Gardner Gives Keynote Address At Seventh Annual CSIS South China Sea Conference

Washington, D.C. – Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity, today gave the keynote address to the Seventh Annual Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) South China Sea Conference. He laid out a vision for U.S. leadership in the Indo-Pacific region through his legislation, the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA).

 Click here to watch Gardner’s remarks.


Remarks as prepared for delivery:


Thank you to CSIS for hosting me here today and thank you Mike, for that kind introduction. 


The theme of this conference today, the South China Sea, has emerged as one of the most vexing national security challenges for the United States and the region. 


It is a test of international law, of U.S. leadership, and U.S. commitment to a region of the world where other Asia nations cannot afford the region’s national security, economic security and foreign policy to become a utility-like monopoly of China. 


I commend the CSIS and especially your terrific Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative for providing timely analysis and intellectual leadership to shed light on this crisis. 


And of course, I thank CSIS for partnering with a great Colorado company, Digital Globe, to provide the public with those stunning commercial satellite images of Chinese activities. 


We are used to standing on top of our mountains and looking down on the valley - now we are standing in the cosmos and looking down even further thanks to private sector innovation. 


What is happening in the South China Sea today will have serious security and economic implications for the entire world– but it is especially important to examine what these developments augur for American global leadership and China’s so-called “peaceful rise”.


Renewing American leadership in the Asia-Pacific is thus the theme of my address to you today.


This topic is especially timely as President Trump approaches six months office and we are seeing the emergence of this Administration’s foreign policy, and as the President and his Administration’s vision on Asia is becoming more apparent as well.


The first foreign trip by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was to our treaty allies South Korea and Japan.


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


President Trump announced he plans to attend both the U.S.-ASEAN summit and the East Asia summit in the Philippines and APEC summit in Vietnam. And from my visits to the region, this is a very important commitment. 


This unequivocal reaffirmation of U.S. commitment to our allies and this region by this Administration have been welcome news.


But showing up, important as that is, will not be enough to reclaim America’s leadership role in this region and to reassure our jittery allies after years of neglect.


As General Dwight Eisenhower once observed:  “Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him.”


That train is fast approaching and lying down is not an option.


Today, I will address what I believe should be the Trump Administration’s most urgent priorities in Asia and to also announce an initiative that I am leading in Congress to strengthen our policies.


The most urgent challenge for U.S. policy in the region is the coming nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula. 


Secretary Mattis has said North Korea is “the most urgent and dangerous threat to peace and security.”


Admiral Gortney, then the Commander of U.S. Northern Command, stated that the Korean Peninsula is at its most unstable point since 1953, when the Armistice was signed.


Our North Korea policy of bipartisan failure must turn to one of bipartisan success - with pressure and global cooperation, resulting in the peaceful denuclearization of the regime.


Last year alone, North Korea conducted 2 nuclear tests and a staggering 24 ballistic missile launches.  This year, Pyongyang already launched 17 missiles, including the July 4 successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile that is reportedly capable of reaching Alaska and Hawaii. 


Patience is not an option with the U.S. homeland in the nuclear shadow of Kim Jong Un.


Kim Jong Un is committed to developing his nuclear and missile program with one goal in mind:  to have a reliable capability to deliver a nuclear warhead to Seoul, Tokyo, and most importantly, to the United States homeland.


President Trump has said that the United States will not allow that to happen and I am encouraged by the President’s resolve. 


But time is not on our side. 


I believe U.S. policy toward North Korea should be straightforward:  the United States will deploy every economic, diplomatic, and if necessary, military tools at our disposal to deter Pyongyang and to protect our allies.


As Vice-President Pence stated during his visit to South Korea:  “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.”


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. 


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


China must now move beyond an articulation of concern and lay out a transparent path of focused pressure to denuclearize North Korea. A global power that borders this regime cannot simply throw up its hands and absolve themselves of responsibility. 


The Administration is right to pursue a policy of “maximum pressure” toward North Korea and we have a robust toolbox already available to ramp up the sanctions track -- a track that has hardly been utilized to its fullest extent.


Last Congress, I led the North Korea Policy and Sanctions Enhancement Act, which passed the Senate 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.


The Administration must fully enforce this legislation, including imposing secondary sanctions on any Chinese entities that are aiding Pyongyang.


I am encouraged by the actions the Administration took two weeks ago to designate a number of Chinese entities, including a Chinese financial institution. But this should just be the beginning.


The Administration, with Congressional support, should now make clear to any entity doing business with North Korea that they will not be able to do business with the United States.


In addition, we must pressure China to faithfully implement all U.N. Security Council resolutions with regard to North Korea, particularly Resolutions 2270 and 2321 negotiated last year.


Despite the Trump Administration’s earnest effort to induce China to action, China’s response has been lacking so far. 


Instead of anticipated reductions in trade, news reports have indicated that trade between China and North Korea has actually increased instead by nearly 40%.


China continues being complicit in the Pyongyang’s labor abuses and malicious cyber activities.


 Instead of putting long overdue economic pressure on North Korea, China has engaged in a shameful economic sanctions campaign against Seoul over the deployment of the THAAD system that has cost the South Korean economy an estimated $7 billion. 


THAAD is a defensive system that in no way threatens China – and Beijing knows it.


China has decided to bully the victims of a rogue nuclear nation, instead of a full embrace of an effort to disarm the culprits. 


Instead of working with the United States and the international community to disarm the madman in Pyongyang, Beijing has instead called on the United States and South Korea to halt our military exercises, in exchange for vague promises of North Korea suspending its missile and nuclear activities.


That was a bad deal, and the Trump Administration rightly rejected it.


We should continue to let Beijing know in no uncertain terms that the United States will not negotiate with Pyongyang at the expense of U.S. national security and that of our allies. 


Moreover, before any talks, we must demand that Pyongyang first meet the denuclearization commitments it had already agreed to – and subsequently chose to brazenly violate. 


Most importantly, President Trump should continue to indicate to President Xi that a denuclearized Korean Peninsula is in both nations’ fundamental long-term interests. 


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 leader to stop Pyongyang – or bear consequences of keeping him in power.


Another looming crisis in the region is maritime security, including the escalation of tensions in the South China Seas.


China’s recent destabilizing actions in the East China Sea and South China Sea are contrary to international law, pose an increased risk of future conflict, and necessitate a strong U.S. and regional response. Their actions seem at odds with their words.


China has dramatically expanded its land reclamation activities in the South China Sea, and clear militarization.


Since 2013, according to the Department of Defense, China has reclaimed over 3,200 acres of artificial features in the South China Sea. 


On July 12, 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague ruled that China violated the sovereignty of the Philippines with regard to maritime disputes between the two nations.


As Admiral Harris stated during his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 1, 2017:  “Despite subsequent Chinese assurances at the highest levels that they would not militarize these bases, today, they have these facilities that support long-range weapons emplacements, fighter aircraft hangars, radar towers and barracks for their troops. China's militarization of the South China Sea is real.”


The United States must have consistent and assertive diplomatic engagement with China to reinforce that these rogue activities fall outside of accepted international norms. 


Global engagement is necessary as well -- nations far and wide should be voicing and reinforcing their disapproval. 


If the South China Sea crisis is not resolved, what is the next step? Where is the next South China Sea?  The United States must help other nations prepare for and rise to the challenge of not only this breach of international law, but for the next breach, and make sure they have the tools necessary to counter such a violation. 


The U.S. defense posture in this region should remain exactly what Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on May 30, 2015: “The United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as U.S. forces do all over the world. America, alongside its allies and partners in the regional architecture, will not be deterred from exercising these rights — the rights of all nations.”


A consistent, deliberate and assertive policy to do just that, is imperative.


We should continue to engage our allies, such as Japan and Australia, or the United Kingdom, to gauge possibilities of conducting joint freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea.  


While we must seek a peaceful resolution through a negotiation of regional Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, any such negotiation must start with the Hague ruling, which invalidated the so-called “nine-dash line.”


Ultimately, the South China Sea crisis is a long-term test of American leadership and resolve to deter Beijing’s hegemony. 


The Trump Administration and Congress need to take urgent steps now to rebuild our military, so we can enhance our defense posture in the region.


We need to urgently work with our regional allies, such as the Philippines, to enhance their maritime domain awareness capabilities.


China must know that the United States and our partners are united in deterring aggression and enforcing enforce international law.


The third pressing security challenge for the Trump Administration is the rising tide of Islamic extremism in Southeast Asia.


As evident from the recent events in Mindanao, ISIS has established a firm foothold in the Philippines – and this cancer is spreading throughout Southeast Asia. 


According to experts, more than 60 groups in the region have now pledged allegiance to ISIS. 


As the United States and our allies are succeeding in dislodging ISIS from its traditional footholds in the Middle East, Southeast Asia is becoming the new home to radical Islamic groups.


Our policy should be to significantly increase military, intelligence, and counterterrorism cooperation with the governments of the region to urgently combat this threat.


Throughout my travels to the region, 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 is waning, 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 Asia-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 Greek philosopher Thucydides observed long ago:  “The strong do what they can, while the weak suffer what they must.”


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


This is why I am pursuing legislation called the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA), a new 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. 


At our first hearing on March 29th, we focused on the growing security challenges I mentioned today, including North Korea, South China Sea, and terrorism in Southeast Asia.


At that hearing, Randy Forbes, former Congressman from Virginia and chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, observed the following:


“In the coming decades, this is the region where the largest armies in the world will camp. This is the region where the most powerful navies in the world will gather. This is the region where over one-half of the world’s commerce will take place and two thirds will travel.


This is the region where a maritime superhighway linking the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Australia, Northeast Asia, and the United States begins.


This is the region where two superpowers will compete to determine which world order will prevail. This is the region where the seeds of conflict that could most engulf the world will probably be planted.”


We agreed at that hearing that we must strengthen U.S. defense posture and increase engagement with our allies to counter these threats.


At our second hearing on May 24th, we focused on the importance of U.S. economic leadership in Asia.  At that hearing, Tami Overby, Senior Vice President for Asia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, observed the following:


“The Asia-Pacific region is critical to current and future U.S. economic growth, competitiveness and job creation. U.S. exporters—whether large or small companies producing goods and services or farmers and ranchers exporting commodities—need access to these fast growing economies and the rising pool of consumers.


According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the global middle class will expand from 1.8 billion in 2009 to 3.2 billion by 2020 and 4.9 billion by 2030.


Most of this growth is in Asia: In fact, Asia’s middle-class consumers will represent 66% of the global middle-class population and 59% of middle-class consumption by 2030, doubling these shares since 2009.”


We agreed at that hearing that while the Administration and Congress might differ on global trade strategy, we cannot ignore the fundamental fact that it is the Asia-Pacific region that will be critical for the U.S. economy to grow and for the American people to prosper through trade opportunities.


Finally, last week, I held our third hearing in this series, this time focused on promoting our values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, in the Asia-Pacific. 


I was delighted that Murray Hiebert and Ambassador Bob King from CSIS were able to provide testimony on why promoting these values should be integral to U.S. foreign policy today.


As Murray observed at that hearing:  “[T]he promotion of U.S. values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law has long been part of the U.S. national identity. Promoting these values sends a clear signal to authoritarian governments that the United States is watching how they treat their citizens, while defenders of human rights and democracy are assured that they will not be abandoned by Washington.”


Thus, the 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 with Australia, South Korea, Japan, 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 Asia-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 enhance our trade facilitation efforts and increase opportunities for U.S. businesses to find new export markets in the Asia-Pacific.


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


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


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


A pillar of any nation that seeks a prosperous future, and a future with a strong relationship with the United States, must be individual freedoms.


On December 10, 1986, President Ronald Reagan, in his speech declaring Human Rights Day, said the following:


“At birth, our country was christened with a declaration that spoke of self-evident truths, the foremost of which was that each and every individual is endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. And our creed as Americans is that these rights—these human rights—are the property of every man, woman, and child on this planet and that a violation of human rights anywhere is the business of free people everywhere.”


I believe that statement still holds true today, as it did then, and it must form an integral part of our nation’s foreign policy


So throughout the region, we should advocate for principled policies that emphasize accountability and transparency as indispensable elements of building any security or economic partnerships with the United States. 


My ultimate goal for pursuing ARIA is to contribute to establishing a U.S. policy that goes beyond a 4-year electoral cycle, but sets a 40-year path for sustained and determined U.S. leadership in this most critical region of the world.


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 Asia-Pacific region. 


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


China’s recent destabilizing actions are proving that its rise will be less than peaceful – and it is imperative that the United States show strong leadership to check Beijing’s worst impulses by projecting American power, promoting our values, and standing by our allies.


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.



Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and the Budget Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy and Subcommittee on Energy.

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