US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Monday urged Asian nations still loath to embrace democracy to look to the example set by some emerging countries, praising Mongolia as a model.
Clinton told an international women's forum she had long "been inspired by the Mongolian people's commitment to democracy".
"This is the right time to talk about democracy in Asia, as many countries in this region grapple with the question of which model of governance best suits their society and circumstances," she said.
Without naming countries such as communist-run China, Clinton dismissed arguments from some Asian nations that democracy "is unsuited to this region's history, perhaps even antithetical to Asian values," that it threatened stability or was a privilege of wealthy Western nations.
"It is true that clamping down on political expression or maintaining a tight grip on what people read, or say or see can create the illusion of security. But illusions fade, because people's yearnings for liberty do not," Clinton said.
She warned that "countries that want to be open for business but closed to free expression will find that this approach comes at a cost: it kills innovation and discourages entrepreneurship."
Clinton arrived in Mongolia as part of a whirlwind tour which has already taken her to Paris, Kabul and Tokyo.
On Tuesday she flies to Hanoi for a visit focusing on bilateral and economic ties as well as talks with group of senior American businessmen.
She will visit Laos on Wednesday -- the first US secretary of state to travel there in 57 years -- before attending a series of regional forums with ASEAN nations in Cambodia.
"One of the overarching objectives of this trip is to underscore a strong commitment across the board in Asia," a senior State Department official, who asked to remain anonymous, told reporters travelling with Clinton.
One of the tough issues up for discussion will be the tensions in the South China Sea, he added.
Clinton met with Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj on Monday, a key leader of the country's peaceful 1990 revolution, and praised six rounds of parliamentary elections held since she last visited 17 years ago.
"If you want to see democracy in action, if you want to see progress being shaped by leaders who are more concerned about lifting up their people than fattening their bank accounts, come to Mongolia," she told the forum.
The country, sandwiched between Russia and China, ended seven decades of Soviet-backed rule in 1990 and has since undergone a relatively peaceful and successful transition into a stable democracy.
However, corruption is generally recognised as a major problem in Mongolian politics and disputes over the previous parliamentary elections in 2008 triggered riots that left four people dead.
Mongolian politicians are locked in a dispute over last month's parliamentary elections, after official results showed the opposition Democratic Party won the most seats, but not enough for a majority.
Elbegdorj urged all parties to work together to form a ruling coalition, but some parties allege that a new automated voting system used to elect the Great Hural, Mongolia's 76-member parliament, failed.
Clinton only briefly touched on corruption -- even though Transparency International ranks Mongolia 120 out of 182 countries surveyed on its Corruption Perceptions Index -- the same ranking as Iran, Ethiopia and Bangladesh.
Julian Dierkes, an expert on Mongolia from the University of British Columbia's Institute of Asian Research, warned in the Wall Street Journal that corruption was placing the legitimacy of last month's elections at risk.
Clinton pointed to successful recent elections in Taiwan, East Timor, the Philippines and India as examples of what can be done.
"Consider all that has been achieved in Burma," she urged, highlighting the recent releases of prisoners in Myanmar, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi who on Monday took up her place in parliament.
Mongolia's economy grew 17.3 percent last year due to a stunning mining boom, as some of the world's biggest mining firms moved in to exploit copper, coal and gold reserves estimated to be worth more than $1 trillion.