US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday held up Mongolia's politics as a democratic model for Asia.
Recalling her 1995 visit as first lady, Clinton said the resource-rich nation sandwiched between Russia and China had held a string of successful parliamentary elections in the 22 years since independence from the Soviet Union.
"I believe as strongly today as I did then that Mongolia is an inspiration and a model...," she said in a speech at Government House, an imposing structure from the Soviet era.
As mining money pours in, Ulan Bator has the air of a boom town with cranes and building sites dotting the horizon, a shiny Mercedes dealership and a Louis Vuitton boutique. Still, there have been complaints the country's leadership has not done more to spread the wealth among its population of 2.7 million.
Making a broad case for democracy and good governance in Asia, Clinton cited reforms in nations including Myanmar, whose government has freed political prisoners.
"They stand in stark contrast to those governments that continue to resist reforms, ... to usurp the rights of citizens to choose their leaders, to govern without accountability, to corrupt the economic progress of the country and take the riches unto themselves," Clinton said.
Without citing it by name, Clinton's comments appeared aimed partly at China.
"Countries that want to be open for business but closed to free expression will find the approach comes with a cost: it kills innovation (and) discourages entrepreneurship, which are vital for sustainable growth," she said.
Clinton praised Mongolia's democracy despite some concerns over the April arrest of former president Nambar Enkhbayar on corruption charges that his family says were fabricated.
The arrest of political opponents often raises questions about whether they may be the target of political prosecutions.
Mongolia's June 28 parliamentary elections ended inconclusively, with neither of the two major parties nor Enkhbayar's Justice Coalition able to form a government alone.
Clinton did not mention Enkhbayar's prosecution in public, though an aide said she was likely to discuss it in her private talks with President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj.
"The secretary is going to be very clear that we celebrate a succession of successful elections in Mongolia and that in the aftermath of this recent election that the international community is watching... how the rule of law is applied," a senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) reacts as she listens to an official before a meeting with Mongolia's President Tsakhia Elbegdorj (not seen), in Ulan Bator, July 9, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)