ULAANBAATAR, MONGOLIA —
Under the cloudy, cold sky of Ulaanbaatar, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived at a rare destination in his globe-trotting career, and his first trip to Mongolia as the top U.S. diplomat.
He may be offered the choice of a horse, a camel or a yak by his Mongolian hosts as a gift.
Vice President Joe Biden chose a horse with his granddaughter when they visited in 2011.
A traditional Mongolian cultural festival - which features horseback racing, wrestling and archery - will be the highlight of Kerry's visit to promote cultural and people-to-people relations with Mongolia.
Best known as the birthplace of the Mongol emperor Genghis Khan, this landlocked country stands up as an oasis of democracy, surrounded by the single-party dominated governments of Russia and China.
The United States established diplomatic relations with Mongolia in 1987. Washington has been supporting political and economic development of Mongolia, which also maintains good relations with its giant neighbors.
"It's a complicated balancing act," said a senior U.S. State Department official.
Kerry will launch a new USAID project to "increase both citizen engagement in the democratic political process, and also to enhance good governance in Mongolia," according to the State Department.
Relationship with China
While historically there have been tensions and conflicts between Mongolia and China, they are trading partners. Mongolia is situated along the corridor of the Chinese-proposed "silk road," an initiative China has sought to expand trade with other countries. Mongolia is also a member of the Chinese-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
Senior fellow from the Brookings Institution David Dollar told VOA he does not think China has a problem with Mongolia for having a stable relationship with the U.S.
"Mongolia is very happy to have the United States as a friend to provide some counterweight, Mongolia is a vibrant young democracy, the U.S. has provided quite a bit of assistance to help that democracy take off, so I think it's a stable situation where Mongolia is happy to do business with China, happy to have the United States as a friend."
Mongolia adopted democracy in 1990 and has since conducted several presidential and legislative elections.