US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a stark warning against China and Russia on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, urging Western allies to defend hard-won freedoms.
Stressing that “we can never take … things for granted”, he said the 70-year-old NATO alliance too “runs the risk that it will become obsolete” if leaders failed to tackle new challenges.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron had criticised NATO as suffering from “brain-death”, prompting a sharp rebuke from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Dismissing the debate around Macron’s comments as “kerfuffle,” Pompeo acknowledged that “NATO needs to grow and change, it needs to confront the realities of today and the challenges today.”
These threats include those posed by governments like China, Russia and Iran, Pompeo said, speaking just a few metres (yards) away from where the Wall ran past the German capital’s world-famous Brandenburg Gate.
The United States and its allies should “defend what was so hard-won… in 1989” and “recognise we are in a competition of values with unfree nations,” he added.
Pompeo’s visit came as Germany prepared to mark three decades since November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, ultimately culminating in the collapse of the communist regime in the east.
– ‘Freedom-loving people’ –
Highlighting sore spots in Washington’s relationship with Berlin today, Pompeo said defending liberal democracy also means preventing “Europe’s energy supplies… (from) depending on (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s whims” through the under-construction Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.
Merkel has repeatedly said the pipeline is a purely private business concern.
And Pompeo warned of “Chinese companies’ intent to build 5G networks”, after the German government failed to exclude tech giant Huawei from the next-generation mobile network infrastructure.
While Huawei is a world leader in the technology, the US and others including Germany’s own security services have warned that it is close to Beijing.
But fearful of a falling-out with China — Germany’s biggest trade partner — Berlin last month said only that there would be “high standards” for security in the new network.
Pompeo said that just as in the eastern bloc in 1989, “freedom loving people” are protesting around the world today, including in Chinese-controlled Hong Kong.
He added Washington has made clear to Beijing that “it’s our expectation that the Chinese government honour their commitment” to the “one country, two systems” policy that has allowed Hong Kong greater freedoms than the mainland since ex-colonial power Britain handed over control in 1997.
Mentioning also anti-government protests in Lebanon and Iraq, Pompeo said that “we need to support these people wherever we can”.
– Shoring up NATO –
Pompeo is on a whirlwind two-day tour of Germany where he has revisited the site of his Cold War military service on the former Iron Curtain border and is slated to meet leaders including Merkel.
While in Europe, he has looked to shore up transatlantic relations eroded by trade conflicts and discord over geopolitical crises and military spending.
Spurred by the US leaving the way open to Turkish and Russian military action in northern Syria, Macron told The Economist magazine this week that the NATO alliance — of which Turkey is also a member — was suffering a “brain death” of lack of coordination between Europe and Washington.
Other Western leaders including Merkel, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have all firmly rejected Macron’s assessment.
Praising Germany for its pledge to raise NATO spending, Pompeo said just before talks with Merkel that the commitment is “powerful because we think that relationship with NATO matters and we need everyone working together to make sure it remains a potent force for good in the world.”
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