New Delhi, March 8: India and Mongolia plan to begin formal talks this month on trading in uranium, a mineral abundant in the northeast Asian country and a key attraction for New Delhi as it seeks a tighter partnership with nations on China's periphery.
Mongolia holds one of the world's largest reserves of uranium, which fuels nuclear plants that India is counting on to generate an ever-growing chunk of its energy pie. It is also testing its traditional dependence on China by increasing its engagement with other countries.
But talks between New Delhi and Ulan Bator on the import of uranium by India have so far remained informal, partly because Mongolia lacks a clear regulatory framework for the sale of minerals to other countries.
Now, the two nations want to pull the shroud off those talks and begin formal discussions and negotiations on how India can buy and transport uranium from the land-locked country.
Mongolia is expected to seek more assistance from India in the use of nuclear medicine for cancer treatment at the meeting of the joint working group on civil nuclear cooperation.
India had gifted Mongolia a Bhabhatron - a tele-cobalt machine used to provide radiotherapy to cancer patients - during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to that country in May 2016. But the core in the machine, which emits the radiation, now needs to be replaced.
"We're going to seek that replacement," Gonchig Ganbold, Mongolia's ambassador to India, told The Telegraph.
The upcoming meeting comes at a time tensions are high between India and China, and Beijing is pressuring Ulan Bator to abandon any steps it views as provocative.
China threatened a blockade along the land border with Mongolia after the smaller country hosted the Dalai Lama in December. Beijing considers the Tibetan leader a "separatist" and has in recent days warned New Delhi of damage to bilateral ties if it goes ahead and hosts him in Arunachal Pradesh, a part of which China claims.
But while Mongolia's foreign minister assured China that the country's current government would not allow the Dalai Lama to visit again, the Narendra Modi administration in India has indicated it doesn't plan to backtrack.
Mongolia, sandwiched between giant powers Russia and China, has traditionally followed a policy similar to Nepal's with India and China: of carefully balancing ties with the two larger neighbours.
But in recent years, Ulan Bator has been seeking out "third neighbours" - other nations in the region apart from Russia and China - to counterbalance the pressures from its biggest neighbours.
That approach has coincided with India's search for deeper strategic partnerships with countries along China's periphery - Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore - and Beijing's rivals like Japan.
With Mongolia, India has long eyed uranium trade as a potential pillar of strategic ties. India has set a target of generating 63,000MW of nuclear power by 2032 - it currently generates less than 10,000MW - and needs steady imports of uranium.