China offers Mongolia helping hand to fight sandstorm challenge

Wendy Wu
·4 min read

China has offered to help Mongolia address environmental problems after the two countries were hit by heavy dust storms this spring.

“Environmental problems know no borders, and China is ready to cooperate with Mongolia in environmental protection, desertification prevention and control to jointly address challenges,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said in a phone conversation on Wednesday with Mongolian Prime Minister Luvsannamsrai Oyun-Erdene, who took office in February.

A sandstorm from southern Mongolia spread across East Asia in the middle of March, engulfing a huge swathe of northern China and also affecting the Korean peninsula. Local authorities said it was the worst in a decade, killing at least nine and leaving more than 80 people missing in Mongolia.

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Greenpeace East Asia says the frequency of sandstorms in Mongolia has increased in recent decades because of climate change and the long-term deforestation and soil erosion in the country’s south, leading to severe air pollution.

According to a government statement, Li said China was willing to maintain strategic communication with Mongolia and intensify cooperation on pandemic containment, while also calling for efforts to speed up the restoration of cargo volumes going through border ports and ensure progress of its major cooperative projects with Mongolia.

Li added China would closely monitor changes in the global economic situation while improving the domestic business environment and keeping economic growth steady, which he believed would offer the best chance for China-Mongolia cooperation.

Oyun-Erdene said Mongolia supported green development and regional economic cooperation and was willing to step up joint efforts in environmental protection, according to the Chinese statement.

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Since 2007, the Chinese Academy of Sciences has been cooperating with Mongolia to prevent desertification, conduct research and share experience in the field. Severe land degradation and desertification caused by human activities in Mongolia over the past 30 years provided an abundant source of sand for the sandstorm in March, Xinhua reported.

According to China’s Ministry of Natural Resources, the country carried out a desert prevention and control project over more than 10 million hectares (24.7 million acres) between 2016 and 2020, and transformed the stone desert over an area of 1.3 million hectares. In the next five years, China plans to transform 60 per cent of manageable sandy land.

Ma Junhe, founder and director of Qingsuo Philanthropy Development Centre in the northwest province of Gansu, said China’s desertification prevention and control had been effective since 2000.

“Desertification control is a concept from agricultural civilisation. The urbanisation in Mongolia is not well developed and many nomadic people are living outside cities, which is not good for grass and water protection. People don’t have that awareness,” he said.

Ma has worked to prevent desertification for 15 years. The NGO – whose name Qingsuo means “green saxaul”, a type of plant to counter desertification – is based in Minqin county, one of the main sources of dust storms in China.

“China has done a better job of repairing previously damaged land, mainly due to administrative power, government investment, public awareness and economic development, so that it is not necessary for land to be opened up for farming to maintain survival and it can be returned to forest and grass,” Ma said.

“It is important for China to cooperate with Mongolia in sand control because desert and grassland are not separated by their borders … just as global cooperation is necessary to solve climate change,” he said.

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Ma added that environmental cooperation was far from enough – social and economic cooperation were also needed. He said China should help Mongolia develop a market economy and promote urbanisation.

“When the people can live a good life without raising many sheep, the damage to the environment can be brought under control and restored. Environmental management is never just an environmental problem, but a social, governance perspective,” he said. “This serious dust storm can make more people pay attention to the problem and try to solve it.”

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