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Politics

New Mongolian president promises pragmatic diplomacy

Former sumo champion eyed for advisory post after vital role in victory

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New Mongolian President Battulga Khaltmaa delivered his inaugural address to the legislature Monday.   © Reuters

ULAANBAATAR -- Mongolian President Battulga Khaltmaa's inaugural address Monday suggested a practical approach to foreign affairs, an area where the new leader could be aided by a former sumo grand champion whose name has surfaced as a potential adviser.

Speaking before the Mongolian legislature dressed in a traditional deel, Battulga, a member of the leading opposition Democratic Party, said he intends to maintain friendly relations with China and Russia while building ties with "third neighbors" like Japan and the U.S. He had struck a more nationalistic tone during the election, calling for an end to Mongolia's dependence on China.

Domestically, the new president said he will work to revitalize the economy, citing job creation and eradication of poverty as top priorities. He emphasized plans to promote manufacturing as a major part of the economy alongside raw materials exports.

Mongolian presidents, who serve four-year terms, can veto legislation and decisions by parliament, known here as the State Great Khural.

This creates a risk of political gridlock if Battulga clashes with the ruling Mongolian People's Party. The president indicated a willingness to reach across the aisle, saying he will "support every right initiative and policy" while criticizing those that "ignore the people's interest."

Also likely to stay in the spotlight is ex-sumo star Asashoryu, a driving force behind Battulga's upset of his People's Party rival. The former yokozuna, whose real name is Dagvadorj Dolgorsuren, drew young voters by campaigning for Battulga, a fellow former martial arts practitioner, on social media.

"In the month after the campaign started in early June, 20.2 million people viewed my Facebook page and supported us," he said in an interview, adding that patriotic young people increasingly want to shape the country.

Battulga and Dagvadorj met by chance in the sporting world 24 years ago, when the latter was just 12. Dagvadorj cited this connection to explain why he threw his lot in with Battulga even though his own older brother is a People's Party lawmaker.

Battulga is "a man who'll keep his promises," Dagvadorj said.

Going forward, the former wrestler said he hopes to serve as a "bridge" between Mongolia and Japan, seeking collaboration on manufacturing to strengthen his country's economic clout. He stressed Japan's importance to Mongolia, which is sandwiched between giants Russia and China.

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