DENVER, U.S. -- The U.S. should not change its North Korea policy until Pyongyang takes "concrete steps toward denuclearization," and must ensure that China does not offer premature sanctions relief to the North, even if that means punishing Chinese entities that fall out of line, a U.S. senator says.
In an interview with Nikkei, Sen. Cory Gardner, Republican of Colorado, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's subcommittee on East Asia, said North Korea has promised denuclearization in the past, only to renege once it received economic aid. "And so, what we have to do is verify before we trust," he said, reversing a slogan President Ronald Reagan used about the Soviets.
"I have talked to the president directly about this. I've talked to Secretary of State (Mike) Pompeo about this," the senator said of the need to maintain the "maximum pressure" line. "I've also told the president that if we believe denuclearization is not going to be the result, the president shouldn't even have a meeting" with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
China's cooperation is needed as it is North Korea's largest export market. "Japan, The United States and [South] Korea must continue to work with China to assure that their pressure is in place while North Korea achieves its promise," Gardner said. "If they fail to follow through, then we shouldn't hesitate to sanction those entities in China that violate our sanctions."
For too long, China has sat on the sidelines, the senator said, "because they were interested in the United States being tied up and entangled in North Korea. They don't want the United States on a unified peninsula at the Chinese border."
China must address this "nuclear menace" on its border if it wants to be a responsible global power, and to encourage that, the U.S. should make clear "that we have no hostile interest in Korea," Gardner said. The U.S. should assure China that "our intention isn't to have a permanent presence on the Yalu River," he said, referring to the China-North Korea border.
Gardner, 43, is among the youngest Senate subcommittee chairs and is considered a rising star within the Republican Party.
Gardner also discussed the growing trade frictions between the U.S. and China. "There are a number of things that we should hold China responsible and accountable for," including hundreds of billions of dollars worth of intellectual property theft and denying market access to American companies, he said.
But he was critical of the Trump administration's decision to impose stiff tariffs on the country. "My concern with a tariff is that it hurts the very people that we're trying to help," he said, like farmers, an important constituency in Colorado, and people with a low or fixed income.
"A better approach would be to join in a coalition of nations -- Europe, Japan, other Asian nations -- to build a coalition to stand up to these acts by China," Gardner said. He argued that the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, which Trump pulled out of, is a good framework for curbing Chinese influence and trade violations. He suggested resolving disputes through the World Trade Organization as well.
Gardner also stressed the importance of maintaining Washington's relationship with Taiwan. "We ought to regularize our arms sales to Taiwan" and "do more when it comes to promoting Taiwan, Taiwan's representation in international organizations, high-level visits, [and] inclusion in military exercises," he said.