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Mongolia in the 20th Century

Updated on May 2, 2011

In the 20th century, the obvious weakening of Manchu control in China led to new jockeyings aimed at redrawing the lines of force in central Asia. Japan came onto the Asian mainland, and by secret treaties with Russia in 1907, 1912, and 1916, divided Mongolia into "spheres of influence" which assigned Outer Mongolia to Russia and eastern Inner Mongolia to Japan. The revolution in China and overthrow of the Manchus, plus Russian encouragement and support, led the Outer Mongols to declare "autonomy," a political condition which existed from December 1, 1911, to 1919, with the eighth Jebtsun Damba Khutukhtu of Urga as head of the government. The 1915 Tripartite Treaty of Kyakhta, signed by "autonomous" Mongolia, republican China, and czarist Russia, placed Outer Mongolia in an ambiguous legal status: "autonomous," yet recognizing Chinese suzerainty, with Russia in effect controlling its foreign relations.

The Russian Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 destroyed the delicate Chinese-Russian-Mongol balance established by the Treaty of Kyakhta, and China reasserted full sovereignty over Outer Mongolia in 1919. Then, late in 1920, anti-Communist forces led by Baron Alexander von Un-gern-Sternberg took refuge in Outer Mongolia as a result of the consolidation of Bolshevik control in Siberia. Red Army troops, accompanied by a small Mongolian detachment, destroyed anti-Communist forces on Outer Mongolian soil and entered Urga on July 6, 1921. Since that time, Russian influence has been paramount. The Jebtsun Damba Khutukhtu, however, remained as nominal head of the country until his death in 1924, when Outer Mongolia took the official name of Mongolian People's Republic and the city of Urga became Ulan Bator (Red Hero). Khorloin Choibalsan (1895-1952) and Sukhe Bator (1894-1923) formed and led the early Revolutionary Party, and Choibalsan served from 1939 to 1952 as premier of the republic.

Extensive economic, social, and political change occurred in the republic after 1924. Chinese economic control was broken, and social revolution became especially violent in the 1929-1932 period when an abortive attempt at collectivization of livestock resulted in mass destruction of the herds and widespread purges swept the country. At this time, the Japanese renewed active aggression on the Asian mainland, created Manchukuo, and formed an Inner Mongolian government called Meng-chiang, headed by the Mongolian prince, Te Wang. Japanese military buildup on the border of the Mongolian People's Republic in the Barga area (Manchuria) led to the Soviet-Mongolian Treaty of Mutual Assistance of 1936, and various incidents culminated in a fairly large-scale clash in which Russian troops defeated the Japanese at Nomonhan in 1939.

The Mongolian People's Revolutionary Army joined the Soviet Red Army in military operations against the Japanese in World War II in the week before Japan's surrender. A provision of the Yalta Agreement of February 1945 led to a plebiscite in the republic in October 1945, by which Mongols voted almost unanimously in favor of independence and in opposition to Chinese control (which in 1945 existed only de jure and not de facto). In January 1946, Chiang Kai-shek's Koumintang government of China officially recognized the independence of the Mongolian People's Republic, although it later withdrew that recognition. Renewed Sinp-Mongolian trade relations (1952) and significant Chinese immigration (1955) followed Communist assumption of power in China in 1949.

Talks in Moscow between Premier Yumzhagiyn Tsedenbal of the Mongolian People's Republic and Soviet Leaders (May 10-15, 1957) resulted in the republic's endorsement of Soviet foreign policy, a pledge to continue economic and cultural cooperation, and an agreement for Soviet economic aid. The USSR agreed to hand over its share of Sovmongolmetal (a minerals development company) and its airport installations at Ulan Bator and Sain Shanda and to sell the Mongolneft (an oil trust) on easy terms to the republic.

After several unsuccessful applications, the Mongolian People's Republic was admitted to the United Nations as its 103d member late in 1961.

The Sino-Soviet split led to withdrawal of most Chinese influence and personnel from the Mongolian People's Republic. In 1962, however, Communist China and the Mongolian People's Republic signed a border treaty.

The republic joined the Russian-oriented economic integration unit, CEMA (Council for Economic Mutual Assistance), in 1962. In 1965 the USSR granted the republic a credit of 495 million rubles toward fulfillment of its 1966-1970 Five Year Plan and delayed Mongolia's repayment of earlier debts totaling 170 million rubles.

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