27 April 2024

Lord Cameron joins language lesson and pets horses during Mongolia visit

27 April 2024

Lord David Cameron has wrapped up a five-day diplomatic blitz across Central Asia with a flurry of camera-friendly visits in Mongolia.

The Foreign Secretary, a keen equestrian, posed for pictures as he petted horses at prime minister Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrain’s Ikh Tenger residence on Friday.

Earlier in the day Lord Cameron was welcomed by head of state Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh at a meeting in a traditional Ger tent in the presidential palace in Ulaanbaatar.

He touted the benefits of learning English as he took part in a language lesson with young pupils at a school in the capital.

Asked by students what he does in his spare time, the Foreign Secretary joked: “Not a lot of free time but when I do have some I like cooking, walking and riding.”

The minister was later given a traditional saddle as a gift after his visit to Ikh Tenger.

He was in Central Asia as part of a bid to bolster trade, security and environmental ties in the region.

The Foreign Secretary said he hoped the trip was the “start of something very serious”.

He told leaders he wanted to give countries in Central Asia “the choice” between partnering with Britain as well as Russia and China, which vie for influence in the region.

Friday saw him sign a “joint co-operation road map” between the UK and Mongolia, which aims to set out a path towards closer diplomatic relations.

He has announced £50 million in funding across the region over three years, which includes a doubling in the amount of funding for Chevening scholarships, which allow overseas students to come to British universities.

It is understood Lord Cameron believes the Foreign Office needs to do more to back Mongolia in particular after the country decided to make English, rather than Russian, its second language.

He is pledging another £10 million for Ulaanbaatar following that choice, but is said to be planning to push for more support for the country.

On the trip Lord Cameron also raised concerns about Russia using its Central Asian neighbours to side-step UK sanctions by exporting goods to former Soviet states before moving them on to Moscow.

In part the visit is an effort to forge closer links with leaders who have a direct line to President Vladimir Putin, in order to learn more about his thinking on the war and make Britain’s position clear.

Foreign Office sources said Russia was the key issue at the heart of most talks, but other threats, including a major Islamic State (IS) recruitment drive in Tajikistan, were also discussed.

Sources said he told leaders in Dushanbe that he recognised they were “at the frontline of our fight” against IS.

The Foreign Office hopes the “roadmap” agreements signed with a number of countries serving as an initial step towards a strengthened economic and cultural relationship.

But sources in the Kazakh foreign affairs ministry highlighted the challenges posed to the country by the need to balance its ties with Russia and the west, likening its position to a “three-legged stool”.

Despite maintaining a neutral stance on the war in Ukraine, many former Soviet states in the region including Kazakhstan have long been dependent on Moscow for their economy and security.

At the end of the trip, Lord Cameron said: “What we’ve got to do is recognise we may not be the greatest power in the world but we should be offering people, like people here in Mongolia, like across central Asia, offering them the choice to work with us.”

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