Heritage Foundation Address by Senator Cory Gardner


Bruce, thank you for the kind introduction.  It is always a privilege to be back at Heritage.  I also want to thank the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses for co-hosting this event.

This opportunity to speak before you today is most timely, as President Trump concludes his historic visit to Asia – the longest visit by an American President to the region in more than 25 years, and an unmistakable sign of the power, prestige, and prominence of the region.  

And the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance is the bedrock of our nation’s alliances in this region.

As President Trump stated yesterday after his meeting with President Moon Jae-in: 

The partnership between our two nations and our two people is deep and enduring. We have been proud to stand by your side for many decades as an unwavering friend and a loyal ally. And you have never had a time where this ally has been more loyal or stood by your side more than right now.

Here in South Korea, the people built a free, sovereign, and democratic republic. Through their resilience and sacrifice and determination, they became the chief architects of the future. Today, the course of this great nation is charted solely by the free people of South Korea.”

I believe this a most accurate portrayal of a proud people and nation.


You have asked me today to not only assess the state of the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance, but to also more broadly address the Trump Administration’s policies toward the Indo-Pacific region.

Both sets of policies are necessarily driven today by a troubling reality -- unless drastic diplomatic and economic measures are taken now by the international community, we may be heading for a nuclear showdown that could cost millions of lives on the Korean Peninsula and possibly beyond.  

Peace, prosperity, and the rule of law – the values that bind our two great nations and have set an example for the rest of the region for generations – are currently at risk because of a rogue regime only 40 miles north of Seoul that is determined to re-write history. 

Let me be clear: Kim Jong Un wants nuclear and ballistic weapons because in his mind, it is the only way to ensure the survival of his regime, and he has watched as the Obama Administration rewarded bad actions – if you act bad enough, long enough, you get what you want. 

Kim Jong Un wants these weapons to threaten the free world and to forcefully re-unify the Korean Peninsula on North Korea’s terms. 

Last week, I led a discussion at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with Thae Yong-ho, the high-level North Korean defector who served as Deputy Ambassador to the United Kingdom until 2016.

Mr. Thae confirmed to me directly that Kim Jong Un looked at the outcomes of the Vietnam War, and it’s eventual communist unification, as the model for remedying what Pyongyang viewed as “unfinished business” of the Korean War. 

The first step in such a scenario would be to break the U.S.-ROK alliance. 

As Mr. Thae testified in his prepared remarks to the House Foreign Relations Committee:  

“While Kim Jong Un has already long had the tools to destroy South Korea effectively, he also believes it is necessary to drive American forces out of the peninsula. And this can be done, he believes, by being able to credibly threaten the continental United States with nuclear weapons. 

On top of the thousands of artillery pieces and short-range missile capabilities long held on the North Korean side, the potential deployment of battle-ready nuclear ICBMs means the threat is not only towards South Korea, but also towards America.”

Kim wants the costs so high, we cut and run on our ally.

These candid remarks from a former regime insider demonstrate yet again that a nuclear North Korea remains a completely unacceptable outcome to the United States and our allies.


This is the reality inherited by the Trump Administration on January 20, 2016. 

To their credit, the Administration recognized the threat early and has worked with Congress more effectively to develop new policy tools to deter Pyongyang.  

Instead of the failed “strategic patience” policy of the Obama Administration, there is now a new policy of “maximum pressure and engagement” – a significantly more robust approach that combines diplomatic, economic, and military reassurance tools.  

Secretary Mattis has called North Korea “the most urgent and dangerous threat to peace and security” and made sure that his first visit as Secretary of Defense was to East Asia.  

During his most recent visit to South Korea two weeks ago, Secretary Mattis stated while standing at the Demilitarized Zone:  “[O]ur goal is not war, but rather the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Vice-President Pence likewise visited to South Korea in April and stated: “Since 1992, the United States and our allies have stood together for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.  We hope to achieve this objective through peaceable means.  But all options are on the table.”

U.S. policy toward North Korea has become more straightforward and transparent under this Administration: in concert with our close allies, we are finally deploying robust economic, diplomatic, and military deterrence tools at our disposal to deter Pyongyang.

Kim Jong Un now knows that any serious military provocation will be met with a full range of U.S. military capabilities.

We have more frequently conducted the robust show of force exercises against North Korea with both our ROK as well Japanese allies, including utilizing some of our most advanced and capable air and naval platforms. 

We have provided ironclad assurance of extended U.S. nuclear deterrence to our allies. 

We have emphasized building the trilateral relationship between the U.S., the ROK, and Japan to include more robust defense and intelligence sharing capabilities.

We have begun to ramp up economic pressure against both Pyongyang and its enablers, although much more needs to be done. 

The Administration is also slowly coming to terms with the fact that the road to peacefully stopping Pyongyang undoubtedly lies through Beijing. 

China is the only country that holds the diplomatic and economic leverage necessary to put the real squeeze on the North Korean regime.  

China accounts for 90 percent of North Korea's trade, including virtually all of North Korea's exports.  

Despite Beijing’s support for measures at the United Nations to sanctions North Korea, the fact remains that from 2000-2015, trade volume between these two nations has climbed more than tenfold, rising from $488 million in 2000 to $5.4 billion in 2015.

It is clear that Beijing is the reason the regime acts so bold and with relatively few consequences.

China must now move beyond mere articulation of concern and lay out a transparent path of focused pressure to denuclearize North Korea. 

A global power that desires global responsibility and that borders this regime cannot simply throw up its hands and absolve themselves of responsibility. 

The Administration has a robust toolbox already available to ramp up the sanctions track -- a track that has historically been hardly been utilized to its fullest extent.

Last Congress, I led the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act in the Senate, which passed by a vote of 96-0. 

This legislation was the first standalone legislation in Congress regarding North Korea to impose mandatory sanctions on the regime’s proliferation activities, human rights violations, and malicious cyber behavior.

According to recent analysis from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies: “North Korea sanctions have more than doubled since the Act came into effect on February 18, 2016. Prior to that date, North Korea ranked eighth, behind Russia, Iran, Iraq, the Balkans, Syria, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.”

Even with the 148% sanctions increase after the Act, North Korea is today still only the fourth most-sanctioned country by the United States.  

The Trump Administration has the opportunity to use these authorities to exert maximum pressure not only with Pyongyang, but also with Beijing. 

I am encouraged by the actions the Administration took this July to finally designate a Chinese financial institution, the Bank of Dandong. But this should just be the beginning.

The Administration, with Congressional support, should now make clear to any entity doing business with North Korea, no matter where they are based, that they will not be able to do business with the United States or have access to the U.S. financial system.

Exclusion from the center of the world’s financial system is a penalty that most businesses can ill-afford to bear.

A report released this June by an independent organization, C4ADS, identified over 5,000 Chinese companies that are doing business with North Korea.  These Chinese companies are responsible for $7 billion in trade with North Korea.  

Moreover, the C4ADS report found that only 10 of these companies control 30% of Chinese exports to North Korea in 2016.  One of these companies alone controlled nearly 10% of total imports from North Korea.  Some of these companies were found to have satellite offices in the United States.

According to recent disclosures, from 2009 to 2017, North Korea used Chinese banks to process at least $2.2 billion in transactions through the U.S. financial system.  

This should all stop now. 

The Administration should not be afraid of a diplomatic confrontation with Beijing for simply enforcing existing U.S. law. 

In fact, it should be more afraid of Congress if it does not. 

As for any prospect of engagement with North Korea, we should continue to let Beijing know in no uncertain terms that the United States will not negotiate with Pyongyang at the expense of our national security and that of our allies. 

Instead of working with the United States and the international community to disarm the madman in Pyongyang, Beijing has called on the United States and South Korea to halt our military exercises and engaged in an unprecedented economic pressure campaign against Seoul for the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, a purely defensive system.

By some estimates, the Chinese campaign against the South Korean economy cost Seoul anywhere from 5 billion to 15 billion U.S. dollars. 

If only Beijing exerted this kind of concerted unilateral sanctions pressure against the North Korean regime, it would bankrupt Pyongyang’s coffers twice over. 

The Administration should also continue to reject any ill-conceived Chinese “freeze for freeze” negotiations proposals. 

We should never horse-trade the illegal activities that North Korea is conducting – and which have been condemned by multiple UN Security Council Resolutions – for completely legal activities under the U.S.-ROK alliance. 

Moreover, before any talks in any format with North Korea, the United States and our partners must demand that Pyongyang first adhere to the denuclearization commitments it had already agreed to in the past – and subsequently chose to brazenly violate. 

The purpose of any negotiations with North Korea must be complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization – full stop. 

President Trump should continue to impress with President Xi that a denuclearized Korean Peninsula is in both nations’ fundamental long-term interests and that the United States does not seek regime change in North Korea. 

As Admiral Harry Harris rightly noted recently: “We want to bring Kim Jong Un to his senses, not to his knees.” 

But to achieve this goal, Beijing must be made to choose whether it wants to work with the United States as a responsible global leader to stop Pyongyang – or bear consequences of keeping him in power.


Recently, I introduced bipartisan legislation called the Leverage to Enhance Effective Diplomacy, or the LEED, Act.  

This legislation takes the first steps toward imposing an economic embargo on North Korea, including a ban any entity that does business with North Korea or its enablers from using the United States financial system and imposing U.S. sanctions on all those participating in North Korean human rights or labor trafficking abuses.

On September 21, 2017, the Administration took the right step forward and issued an executive order that incorporates many of the elements of this legislation.

My legislation also specifically singles out 10 largest Chinese companies conducting trade with North Korea to send a clear message:  you can either do business with this outlaw regime or the world’s largest economy. 

Public pressure works. Some of these businesses have already reached out to our office and said they have stopped business with North Korea because of my legislation.

Another important component of this legislation is the diplomatic isolation of North Korea.  

The LEED Act calls for the Secretary of State to initiate a global pressure campaign against North Korea and to also authorizes the Secretary to cut off U.S. assistance to any nation that is not cooperating with the United States to isolate the North Korean regime

The Administration has initiated such a pressure campaign against North Korea. To date, over 20 nations have downgraded diplomatic relations or cut-off business ties with Pyongyang. 

This is a major success for which the Administration deserves to be commended. 

Quiet pressure also works. In late May, I had the opportunity to visit the Philippines and to meet with President Rodrigo Duterte.  One major topic of discussion was North Korea and the threat it presents to global peace and stability. 

President Duterte pledged to me that the Philippines would wind down all business ties with North Korea.  

On September 8, 2017, the Philippines announced it had done just that.

According to the World Trade Organization, the Philippines’ was North Korea’s third largest trade partner in 2016, with bilateral trade volume of $87 million. 

That is now $87 million less that Kim Jong Un can use to build its weapons of mass destruction and abuse the rights of his people. 

I have also sent letters to the 21 nations, including some of the strongest U.S. allies like Germany and the United Kingdom, to shut down their diplomatic facilities inside of North Korea.

Maintaining official diplomatic relations with a regime that continues to defy international law and threaten nations across the globe only serves to reward nefarious behavior.

I have also called on the United Nations to expel North Korea as a member state.  

Article 6 of the United Nations Charter clearly states: “A Member of the United Nations which has persistently violated the Principles contained in the present Charter may be expelled from the Organization by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.”  

There is no nation on Earth that deserves this dishonor more than North Korea.

It is my hope that during this historic visit, President Trump and President Moon can agree to not only strengthen the U.S.-ROK alliance, but also lay out a concerted path of pressure to achieve the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula – a mission in which we cannot fail. 


As President Trump approaches his first year in office, we are seeing the emergence of this Administration’s vision on Asia.

The first important element of that vision is regularly showing up at high levels -- critical to a region where face matters.

Vice-President Pence has completed a successful “Asia Reassurance Tour” to Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Indonesia.

President Trump is attending both the U.S.-ASEAN summit and the East Asia summit in the Philippines and APEC summit in Vietnam.  

Throughout my travels to the region in the last 3 years, I heard a tremendous amount of concern from top leaders that U.S. leadership in this critical part of the world is waning. 

When U.S. leadership wanes, or even the perception of U.S. leadership wanes, it undoubtedly empowers bad actors and constrains the political space for many nations to make choices that comport with U.S. values and interests.

As nations look for a balance to China, an absent U.S. means no lifeline for a rules-based alternative.  

The Trump Administration is inheriting a flawed “Asia rebalance” policy from the previous administration, which was right in rhetoric, but ultimately came up short on meaningful actions.

U.S. power in the Indo-Pacific over the last century empowered nations in this region to peacefully prosper, secured by the U.S-led liberal world order.  That is now changing.

As is evident from its actions with regard to North Korea and armed coercion in the South China Sea, China has little intention to follow established international norms when they conflict with Beijing’s perceived self-interest.

This stark fact has led many nations in the region to reconsider the meaning of what the Greek philosopher observed long ago: “The strong do what they can, while the weak suffer what they must.”

The Trump Administration, working with Congress, now has an opportunity to shape a new U.S. policy toward the Indo-Pacific that changes this dangerous dynamic.

This is why I am pursuing legislation called the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA), a new generational approach that will put American interests first by reassuring our allies, deterring our adversaries, and securing U.S. leadership in the region for future generations.

To inform this legislation, I have put together a series of hearings in my Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee to shine a bright light on the importance of this region to U.S. economic and national security interests. 

ARIA will pursue three broad goals to strengthen U.S. policy toward the Asia-Pacific.

First, it will strengthen U.S. security commitments to our allies and build partner capacity in the Asia-Pacific to deter aggression, project power, and combat terrorism.

To do so, the ARIA will authorize funds to bolster U.S. military presence in the region, grow partner nation maritime capabilities to deter aggression in their territorial waters, and build new counterterrorism partnership programs in Southeast Asia to combat the growing presence of ISIS and other terrorist organizations.

ARIA will also enshrine a policy of regularly enforcing U.S. freedom of navigation and overflight rights in the East and South China Seas.

We will reaffirm our commitment to longstanding treaty alliances in region and call for building new regional security partnerships.

We will unequivocally back our ally Taiwan, including authorizing new arms sales, regularizing the arms sales process, and providing for enhanced diplomatic and defense contacts with Taipei.

Second, ARIA will promote sustained economic engagement and securing U.S. market access in the Indo-Pacific region as essential elements for the future growth of the U.S. economy and success of American businesses.

To do so, ARIA will require that the Trump Administration find new and innovative ways to economically engage the region.

We will mandate that United States government engage in bilateral or multilateral trade negotiations and also enhance our trade facilitation efforts, in order to increase opportunities for American businesses to find new export markets in the region.

U.S.-made exports to Asia will mean more good-paying American jobs at home – a winning proposition.

ARIA will authorize U.S. energy exports to the region and establish policies to promote sustainable power generation throughout the region.

We will also ensure that there is a level playing field for U.S. companies, including cracking down on state-sponsored and state-endorsed theft of U.S. intellectual property from American businesses.

Third, ARIA will enshrine promotion of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law as key U.S. policy objectives in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly in Southeast Asia.

I continue to engage my colleagues in Congress and senior officials in the Administration to advance this initiative and I welcome your input as we move forward.


The stakes for the Trump Administration could not be any higher in the Indo-Pacific region. 

The fundamental question is whether it will be the United States or China that will set the rules for the next generation. 

Putting Asia at front and center for U.S. foreign policy is putting America first – because our future national and economic security depends on it.  

Thank you for hosting me here today, and I will now be glad to answer your questions.