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[BERLIN] Wolfgang Schaeuble, Germany's veteran finance minister, urged the US to limit Russian and Chinese influence or risk bringing about "the end of our liberal world order." The comments by Mr Schaeuble, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet since she took office in 2005, are one of the strongest expressions of concern among European policy makers that President Donald Trump's administration is increasingly disengaging the US from its global role. Europe and the US must stand together at a difficult time, the minister said.
"I doubt whether the United States truly believes that the world order would be equally sound if China or Russia were to fill the gaps left by the US, and if China and Russia were simply given a free hand to dominate the spheres of influence that they have defined for themselves," Mr Schaeuble, 74, said in a speech at the American Academy in Berlin, a think tank that promotes US-German ties. "That would be the end of our liberal world order."
Mr Schaeuble's remarks to an audience including former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers came less than three weeks before Ms Merkel hosts Mr Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Group of 20 leaders for a potentially difficult summit in Hamburg.
Ms Merkel set the tone after meeting Mr Trump at the Group of Seven summit in Sicily in May, saying reliable relationships forged since the end of World War II "are to some extent over". The chancellor and Mr Kissinger plan to speak Wednesday in Berlin at a commemoration of the Marshall Plan, the US-funded initiative to rebuild Western Europe after World War II and stem the spread of communism.
Mr Trump's moves to pull out of the Paris climate accord, reduce US Pacific trade ties and call US financial commitments to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into question risk leaving a void in global leadership. That's creating an opening for China, a country Ms Merkel has embraced as an ally in combating climate change. China also was Germany's biggest non-European trading partner last year, ahead of the US.
Mr Schaeuble, who helped negotiate German reunification that led to the European Union's expansion to the east, sought to draw a link between US complaints about Germany's trade surplus and the need to maintain involvement in Europe's security.
"After all, it is surely in the United States' own interest to ensure security and economic stability in its markets, both in Europe and around the world," he said in his speech late Tuesday. "This is a basic precondition if the US wants to increase its exports and cut its trade deficit.
In another sign of shifting geopolitics, Ms Merkel on Tuesday said she's open to discussing proposals for a joint euro-area budget, which French President Emmanuel Macron has backed.
Comments by Ms Merkel and Mr Schaeuble, who also is Germany's longest-serving member of parliament, carry additional weight as Europe's biggest economy heads toward a national election on Sept 24 where Ms Merkel is seeking a fourth term.
Combined support for their Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian ally, the Christian Social Union, increased 1 percentage point to 39 per cent in a Forsa poll published Wednesday. The Social Democrats led by Martin Schulz, Ms Merkel's main challenger, declined 1 point to 23 per cent. If the result is replicated on Election Day, Ms Merkel would be set to stay in power, though she'd need a coalition partner as during her previous terms.