ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia — With one hand resting on the mane of a sturdy Mongolian horse, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper invoked the name of one of America’s great soldiers as he sought to strengthen the military bonds between the U.S. and this landlocked democracy sandwiched between Russia and China.
“I’d like to name this fine-looking horse Marshall, after Gen. George Marshall,” Esper said Thursday as he was presented with a 7-year-old buckskin during a time-honored traditional ceremony at Mongolia’s Ministry of Defense.
Esper’s stop in Ulaanbaatar, the third U.S. engagement with Mongolia in recent weeks, underscored its key role in America’s new defense strategy that lists China and Russia as priority competitors.
With just over 3 million people spread over an area twice the size of Texas, Mongolia has worked to maintain its independence from Beijing and Moscow by increasing its ties to other world powers, including the U.S. It describes the U.S. as a “third neighbor.”
Esper has made it clear throughout his weeklong travel across the Asia Pacific that countering China’s aggressive and destabilizing activities in the region is a top administration priority. The activities, he said, include Beijing’s militarization of manmade islands in the South China Sea, efforts to use predatory economics and debt for sovereignty deals, and a campaign to promote the state-sponsored theft of other nations’ intellectual property.