Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
June 29, 2022
Peter Wittig is a respected diplomat from Germany with an illustrious career stationed at many nations including UN. But he does not seem to have much experience in Asia.
- So, his assessment that “I assume now many top Chinese officials are already regretting it, and they must have been shocked by Russia’s surprisingly poor military war performance” is simply his personal view. There is no evidence or consequences of his assumption.
- Perceptions are important but they are not the reality. According to the Ambassador, US has an international image problem. He mainly blamed the fault of Trump Administration. However, the reality in the US is far more challenging than who lives in the White House for four years or eight years. In order for the US to project its influence in the global stage, US needs to re-unite and resolve many domestic divisive challenges. It will take leadership, focus and time to heal.
- It does not matter how foreign nations respect, even worship, the US. US will not have much real impact around the world. Because US administration is voted in or out by majority of US voters. A major concern for foreign nations is the consistency of US policy. From Trump administration to Biden Administration, many US policies have turned upside down. US mid-term election is set for November 8, 2022, Democratic is projected to be defeated, then what? GOP controlled congress will constrain Biden’s policy and promises to the extreme!
- The future of the war in Ukraine is unknown, but as long as the war goes on, Ukraine is bleeding every day. For the west to say that it is up to Ukrainians (means Zelensky) to decide when the war should stop is really sad, very sad. The real deal makers are Biden vs Putin. Zelensky vs Putin is not a fair game. Therefore Zelensky calling for more support from the west on every occasion. As the west committed that “we will stay with Ukraine as long as it takes,” there is no way for Zelensky to have any mandate for negotiating a cease fire with Putin.
- On the other hand, there is no mandate or incentive for Putin to stop the war in Ukraine because he is not losing on the ground. Further, Putin faces endless sanctions from the west even the war ends today. The bad news is that unfortunately Europe is already facing an unprecedent energy crisis, their economy faces collectively collapsing. If the war does not end soon, Europe will have a very cold winter. It is very difficult to imagine what kind of winter will Ukraine have to endure!
Professional diplomats should work on ending the Ukraine war asap.
Former Ambassador Peter Wittig on foreign perceptions of the U.S.
Wed, June 29, 2022, 3:00 AM
In this episode of “Intelligence Matters,” host Michael Morell speaks with Peter Wittig, Germany’s former ambassador to the United States, United Kingdom, Lebanon, Cyprus and the United Nations, about foreign perceptions of the United States at pivotal historical moments. Wittig and Morell trace the evolution of America’s standing in the eyes of the world from the end of the World Wars to the end of the Cold War, through the period following 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to today. Wittig offers insights on the effect of the Trump administration’s “America First” policy on global alliances and shares his view on the Biden administration’s effort to rally global support for Ukraine before and during Russia’s invasion. Wittig and Morell also discuss how its domestic instability may undermine America’s credibility and ability to lead.
China’s relationship with Russia: “[I]n my personal view, China has committed a colossal error in promising Putin a ‘friendship with no limits,’ as it was called, when the two leaders met. I assume now many top Chinese officials are already regretting it, and they must have been shocked by Russia’s surprisingly poor military war performance. But my assessment is that Beijing will be very careful not to be dragged into the Russian imbroglio and be very careful to avoid U.S. and European sanctions. And that means, I guess, China will neither choose to be an unconditional ally with Russia, nor will it abandon Russia as an important junior partner for China.”The way forward in Ukraine: “This will be a protracted battle in a kind of war of attrition. Who will have the upper hand in such a fight if the war disappears from page one of Western media? Putin is a ruthless leader. He will not accept defeat. So clearly NATO countries need to step up their support to help Ukraine in pushing back the aggression. But at some point, the Ukrainians will have to decide what their war goals are. This is a, first and foremost, of course, Ukrainian decision. But also NATO will have to reflect on the conditions of a possible cease fire and beyond. We’re not at this point yet, but there will be difficult choices ahead.” Domestic instability in the U.S.: “I fear that … U.S. soft power is fading. Allies worry about the next U.S. presidential election. Will the losing candidate and his or her party once again claim that the victory was stolen? Our authoritarian foes in the world are gleefully watching the fragility of a powerful democracy. So extreme domestic polarization and political gridlock in a country weakens the power abroad and weakens the ability to lead internationally. And I think this is the main challenge of the U.S. today.”
Peter, I think the best place to start is to talk about why foreign perceptions of the United States matter. Why should Americans care? Why should my listeners care? I can imagine some people saying, you know, who cares? Some Americans saying, ‘Who cares what others in the world think of us?’
So how would you answer that question in terms of why do foreign perceptions of the U.S. matter?
MICHAEL MORELL: So Peter, did the US distancing itself from its allies, did it force those allies in any way to hedge a bit with regard to Russia and China, do you think, or not?
PETER WITTIG: The perception of the U.S. shifted according to events. The assumptions of leaders were probably more stable than those of the rather fickle public opinions in the case of Europe. Trust of allies had developed over decades of closed cooperation and was not easily destroyed.
The Iraq war, however, put a strain on this level of trust. But there was never any question of hedging their bets by relying more on China and Russia.
The Trump presidency, however, was, as I said, an event of a different nature. His administration was at times – concerning our continent – was at times outrightly hostile to the European Union. He once called it worse than China, so most European leaders quickly realised Europe must rely more on itself.
And one more important thing. The perceived absence of the U.S. leadership in the West during the time of Trump created a vacuum. Russia and China tried to step in and fill the gap in Europe, but also Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.
MICHAEL MORELL: So, Peter, let’s shift gears here and talk about Ukraine. And let me start here with a very general question: has the U.S. reaction to the initial build-up of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border and then the U.S. reaction to the invasion itself, altered perceptions of the U.S.? And if so, by how much? What’s your sense of that?
PETER WITTIG: The U.S. was the first one to see through the build-up of Russian forces at the Ukrainian border and to predict an outright Russian war of aggression. And the groundbreaking step to share its intelligence not only with governments, but also with the public at large, was a first – had never been done before on this scale. However, few governments in Europe, one has to confess, had believed the U.S. forecasts, including, by the way, the Ukrainian leadership.
But the U.S. intelligence turned out to be exactly right. Up to this exact day of of the invasion. So the administration’s clairvoyance and the handling of the war – resolute but controlled and measured, strengthened its reputation and the trust in US leadership. And it stood in stark contrast to the chaotic way the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan was ended.
But I also must add a caveat here. Europe’s attitude is not representative of the whole world. Only 58 countries, mainly the European and Asian allies, take part in the sanctions regime against Russia. Many important countries even refuse to condemn Russia’s war of aggression. Not only China, but many heavyweights from the global south India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, the Gulf countries. In this sense, the world is far from united in its perception of the U.S. and its allies.
MICHAEL MORELL: Peter, I’m going to ask a broader question to you in a minute about China. But at this point, let me just ask, to what extent has China’s support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine damaged the EU’s relationship with China – which is a critically important relationship for both China and the EU. Do you have a sense of that?
PETER WITTIG: Well, yes. China’s reaction to Russia’s invasion has indeed important repercussions in Europe. Europeans began to shine a much more critical light on China as these two authoritarian regimes have formed an alliance.
Companies doing business with China are facing increasing headwinds from their domestic public opinions in Europe, but also from their governments. Now the European Union will be more outspoken and critical on China-related issues like Taiwan, on the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, or Hong Kong. And in my view, in my personal view, China has committed a colossal error in promising Putin a ‘friendship with no limits,’ as it was called, when the two leaders met. I assume now many top Chinese officials are already regretting it, and they must have been shocked by Russia’s surprisingly poor military war performance. But my assessment is that Beijing will be very careful not to be dragged into the Russian imbroglio and and be very careful to avoid U.S. and European sanctions. And that means, I guess, China will neither choose to be an unconditional ally with Russia, nor will it abandon Russia as an important junior partner for China.
MICHAEL MORELL: Peter, as you think about where this might be headed – and I know this is a tough question – but at this point, what do you think the outcome will ultimately be? And I know that might depend on policy decisions made in a lot of places, but what’s your expectation for how this ends?
PETER WITTIG:.Michael, a tough question indeed. It’s difficult to tell. I tend to think that on the battlefield, in the end, neither side will be able to claim outright victory. But how does this change the world around Russia? Putin’s Russia has started a brutal war of aggression against a sovereign nation and has committed war crimes. It is responsible for tens of thousands of dead and wounded, of unbelievable destruction of cities, infrastructure and cultural heritage, not forgetting the many million refugees and an unfathomable suffering of the population – that will be the Russian legacy.
So Russia will leave a wound in Europe’s eastern part that will take generations to heal. Russia has also destroyed the post-Cold War order. It’s already history. We see, I believe, a Cold War 2.0 emerging in Europe. Western and allied countries will engage in some sort of containment strategy, a new enhanced military buildup, long term economic sanctions, political isolation of Russia as long as Putin’s regime remains in power. So Putin really has already lost the war.
NATO has been reinvigorated; even traditionally neutral countries like Finland and Sweden are now joining. Unimaginable a while ago. The EU showed surprising unity and will beef up its defense. And the medium and long term effects of the sanctions regime – by the way, the most robust in history against any major country – will cripple the Russian economy and drive talented young Russians out of the country. Putin will want to tighten the grip in his immediate neighbourhood through an alliance of authoritarian regimes. This is part of his imperial project to resuscitate Russia’s imagined glory of the past. Michael, I think it will not end well for Russia.
MICHAEL MORELL: I couldn’t agree more with that, Peter.
Last question, Peter. Obviously, the relationship between the United States and China is important for the whole world, and how that relationship evolves will be important to the world. If you could advise both the United States and China about how to manage that relationship going forward, what would your broad thoughts be?
PETER WITTIG: Michael, I believe China is on the way to become a one-man autocracy. President Xi Jinping will be given a third term at the party conference at the end of the year. It is likely that he plans to stay for life. China has once again become more ideological. The influence of the Communist Party is on the rise on political and security issues at home and in its neighbourhood. Beijing is ever more assertive, even coercive. Economically, it is flouting the international rules and practices. All of this is not good news, frankly. But it becomes clear the most strategic future relationship of our time is the one between the U.S. and China. It’s decisive for the whole world. Europe’s interest here is not to enter into an ever more dangerous spiral of conflict between the two powers, between the two superpowers.
With no exit or without any offramp, the way forward, I believe, is for the U.S. and the European Union to team up to face China together from a position of strength, to contain it where needed in security issues, for example, but also to cooperate with Beijing, where we need China’s contribution to tackle climate change or to cope with global health issues.
The U.S. and the European Union have made some headway. They created a joint European, U.S. Trade and Technology Council to coordinate our public policies in relation to China. But we need a more comprehensive approach, a joint approach to calibrate our China relationship wisely between cooperation and conflict. And that is one, if not the most important, challenge for our alliance in the coming decade, I believe.
MICHAEL MORELL: Peter, thank you so much for joining us. It’s been an incredibly thoughtful conversation. It’s been a pleasure to have you on Intelligence Matters. Thank you so much.
PETER WITTIG: Michael, it was my pleasure. Thank you.