U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Beijing after a visit to Mongolia, a rare destination in his globe-trotting career, and his first trip to the landlocked country as the top U.S. diplomat.
Kerry described Mongolia Sunday as "an oasis of democracy." The country is surrounded by the single-party dominated governments of Russia and China.
In 1987, the United States established diplomatic relations with Mongolia, best known as the birthplace of the Mongol emperor Genghis Khan.
Washington has been supporting political and economic development of Mongolia, which also maintains good relations with its giant neighbors.
However, some democracy and human rights issues in Mongolia are now being questioned.
A U.S. State Department report on human rights in Mongolia points at "vague laws and a lack of transparency in legislative, executive, and judicial processes" that "undermined government efficiency and public confidence and invited corruption."
Kerry launched a new USAID project while in Mongolia to “increase both citizen engagement in the democratic political process, and also to enhance good governance in Mongolia,” according to the State Department.
A traditional Mongolian cultural festival -- a so-called nadaam, 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.
Kerry tried his hand at archery, and spoke with the winner of the wrestling competition before heading to 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).
David Dollar, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, 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," Dollar said.
Mongolia adopted democracy in 1990 and has since conducted several presidential and legislative elections.