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Country profile: Mongolia

  • Mongolia has a population of around 3 million people and is three times the size of France
  • It is located in Northeast Asia between China and Russia
  • The country's rich natural resources are fueling its economic boom

(CNN) -- From sweeping grasslands to the desolate Gobi desert, Mongolia's dramatic landscape lends itself to the idea that it is one of the world's last frontiers.

Mongolian national identity is entwined with its nomadic history of horsemen and herders. Traditional pursuits like horse-riding are alive and well and celebrated each year at the "naadam" festival.

Despite the impact of modernity and urbanization it remains in many ways a "land without fences."

Sandwiched between Russia to the north and China to the south, Mongolia's President Tsakhia Elbegdorj likens his country's position, geographically and politically, to "a pony between two elephants."

Recent history has seen Mongolia both squeezed and supported by its two heavy-weight neighbors.

  • Mongolia
  • East Asia
  • Gobi Desert
  • Genghis Khan

The country declared its independence from China in 1921 and then fell under the influence of the Soviet Union and communism. The demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to the country losing one-third of its GDP, but did result in the creation of a new democratic constitution in 1992. The president is the country's head of state and is elected every four years.

Mongolia is currently modernizing, but its historical position as the one-time center of the world's largest-ever land empire is not forgotten within the country.

History books often portray Genghis Khan as a blood-thirsty warrior who led murderous hordes across Asia and Europe. But in Mongolia he remains revered as the man responsible for uniting nomadic tribes and creating an empire that spread ideas and trade across continents, including the invention of paper money and the concept of diplomatic immunity.

Today Khan's presence remains in street names, products and monuments, most strikingly with a 40-meter-tall statue situated 50 kilometers outside the capital city of Ulaanbaatar that faces towards the vast interior of the country.

Three times the size of France, Mongolia's riches lie in its land.

Among the breathtaking vistas of seemingly timeless landscapes studded with Gers (traditional nomadic homes) lies the source of Mongolia's current economic boom.

Natural resources of copper and its vast reserves of coal are literally fueling China's growth and the means for Mongolia's own development of recent years.

Other sought-after minerals like zinc, gold and uranium have bolstered trade and foreign investment, as well helping to bringing Louis Vuitton and Burberry to the streets of Ulaanbaatar.

But with its wealth of natural assets comes the need to balance development with environmental protection and address the country's pressing problem of lifting one third of Mongolia's three million people out of poverty.