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Politics

Ex-sumo champ wants to become bridge between Mongolia, Japan

Wrestler-turned-entrepreneur seeks stronger ties to counterbalance Russia, China

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Dagvadorj during his days as sumo grand champion Asashoryu in 2008.   © Reuters

ULAANBAATAR -- A former sumo grand champion from Mongolia hopes to parlay his fame in Japan into closer relations between the two countries, a goal dovetailing with the new president's aim of diversifying a landlocked economy reliant on far larger neighbors.

Dagvadorj Dolgorsuren, now 36, ascended to the sport's top rank of yokozuna in Japan and made his mark in the record books under the name Asashoryu. He supported new President Battulga Khaltmaa -- a fellow wrestling champion in his native Mongolia -- during the election, and his name has cropped up as a possible adviser.

Dagvadorj Dolgorsuren, better known in Japan as Asashoryu.

Dagvadorj sat down with The Nikkei on Saturday to discuss the election after Battulga's victory was confirmed. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What are your thoughts on the campaign?

A: I didn't know how it would turn out until the very end, but in the month after the campaign started in early June, 20.2 million people viewed my Facebook page and supported us. So we got a good response -- we empowered people, mainly youth. I think we spurred young people to feel patriotic and want to shape their country.

Q: Why did Battulga win the election?

A: Unfortunately, there are not many people Mongolians can trust. A lot of people can't live up to our expectations. Against that backdrop, I think there was this feeling that Battulga will unite the people and that a united Mongolia will win.

Q: Why did you support Battulga?

A: I met Battulga when I was 12. He's gone through plenty of hardship as a sportsman -- as an athlete -- who's worked hard, so he's a man who'll keep his promises.

Q: How will you support Battulga now that he's in office?

A: I'm not sure how things will work out, but it's possible I could become an adviser. With Mongolia being sandwiched between two giant countries -- Russia and China -- its future has to be steered properly. First off, since economic strength is important, I want to develop our ties with Japan as a third neighbor [besides Russia and China]. I hope to serve as a bridge for that purpose.

Q: How would you develop relations with Japan?

A: Mongolia has plenty of resources like iron ore, but we're becoming just a supplier of resources to our neighbors. I want to make use of Japan's economic might. For example, I'd like to cooperate on manufacturing and create something like "Made in Mongolia."

Interviewed by Nikkei staff writer Shunsuke Tabeta

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