Despite grim reports of continuing political oppression in China, at least one Asian Communist nation is making peaceful progress toward democracy.
President P. Ochirbat of the Mongolian People's Republic (MPR) recently spent a week in Washington, D.C., meeting with President Bush. Playing a small but important role in those historic meetings was Sechin Jagchid, a Brigham Young University professor of Chinese, who acted as Bush's interpreter.Jagchid is a native Mongolian and former department chairman at Chengchai University in Taiwan. He now teaches in BYU's David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies.
Mongolia's struggles toward independence actually have more in common with the Soviet Baltic states than with Beijing, since the MPR has been a satellite of the Soviet Union for nearly 80 years, Jagchid explained.
It tried in 1911 to free itself from Chinese domination, but the country was unable to enlist the aid of a third-party nation such as the United States. Its bloody revolution failed, and Mongolia became a part of the Soviet Union.
Glasnost has permitted a second attempt at Mongolian independence.
"And I thank Mr. Gorbachev for that," Jagchid said.
The Mongolian movement has been largely peaceful because of a tremendous spirit of cooperation.
"According to the speech by Ochirbat to President Bush, both sides in Mongolia - the people and the government - realized that a peaceful solution was the only way," Jagchid said. "Everybody knew that if they struggled against each other it would be the end."
Ochirbat told Bush that the MPR has already made great strides toward democracy, Jagchid said. "While the opposition party still makes up only 20 percent of the national congress, in the standing committee - the legislative body of the government - the opposition party now occupies 40 percent," he said.
"The deputy president of the republic is from the opposition party, as is one of the deputy prime ministers - and all this has happened in only one year," he added. Mongols are permitted to own their own homes as well as the land they sit on, and moves are under way to allow private ownership of industry.
Establishing a democratic state is more than just politics, however.
"They're having trouble moving toward a free market economy, and so they asked President Bush for technological help," Jagchid said. "They are particularly interested in bringing in outside capital and investments."
As an indication of how ripe the MPR is for outside development, Japanese enterprises are already there, trying to take advantage of the land-locked area's rich mineral resources.
"But remember, the first official visit by the government was to the United States," Jagchid pointed out. As it learned from its previous attempt at independence, Mongolia needs the interest and influence of a strong third-party nation as it walks the tightrope between its two powerful neighbors, China to the south and the Soviet Union to the north.
"President Bush gave a very positive response to the Mongolians. He and Secretary of State James Baker praised the fact that Mongolia is moving so much faster than `Big Brother' (the Soviets)," said Jagchid.
"But he also said that he would like to see a harmonious relationship continue between the Mongolians and their two neighboring countries," he added.
It was an emotional series of meetings for Jagchid. "I said to President Ochirbat, `Today I am seeing the real independence and development of my native country, and you must know the feelings in my heart. I struggled for Mongolia as a young man, but now I am an old man, and I'm seeing it with my own eyes.' "
Ochirbat's response? "He grasped my hand and shook it for a long time," said Jagchid, who plans to visit Mongolia in the near future, his first trip there since fleeing the Communists at the end of World War II.
Jagchid joined the BYU faculty as a visiting faculty member in 1972.
"And I'm still here," he said with a smile. He is the author of several recent texts on Mongolia and China, including "Essays in Mongolian Studies" for the Kennedy Center and "Peace, War and Trade Along the Great Wall,"
published by Indiana University Press.