BEIJING, Aug. 21 -- China and Mongolia on Thursday gave a strong boost to bilateral ties by upgrading their diplomatic relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership and setting a target of expanding two-way trade to 10 billion U.S. dollars by 2020.
Ambitious as it seems, the goal is within reach, considering the agreements the two sides signed on speeding up cooperation in rail and road connectivity, mineral resources development and processing, and finance, among many other areas.
These deals are just part of the fruits reached by the pair of neighbors during Chinese President Xi Jinping's ongoing two-day state visit to Mongolia.
The visit is the first in 11 years by a Chinese head of state to Mongolia, and also the second time for Xi to make a one-country state visit since he took office in March 2013.
On Thursday, Xi and his Mongolian counterpart, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, signed a joint declaration to upgrade bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership.
The two countries established a good-neighborly partnership of mutual trust in 2003 and elevated the ties to a strategic partnership in 2011. The latest upgrading demonstrated both sides' great attention to the neighborhood and their will to push the ties on to a fast track.
China agreed to offer sea ports and railway transport access to the landlocked neighbor and help Mongolia finance a number of projects in medical care, education, railroad and residential community construction.
China and Mongolia also inked a memorandum of understanding on setting up an economic cooperation zone and a deal on currency swap.
In addition, China also promised to support Mongolia creating a better environment for attracting foreign investment and help it join the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) mechanism and actively engage in East Asian cooperation.
They agreed to carry forward economic cooperation for the benefit of both countries and peoples and realize common development, according to the joint declaration.
All these agreements will inject fresh impetus into the trade between China and Mongolia, which stood at 324 million dollars in 2002 but surged to nearly 6 billion dollars in 2013.
China has been Mongolia's largest trading partner and largest source of foreign investment over the past 10-plus years.
Between 1990 and 2012, a total of 11,642 foreign enterprises registered in Mongolia, among which 49 percent were Chinese. Of the 9.826 billion dollars of foreign direct investment (FDI) absorbed by Mongolia during the same period, 3.484 billion dollars came from Chinese companies.
The two countries enjoy close geographic links with a 4,710-km land border dotted with 14 crossings along the frontier.
About 1.3 million people traveled between the two countries in 2013, among whom over 1 million Mongolians visited China, including officials, tourists, businessmen and students.
This year marks the 65th anniversary of China-Mongolia diplomatic ties, the 20th anniversary of the revision of the Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation between China and Mongolia, and the China-Mongolia Friendly Exchange Year.
Just as Xi stressed in a signed article published Thursday with the title of "Galloping Toward a Better Tomorrow for China-Mongolia Relations," neighbors are dearer than distant relatives.
"Mongolia enjoys vast land and abundant resources. China is growing rapidly and is strong in capital and technology, making it possible to provide all-round support for Mongolia in capital, technology, logistics and market," Xi noted in the article.
ADVANCE ON FOUR WHEELS
In order to further push forward bilateral relations, Xi put forward a four-point proposal during talks with his Mongolian counterpart.
First, he called on the two countries to enhance political and security cooperation.
Xi said he is willing to maintain communication with Elbegdorj through various channels on major issues of common concern, and invites Elbegdorj to attend a dialogue among China's partners on the sidelines of the informal leaders' meeting of APEC due to be held in Beijing in November.
China appreciates Mongolia's correct stand on issues related to Taiwan and Tibet, and supports the legislatures, diplomatic bodies, political parties and defense departments of the two countries to establish and bring into full play the dialogue and communication mechanisms between them.
Second, Xi urged the two sides to comprehensively expand practical cooperation.
The Chinese president asked the two countries to continue making good use of the inter-governmental cooperation mechanism and realize the goal of lifting bilateral trade to 10 billion U.S. dollars by 2020.
The two countries, he said, should expand mining, infrastructure and financial cooperation, prioritize cooperation on connectivity and major projects, and strengthen collaboration in such areas as deep processing of mineral products, new energy, electricity, agriculture and border ports.
They also should increase the size of currency swap, launch the preparatory work for the negotiation and signing of a bilateral free trade agreement at an early date, and vigorously promote the building of cross-border economic cooperation zones, added Xi.
Third, the Chinese president urged the two countries to enhance people-to-people exchanges.
The two sides, he said, should properly carry out the China-Mongolia Friendly Exchange Year program, and enhance exchanges and cooperation in such areas as youth, media, protection of intangible cultural heritage, and the prevention and control of transnational contagious diseases and desertification.
Fourth, the Chinese leader called on the two countries to promote cooperation on international affairs and under multilateral mechanisms.
The two sides, he said, should continue strengthening coordination and cooperation within the frameworks of the United Nations, the Asia-Europe Meeting, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia.
China supports Mongolia playing an active role in international and regional affairs, added the Chinese president.
For his part, Elbegdorj said the Mongolian side highly values the development of good-neighborly friendly cooperation with China and regards it as a priority of Mongolia's foreign policy.
The establishment of the comprehensive strategic partnership indicates that China-Mongolia relations have entered the best period in history, he said, noting that he fully agrees with Xi's proposal on enhancing bilateral cooperation.