To explain: China’s main socio-political and economic axis is east-west, from Beijing to Urumchi. For thousands of years hostile deserts blocked the direct route westward, and the Silk Route took a lengthy detour to the south; still followed by China’s expressways, railways, pipelines and electricity grid. This is set to change. China has commenced a 1,000-kilometre short cut from Hami to Linhe consisting of: a two-lane dual carriageway expressway to international motorway standard with graded junctions, clover-leaf flyovers and tolls; and a twin-track electric-powered railway built for high speed freight and passenger trains. The expressway will be China’s premier motorway and the railway will be China’s premier rail route, and both will shadow the Mongolian border for hundreds of kilometres, standing off 30-100 kilometres from the borders of Omnogovi, Bayanhongor, Govi-Altai and Khovd aimags. By accident, the economies of these regions will, metaphorically speaking and in fact, be turned upside down. It will be quicker to get to Urumchi or Beijing than to Ulaanbaatar, it will be much shorter, quicker and cheaper to get goods to Mongolia from Europe via Urumchi than through Russia.
By accident, Mongolia’s economy will interlock with China’s peripheral regions in terms of transport, mining, electrical grid, fuel, natural fibres, livestock, foodstuffs, consumer goods and tourism. Not being by design, the interlocking and integration will go largely unnoticed by policy makers and international donors who anyway lack sufficient budget or awareness to exert much control over what is now afoot.
To deny this fast-approaching new reality would be a disaster for Mongolia and bring disgrace upon its advisers.
To ignore the new reality and carry on without amending plans such as the Millennium Road and Western Road Route (WRR) is as self-defeating as for a band to keep playing the same old tunes aboard the Titanic.
To react piecemeal to the new reality as it unfolds is to dither, inviting problems to fester when they should be addressed and dealt with quickly such as the ant-like army of coal trucks going hither and thither damaging the fragile Gobi desert.