US, EU warn of danger from Russia, China on Berlin Wall anniversary

Tom BARFIELD
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Pompeo's visit came as Germany prepared to mark three decades since November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down

Pompeo's visit came as Germany prepared to mark three decades since November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down (AFP Photo/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE)

Berlin (AFP) - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and incoming EU chief Ursula von der Leyen issued stark warnings Friday that the West faces new challenges from Russia and China, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall.

Urging Western allies to defend hard-won freedoms, Pompeo stressed "we can never take ... things for granted".

With the West facing a slew of geopolitical challenges, he said the bulwark of the bloc's defence alliance, the 70-year-old NATO, also "runs the risk that it will become obsolete" if leaders failed to tackle new challenges.

Pompeo's warning came after French President Emmanuel Macron criticised the transatlantic partnership as experiencing "brain death".

The sharp words prompted an unusually firm retort from Chancellor Angela Merkel. Von der Leyen too on Friday defended NATO as an "outstanding" shield.

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.

In a renewed attack against Beijing, Pompeo said the "Chinese Communist Party uses tactics and methods to suppress its own people that would be horrifyingly familiar to former East Germans".

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.

- 'Complacency was naive' -

Issuing a similar message, von der Leyen said 30 years after the epochal event that was thought to usher in the unstoppable train of liberal democracy, "today, we have to admit that our complacency was naive."

Russia is "using violence to shift established borders in Europe, and is trying to fill every vacuum that the US has left behind."

And hopes that China would develop closer to the Western model have not been fulfilled, the former German defence minister said.

In the face of such challenges, von der Leyen said Europe needs to bulk up against the world's biggest players.

"Soft power is no longer enough today, if we Europeans want to assert ourselves in the world," she said, adding that "Europe must also learn the 'language of power'."

This include "building our own muscles, on where we've for a long time been able to rely on others -- in security policies."

Faced with a mercurial US President Donald Trump, European leaders including Merkel have in the last years intensified their calls for the bloc to ensure that it stand on its own feet.

- 'Putin's whims' -

On a whirlwind two-day tour of Germany where he revisited the site of his Cold War military service on the former Iron Curtain border and met Merkel and key members of her cabinet, Pompeo looked to shore up transatlantic relations.

But he did not hesitate to name longstanding US-EU differences that have shifted into the spotlight under Trump's tenure.

America's top diplomat 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 wary of a potential 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.