, Nylander outlined his process for writing The Wolf Economy Awakens: Mongolia’s Fight for Democracy, and a Green and Digital Future. The book began with Nylander’s genuine interest in the country combined with the realisation that not many people knew anything about Mongolia.

Johan Nylander, left, and Jennifer Jett, right. Photo: FCC

“A lot of people in the world, they don’t know almost anything about the country, like a lot of people don’t even know it exists,” he said.

Nylander spent a year traveling from Hong Kong to Mongolia after the COVID-19 pandemic, interacting with everyone from politicians to the average pedestrian who were all motivated to tell their stories. For his FCC talk, he focused primarily on Mongolia’s diplomatic relations and economy.

Neutral Mongolia has earned the nickname “the Switzerland of Asia” by gathering nations without official ties for formal discussions. This particularly comes into play with the yearly Ulaanbaatar Dialogue, which since the 1980s has become a unique forum where conflicting nations (primarily North and South Korea) can meet.

Mongolia was also the initial location for former US President Donald Trump to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for denuclearization talks in 2018, but the meeting was eventually moved to Singapore.

Mongolia’s economy is unique due to being primarily driven by the coal industry, giving the country another nickname: Mine-golia. In fact, around 5-6% of Mongolia’s GDP comes from coal, which Nylander explained is both a good and bad thing. Good in that Mongolia has become quite valuable to its Northeast Asian neighbors, but bad due to more resources leading to more issues in democracy and human rights.

Referencing the 2022 protests against Mongolia’s alleged “coal mafia” that has shaped the country’s economic development while excluding citizens’ social development, Nylander explained how serious Mongolia is about free speech. Mass protests are actually a common sight in the Mongolian capital and while non-violent, they are quite effective in changing the country for better.

Even when current politicians come into the public crosshairs, like current Prime Minister Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrain who was once a passionate protester himself, there is a mutual respect and understanding for the mission that protesters are trying to achieve for the country.

“Those are the best people,” Luvsannamsrain said when describing his critics.

Johan Nylander. Photo: FCC

Nylander then went on to highlight how the younger generations are using technology to innovate life in Mongolia, which the rest of the world could learn from. He first described e-Mongolia, an all-in-one app in which citizens can access all government services, including new passports, driver’s licenses, hospital appointments, and more.

“Wouldn’t that be great? Like, everything in one app?” Nylander said while noting that other nations that are regarded as “more developed” don’t have such an app.

When asked about other initiatives spearheaded by Mongolia’s youth, Nylander also mentioned green startups that aim to offset the environmental damage that such a large coal industry can produce. URECA is one of those startups that helps families, particularly in rural areas, transition from coal to solar power through a credit system that makes the infrastructure upgrade more affordable.

Just like the e-Mongolia app, Nylander also finds this type of technology impactful yet unparalleled in the rest of the world, and believes that more countries can adopt similar projects to combat transnational issues.

“Tech startups are the best when they can solve a local problem that also can solve a global problem,” Nylander concluded.

Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:

We measure site performance with cookies to improve performance.