ULAN BATOR - Mongolian businessman and martial arts expert Khaltmaa Battulga was sworn in as president Monday, vowing to revive the flagging economy and pursue relations with countries outside its giant neighbours Russia and China.
Battulga inherits a US$5.5 billion (S$7.6 billion) International Monetary Fund-led bailout intended to stabilise the economy of the debt-laden country and lessen its dependence on China, which purchases 80 per cent of Mongolia's exports.
In his inauguration speech, Battulga pledged to "stand for equally beneficial foreign relations" and to pay "special attention to the 'third neighbour policy'" - a push toward strengthening Mongolia's partnerships with the US, Japan, Germany and other countries beyond its two powerful neighbours.
The opposition Democratic Party (DP) candidate, who was elected with 50.6 per cent of the vote in a runoff last Friday, said he wanted to kickstart the economy, end poverty and boost the manufacturing sector.
The billionaire property tycoon and world champion in the Soviet martial art Sambo ran a populist campaign that was linked to simmering anti-China sentiments.
At one rally last month, Battulga supporters accused anti-Battulga protesters of being "mixed Chinese", and a video circulated on social media purporting that opponent and parliament speaker Mieygombo Enkhbold of the ruling Mongolian People's Party (MPP) has Chinese ancestry.
The Chinese foreign ministry noted this element of the campaigns on Monday while congratulating the new president on his election victory.
"During the election, certain politicians made some untrue and irresponsible remarks," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said during a regular press briefing.
"We express concerns about this." Battulga also promised to "fight against the selling of public service positions," which Enkhbold and other MPP officials had been accused of doing.
Battulga replaces Tsakhia Elbegdorj, also of the DP, after the outgoing president served the maximum two four-year terms.