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ULAN BATOR -- On his first official visit to China since assuming office last year, Mongolian Prime Minister Ukhnaa Khurelsukh hopes to develop bilateral ties and cooperation, saying it is a priority in Ulan Bator"s foreign policy.
During the April 8-12 visit, Khurelsukh will attend the 2018 Boao Forum for Asia annual conference in southern China, to be held from April 8-11.
"It is a foreign-policy priority for Mongolia to strengthen the friendly relations and cooperation with China," Khurelsukh told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.
"During Chinese President Xi Jinping"s visit to Mongolia in 2014, our two countries upgraded bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership. It has become a historic decision to develop bilateral ties for decades."
The prime minister said the Mongolia-China comprehensive strategic partnership needs to be taken forward by respecting each other"s core interests and strengthening political mutual trust.
During his visit, the two sides are expected to sign cooperation agreements in areas such as investment and industry. Mongolia is aiming to raise the trade turnover and diversify exports.
China is Mongolia"s largest trade partner and a major foreign investor. Bilateral trade grew 36 percent to reach 6.7 billion U.S. dollars in 2017, accounting for 63 percent of Mongolia"s total trade. The two sides have upped the ante, raising the target to 10 billion dollars by 2020.
Back in 2002, the two-way trade stood at just 324 million dollars.
Khurelsukh said bilateral cooperation plays an important role in Mongolia"s social and economic development. Mongolia is implementing major projects with Chinese soft loans and non-refundable assistance, covering infrastructure development, trade, energy, environment and education.
"These projects are ... significant to intensify Mongolia"s trade and economic activities, improve our people"s livelihoods, and protect the environment," he said.
Mongolia is also seeking regular high-level exchanges to boost ties. A joint council for cooperation in the humanitarian sector was established last year and its first meeting was held in Beijing in January.
Khurelsukh said the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China and the two sessions of China"s top legislative and advisory bodies have outlined a blueprint for China"s development and set the goal of building a community of shared future for mankind. This will contribute to global peace and prosperity, bringing opportunities to neighboring countries like Mongolia as well.
Praising China"s success in implementing reform and opening-up over the past 40 years, he said, "As a traditional friendly neighbor, we are proud of the success."
Mongolia will explore ways to integrate its development policies into China"s development policies. One way is to dock its Prairie Road development plan, a transborder transportation project, with the Belt and Road Initiative.
The two governments have signed a memorandum on initiative coordination and are discussing a joint plan to implement the memorandum.
Proposed by China in 2013, the initiative aims to achieve policy, infrastructure, trade, financial and people-to-people connectivity along and beyond the ancient Silk Road trade routes, thus building a new platform for international cooperation to create new drivers of growth.
Also under the Belt and Road Initiative, Mongolia, China and Russia signed an agreement in 2016 to build an economic corridor linking the three neighbors and boost transportation connectivity and economic cooperation in border regions.
On China"s growing global influence, Khurelsukh said Mongolia sees China"s development as an opportunity and China"s pledge to continue opening-up and pursue deeper economic integration is important for Mongolia"s development.
"Mongolia is always ready to cooperate with China to contribute to regional stability and prosperity," he said.