Nationalism, Pastoral Nomadism, and Political Risk to Natural Resource Investments in Mongolia: Case Studies of the Aluminum Corporation of China Limited (Chalco) and Rio Tinto

Mongolia - Oyu Tolgoi - The processing conveyor under construction is seen at the Oyu Tolgoi mine

02 Nov 2011, Mongolia — The processing conveyor under construction is seen at the Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia. Oyu Tolgoi, also known as Turquoise Hill is a combined open pit and underground mega mine project in Khanbogd in the south Gobi Desert. The site was discovered in 2001 and is being developed as a joint venture between Ivanhoe Mines, Rio Tinto and the Government of Mongolia. The mine is scheduled to begin production in July 2012. The Oyu Tolgoi mining project is the largest financial undertaking in Mongolia’s history and is expected upon completion to account for more than 30% of the country’s gross domestic product. Copper production is expected to reach 450,000 tonnes annually and Gold production is estimated to reach 650,000 ounces per year. —(Copyright Kieran Doherty/In Pictures/Corbis / APImages)

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 2, No. 6, June 2014.

By Jamian Ronca Spadavecchia [1]

Mongolia stands at a critical juncture between the rewards of natural resource development and the challenges of modernization. On the one hand, it offers abundant opportunities in the natural resources sector and is located near growing and resource-starved industrial nations of East Asia. At the same time, the presence of autocratic neighbors impose international instability on this democratic and market-oriented economy.

This article considers two underanalyzed political risks that are necessary for understanding the future of the Mongolian economy: nationalism and pastoral nomadism. In doing so, it proffers an improved analytical framework for resource investors to better assess and mitigate their Mongolia risk.

Finally, the analysis uses selected case studies to demonstrate how nationalism and pastoral nomadism might impact natural resource investment. For nationalism, a study of the proposed acquisition of SouthGobi Resources (SouthGobi) by the Aluminum Corporation of China Limited (Chalco) is offered. The Chalco study is emblematic of the link between nationalism and two dominant trends in Mongolia: resource nationalism and increasing geopolitical risk in the natural resources sector. The section also looks at how pastoral nomadism poses a risk to Oyu Tolgoi, Mongolia’s premier copper and gold mining project, by examining a dispute between Rio Tinto and indigenous communities of Gobi herders that threatened Oyu Tolgoi’s project financing. Continue reading