Europe and the US need to face up to a “new Cold War with China” together, regardless of who wins the White House in November, Germany’s point man on transatlantic ties said.
With just five weeks to go until the US election, German Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation Peter Beyer said that there were more shared interests than differences.
“Europe has got to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the US to face the huge challenge of China,” said Beyer, who is in charge relations with the US and Canada.
“The new Cold War between the United States and China has already begun and will shape this century,” he said.
After four years of frequent friction between US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on issues including Iran, trade, NATO and the climate, Beyer said that it is no secret that Germany would find it easier to work with former US vice president Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate.
“I’m the last person who’s so naive to say: ‘If Biden wins, everything will be super, it’s the beginning of a golden age,’” he said. “The controversial issues won’t go away overnight, but with Biden the transatlantic friendship would become more reasonable, calculable and reliable again.”
On China and Iran, Americans and Europeans had “similar, sometimes identical interests,” Beyer said.
“That’s why I’m frustrated that we can’t find a common denominator right now” on issues including support for the WHO amid the COVID-19 pandemic, ways to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions and tackling climate change.
However, he said that despite the high stakes of the race, Trump’s re-election would not bring the implosion of the West, citing enduring close cooperation with members of the US Congress and many US states.
“It won’t all be grim if Trump two comes, but it also won’t be better,” he said. “Who is sitting in the White House is essential, but it can’t dominate the transatlantic friendship. Washington and especially the United States aren’t just the Oval Office.”
Beyer said that decades of post-war cooperation between the allies had built a foundation of “supposedly old-fashioned values” such as “freedom and democracy, peace and prosperity.”
“It’s worth remembering Americans taught us those values and we’re still thankful for them,” he said.
Beyer said that stands in contrast to a Chinese system marked by “dictatorship, a lack of press freedom and human rights, digital surveillance, [abuse of] the Uighurs, Hong Kong, the environment.”
Beyer is one of the few top members of the Christian Democrats (CDU), Merkel’s party, at a foreign ministry run by the Social Democrats, junior partners in her ruling coalition.
The CDU would have to think of those crucial factors when picking a new leader in December ahead of a general election next year at the end of Merkel’s 16-year tenure, he said.
“Whoever wins will have to confront these issues,” Beyer said.
He said that security is just one area in which Germany would have to up its game, particularly given Trump’s plans to slash the number of US troops stationed in Germany by 9,500 to 25,000.
Trump cited anger with Germany for not sticking to NATO targets on defense spending and for treating the US “badly” on trade in justifying the move.
“I don’t think a Biden administration would completely reverse the plans, but I also doubt it would pursue them with the same vehemence,” Beyer said.
However, Germany must in either case stick to its pledges to increase defense spending while working with European partners to play a bigger role on security.
“We don’t want to make NATO obsolete, but for our own sake we have got to push defense cooperation within Europe,” Beyer said.
He said that the younger generation of Germans is less interested in US pop culture or study abroad programmes than he had been growing up in Cold War-era West Germany, adding that Australia, Canada and parts of Asia are now more likely to capture hearts and minds.
He said that Germany had occasionally neglected US ties over the past decade and bore part of the blame for any estrangement.
“Polls show Germany and Germans are very popular among many Americans,” Beyer said, with an eye to rekindling the relationship.
“It’s a place to start,” he added.
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