THE international status of the Mongolian People's Republic, situated between China and Russia and better known as Outer Mongolia, which for many years has been singularly indefinite, is in process of being clarified. In notes exchanged on August 14 between the Foreign Ministers of Soviet Russia and China, the two countries agreed to recognize the independence of Outer Mongolia within her existing boundaries, subject to a plebiscite of the population involved. This settlement will remove a point of contention between China and Soviet Russia. As for the Mongolian people themselves, their ordinary way of life will not be much changed. The population, small in proportion to the size of the area and the richness of its natural resources, both agricultural and industrial,[i] have long enjoyed only nominal independence; yet they did possess a real and cherished autonomy. Their paramount concern has always been to avoid colonization by either of their two great neighbors. The arrangement just announced would seem to remove at any rate the threat of Chinese colonization. It also provides the rest of the world with a significant clue to the nature of Soviet foreign policy.

To understand the importance of the present development, we must go back some distance into history. The Mongolian People's Republic is the last remnant of the huge empire of Jenghiz Khan, which at one time encompassed almost all Asia and a great part of Europe. Its inhabitants, like those of the neighboring Chinese provinces, as well as the nomadic cattle-raisers of Russian and Chinese Turkestan, have changed their citizenship from time to time simply by wandering across boundary lines. It will be recalled, for instance, that the so-called "Sinkiang incident," which got into the newspapers in 1944, centered about the efforts of Chinese troops to turn back bands of roaming Kazakhs who had crossed over the border from Chinese Turkestan into the Mongolian People's Republic. According to Soviet sources, the Chinese soldiers invaded the Mongolian People's Republic and fired at the Kazakhs from airplanes. There have been numerous similar incidents in recent years.

At times the various territories with legal systems of their own which were founded throughout Russian and Chinese Turkestan, Inner and Outer Mongolia and the southern part of Siberia after the downfall of Jenghiz Khan's empire, were independent; and at other times they acknowledged the sovereignty of China or Russia. Chinese sovereignty was usually nominal; the amount of tribute collected depended on the decision of the governor-general rather than on a policy of the central government. For centuries the Mongolian people practised a system of dual-citizenship, considering themselves citizens of their own state and likewise subjects of China, Russia or any other country on whose territory they happened to find themselves -- for example, Dzungaria, which ruled over a part of western Mongolia and present-day Russian and Chinese Turkestan until 1757. The amount of tribute was often regulated by treaties. Such a dual-citizenship also existed in the Altai district until 1865, when borders were more or less definitely set, and is still practised in the region of the Upper Yenisei, now "independent" Tannu-Tuva.[ii]

The first international recognition of Mongolian allegiance to China was given in the Russian-Chinese treaty of 1689, whereby Russia renounced her claim to the Amur Valley, already penetrated by her settlers. This treaty referred only to eastern Mongolia, but it held an important rôle in the subjugation of Mongolia to China, as from that moment the Mongols lost hope of playing their powerful neighbors off against one another. Gradually China took possession of Mongolia, but until the middle of the nineteenth century she thought of it only as a buffer between herself and Russia and showed little interest in the internal affairs of the Mongols or in the exploitation of the material resources of their territory.

During the reign of the Emperor Tsiantsin (1796-1820), a lengthy code was drawn up which purported to regulate all aspects of Mongolian life as well as the relations between Mongolia and its suzerain, China. Though the Code of Tsiantsin was a one-sided edict of the Chinese emperor, both China and Mongolia looked upon it as an act with international validity, binding upon both countries and subject to change only by mutual agreement. And down to the present time, in spite of the many alterations in Mongolia's political structure, and the subdivision of her land by China and Russia, she has continued to regard the Code as her basic constitution. In theory, it regulated relations of the Mongolian lords with one another and with the Chinese Government. In practice, the only live issue was Chinese emigration to Mongolia. The Code declared emphatically that "All Chinese . . . who are situated within the borders of China, are forbidden to cross over the border and to plow and farm Mongolian land. . . ." And it enumerated the penalties for violation of this rule and for lax enforcement by civil officials.

Down to the present, the question of immigration has been the one major international issue in which the Mongolian people in every walk of life felt concerned. They know that free entry of either Chinese or Russians to their land means the end of their national existence. As a result, whether Mongolia is pro-Chinese or pro-Russian, or becomes either in the future, depends upon the attitudes taken by the two Powers on the subject of colonization. True independence will be most difficult for Mongolia, situated as she is between Russia and China. The Mongols have always been willing to accept help from any neighboring nation if that would ensure them against an influx of colonists. This is the basic factor on which hinges the settlement of all Mongolian problems.


Russia's construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway brought a change in Chinese policy toward Mongolia. As this whole northern region began to be developed, China ceased to think of Mongolia as a buffer state, and began to look upon it as a land for settlement of surplus population. She also decided that only by populating the border regions thickly could they be saved from colonization and seizure by Russia. In consequence, Chinese emigration was greatly increased in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. Chinese settlers flooded Manchuria and Inner Mongolia, and began to penetrate the eastern khoshuns, or counties, of Outer Mongolia.

The response of the Mongols in 1907 was a series of revolutionary riots with the slogan "Independent Mongolia." The rioting, which began in Inner Mongolia, was at first directed against the Japanese; several Japanese surveyors were killed. From 1907 to 1910, local uprisings spread throughout all of Inner and Outer Mongolia. In 1911 a general uprising drove the Chinese garrisons and Chinese officials out of the country. Chinese shops were looted and destroyed; farms of Chinese colonists were burned, their animals were killed or confiscated and their planted fields were cut down. In 1911 a convention of lords and high lamas proclaimed the independence of Mongolia, and set up Khutukhta, "the Living Buddha," as the head of a new government which embraced both Inner and Outer Mongolia.

This new government was nevertheless so weak that China might easily have reëstablished her position in Mongolia in spite of her own internal disturbances. Now, however, Russia entered the picture decisively. Her pact with England in 1907, which led to the Anglo-French-Russian entente, had freed her hands in the Far East. Japan immediately came to terms with her, and in the ensuing Russo-Japanese treaties the two countries bound themselves to decide together all questions threatening the status quo in the Orient. The treaties were accompanied by secret protocols fixing spheres of influence in China. All of Outer Mongolia and parts of Inner Mongolia and Manchuria were included in Russia's sphere.

At the first sign that China intended to attempt to regain control of Mongolia, Russia officially recognized Mongolian autonomy and on November 3, 1912, concluded a treaty with the government of Khutukhta. Significantly, the first article of the treaty dealt with the question of Chinese colonization: "The Imperial Russian Government shall assist Mongolia to maintain the autonomous régime which she has established, as also the right to have her national army, and to admit neither the presence of Chinese troops on her territory nor the colonization of her land by the Chinese." In this and subsequent treaties the Russian Government was rewarded by many privileges, including virtually exclusive rights to construct railroads. However, in all of these treaties, Russia scrupulously avoided claiming privileges of Russian colonization of Mongolian soil. Boundary lines were not defined.

There followed a Sino-Russian treaty of November 5, 1913, in which Russia recognized China's "sovereignty" over Outer Mongolia, and China recognized Outer Mongolian autonomy. A proviso of the treaty stated that "China binds itself not to intervene in these matters and consequently will not send troops into Outer Mongolia, nor will it keep any civil or military official there, and it will abstain from colonizing in that country." Russia bound herself to abide by these same restrictions. In this treaty the boundaries of the newly autonomous state were described as those of Outer Mongolia, where they merged with the Chinese Altai district, subsequently included in Sinkiang Province (Chinese Turkestan).[iii] This treaty was confirmed by a tripartite agreement of China, Russia and Mongolia. Preservation of the fiction of Chinese sovereignty served to avoid the ticklish problem of obtaining recognition of Mongolia's new status by other Powers.

After the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the temporary collapse of Russian authority in the Far East, Mongolia was plunged into chaos. One régime followed another. First, the Mongolian Government, with Khutukhta's sanction, petitioned China to reëstablish "the old bonds of friendship, and to revoke the autonomy." The President of the Chinese Republic immediately proclaimed the revocation of Mongolian autonomy (November 1919), declaring: "Five races of our land have equal rights in the Republic, and the Mongolian territory . . . has become a part of the Chinese Republic." A large army under the command of General Hsu Shi-chen quickly occupied Outer Mongolia except for the western section. General Hsu, who belonged to the Japanophile club, Ahn Foo, established a purely Chinese administration which began to settle great masses of Chinese peasants in Outer Mongolia. The effect of this land policy and of repressive military rule was disastrous to Chinese prestige in Mongolia. Riots and uprisings took place throughout the country. By the latter part of 1920, Chinese troops were holding only the capital, Urga (later re-named Ulan-Bator), and a few other points; the rest of the country was in a state of anarchy.

In 1921 the "white" general, Baron Ungern-Sternberg, who had been defeated in Russia by Soviet troops, captured Urga. He was driven out by Mongol-Soviet troops and a People's Government was set up. In the treaty signed in November of that year between the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic (one of the seven republics which then constituted the Soviet Union) and the People's Government of Mongolia (under the nominal leadership of Khutukhta), the U.S.S.R. formally recognized the People's Government as the only legitimate government of Mongolia. The agreement contained disclaimers of extraterritorial rights, provided for the return to Russia of rights to postal and telegraph services and established a mixed committee for delineating boundaries.

According to the treaties between China and Russia, and the subsequent tripartite treaty with autonomous Mongolia, the Province of Uryankhai -- later called Tannu-Tuva -- was considered part of autonomous Mongolia. This province takes in a great basin at the source of the Yenisei River and is surrounded by the mountains of Sayan and Tannu Ola. It is rich in natural resources, both agricultural and mineral. The mountain ranges just named have almost no passes, and the control of this territory by Russia makes the southern borders of Siberia practically impregnable to attack by any possible enemy land forces. Its strategic importance had been recognized by the government of Peter the Great. In those days the Russians had not yet penetrated the Uryankhai Province, and had only a few settlers along the northern parts of Sayan -- the southern reaches of present-day Siberia. Yet in 1715, the Russian Government, in treaties with the Dzungarian Government which laid claim to the Uryankhai Province, asserted: "The Siberian rivers Ob, Yenisei and Lena have been Siberian since time immemorial, from their mouths, where they flow into the sea, to the mountains from which they came. Whatever rivers flow into them, and the surrounding lands from which these rivers derive, are lands of His Tsarist Majesty."

At the close of civil war in Siberia, the Soviet Government turned its attention to Uryankhai. First the name itself was changed to Tannu-Tuva, in accordance with latest ethnographic researches. A Congress of the People of Tannu-Tuva met August 13, 1921. A plenipotentiary delegation from the Soviet Government attended, as did a delegation from the People's Government of Outer Mongolia. The Congress declared Tannu-Tuva independent, drew up a constitution and established a government. The Soviet Government speedily recognized its independence (September 9, 1921), repudiated its own rights as protector and established permanent diplomatic relations. In December, a parliament, called Khuruldan, held its first session. The People's Government of Mongolia, and its successor the Mongolian People's Republic, followed the example of the Soviet Government and recognized Tannu-Tuva's independence, exchanged diplomatic representatives and set definite boundaries. If we remember that the position of the Tannu-Tuva Republic was of great strategic importance to Russia, that its population did not exceed 75,000 and that it covered an area greater than that of prewar Czechoslovakia, we shall realize how important these diplomatic successes were to the Soviet Government.

In 1925, after negotiations between Sun Yat-sen and the Soviet representative, A. A. Joffe, a pact was signed by China and Soviet Russia. The latter therein declared: "The Government of the U.S.S.R. recognizes that Outer Mongolia is a part of the Chinese Republic and honors the sovereign rights of China. The Government of the U.S.S.R. declares that as soon as the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Outer Mongolia . . . is practical . . . all troops of the U.S.S.R. will be withdrawn. . . ."

Less than a year after the conclusion of this treaty the Soviet Government, through its ambassador to Peiping, officially informed the Chinese Government that Soviet troops had left Outer Mongolia. But at the same time, the Soviet Commissar of Foreign Affairs, Chicherin, made the following statement to the press: "The Soviet Government recognizes Mongolia as part of the Republic of China, enjoying, however, an autonomy so far-reaching as to preclude Chinese interference with its internal affairs. . . . After several crises the internal situation in Mongolia has settled down and been consolidated on a basis somewhat similar to the Soviet System."

These documents evidently were interpreted differently by China and Soviet Russia. Once the first phase of the Russian Revolution was over, the Soviet Government seems in practice to have taken the position of the Tsarist Government in regard to Mongolia, and implied in several treaties that Mongolia was not a part of China. The Chinese Government protested these treaties. However, none of the protests made any specific mention of the Tannu-Tuva Republic. Apparently the Chinese Government considered the establishment of that state as only a phase of the Mongolian problem.

Border incidents between Mongolian troops and those of Japan and "Manchukuo" began in 1936. Eventually the Soviet brought troops into Mongolia, and the ensuing conflicts with the Japanese at times assumed the proportions of major battles. The Chinese Government did not protest the reëntry of Russian troops, at that time preferring Soviet occupation of Mongolia to Japanese occupation.

The Chinese Republic has been unable to enter into direct relations with the Mongolian People's Republic. All borders of the Mongolian People's Republic and of Tannu-Tuva remained closed except those contiguous to Soviet Russia. Despite these difficulties, several contacts were made through the mails between the Chinese Government and the Mongolian People's Republic, and some mention of such contacts appeared in the official Mongolian press. Although they failed to establish legal relations between China and Mongolia, they did succeed in throwing some light on the basic differences in position of the two governments. Apparently the Chinese Government always underlined the equal rights and duties of all "five nations" (Chinese, Manchurian, Tibetan, Mongolian and Moslem) in the Chinese Republic. The Mongolian People's Republic, while not taking issue with this point of view, invariably countered by saying, in effect, that a real republic should be established in China and that this reform must be carried out so as to give each of the five races a chance of being blessed with peace, liberty and equality. Otherwise, it concluded, each of them must retain the authority to settle its own affairs.


Let us now recapitulate. Until the signature of the Soviet-Chinese Treaty on August 14 of this year, China's position was that the territory of Outer Mongolia, as comprised by the boundaries that existed before the Mongolian revolution, was, at any rate technically, part of China. Millions of Chinese waited only the lifting of boundary barriers to flow into the country, to farm its fertile plateaus and sloping hills and to exploit the wealth hidden in its earth.

Mongolia's own position was no less clear. It was the same under the government of the Mongolian People's Republic, organized by Soviet Russia, as it was under the autocratic government of Khutukhta, controlled by princes and high lamas. The Mongols stood firm for the provisions of the Code of Tsiantsin, which guaranteed against an influx of Chinese settlers. They were ready to accept any protectorate whatsoever, by any country at all, which would safeguard their land from colonization.

The Russian position in regard to Mongolia was considerably more complicated. Under the Tsars, Russia followed a policy of colonization in Siberia and other open territories. Although in appearance Soviet Russia broke with the foreign policy of Tsarist Russia, she continued in practice to follow the doctrine of expansion. But in the case of Mongolia the advocates of moderation in expansion appeared in the main to be victorious, as indicated by the following evidence:

(1) The Mongolian People's Republic was not incorporated into the Soviet Union. When we recall the fate of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and remember that the inclusion of Mongolia in the U.S.S.R. would offer no material difficulties, we perceive unmistakable evidence of Russian self-restraint in this case.

(2) There was no Russian colonization within the Mongolian borders. Even more significant, the number of Russian agricultural settlers, never large, decreased. Russians in Mongolia have been army instructors, employees of the government, specialists in the newly-developing industry, doctors, veterinarians, and so on. Every effort was made to replace this temporary Russian population by Mongols.

(3) There was no contact between Chinese Communists and Outer Mongolia. Journalists representing the Soviet point of view emphatically reiterated in recent years that the Soviet Government sent supplies and ammunition to China only through the Central Government in Chungking. This statement may have been an exaggeration, but not a great one. In the writer's opinion, what little help has been given to Communist China and the Manchurian partisans has gone around Mongolia and not through it. The strategic position of the Mongolian People's Republic made it a logical arsenal for Communist China and Manchuria; but in actuality the Russian Government deliberately refrained from using it for this purpose.

(4) Pan-Mongolism was suppressed in the Mongolian People's Republic and in the Buriat-Mongol Republic of the Soviet Union. Pan-Mongol propaganda, backed by the Soviet Union, would have been a strong weapon for wresting Inner Mongolia, Chinese Turkestan and Tibet outright from China, and annexing them to the Soviet domain, had that been the Russian objective.

(5) Increased Russian colonization in the Republic of Tannu-Tuva points the contrast to the Soviet policy toward the Mongolian People's Republic. The Russian population in Tannu-Tuva was about 25,000 before the Russian Revolution; it now surpasses the native population. Apparently the Soviet Government intends to maintain close control of this rich and strategic territory, and now has a much firmer claim there than did Peter the Great.

The above facts could be enlarged upon. They were sufficient, however, to make apparent that although the Soviet Government was for all practical purposes free to follow whatever policy it wished toward the Mongolian People's Republic, it in fact carefully avoided doing anything which might cause hostile relations with China.

Now comes the publication of the treaty negotiated in Moscow by Premier Soong and Foreign Commissar Molotov, and of the text of two accompanying letters referring specifically to Outer Mongolia. In one of these letters the Chinese Government declares its readiness to recognize the independence of Outer Mongolia, within its existing boundaries, provided a plebiscite indicates that this is the desire of the people of the area. In the second, the Soviet Union takes note of China's readiness to do this and states its own intention to respect Outer Mongolia's independence and territorial integrity. The phraseology might not preclude the eventual absorption of the independent Mongolian People's Republic into the Soviet Union, composed as it is of at least technically independent republics. But for the purposes of the Mongol inhabitants the guarantee will be judged chiefly by whether or not the Soviet authorities continue, as they have done up to now, to limit emigration into Mongolian territory.

[i] For an analysis of the economic resources of Outer Mongolia, cf. I. I. Serebrennikov, "A Soviet Satellite: Outer Mongolia Today," FOREIGN AFFAIRS, April 1931.

[ii] Today, Russians living in the Tannu-Tuva Republic bear allegiance to the Soviet Government and abide by the laws of the Soviet Union; while certain citizens of the Tannu-Tuva Republic who habitually wander to the northern reaches of Sayan, within the borders of the Soviet Union, nonetheless remain under the jurisdiction of the Tannu-Tuva Government.

[iii] Inner Mongolia was detached at this time, but during the turbulent revolutionary years of 1917-21 some of the many different governments in Outer Mongolia claimed Inner Mongolia as part of their territory. China at the time was too weak to act against them. The final division came in 1921, when the Mongolian People's Government claimed as its own the territory of Outer Mongolia only.

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  • FEDOR S. MANSVETOV, member of the Russian Social-Revolutionary Party since 1903; President of the National Assembly of the Far Eastern Republic, 1920-1921; former Research Associate of the Hoover War Library, Stanford University
  • More By Fedor S. Mansvetov