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American Leadership on North Korea

September 22, 2017

As North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un issues more threats against the United States, President Trump’s executive order targeting North Korea’s trading partners is a meaningful step to ramp up the pressure on this dangerous regime.

I have long said I do not believe American leadership means policing the world or putting boots on the ground in every conflict. As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade policy, I can attest to the significance of trade to both economic growth and geopolitical relationships. These targeted sanctions by the Trump administration can cut off the resources which have allowed North Korea to expand its nuclear program and will put necessary pressure on countries which, to this point, have provided economic investment to the regime.

Under President Trump’s executive order, issued on September 21, trading partners and financial institutions doing business with North Korea face steep penalties. For example, ships and aircraft visiting North Korea are banned from the United States for 180 days. The ban also applies to any vessels which have engaged in a ship-to-ship transfer with a vessel which has visited North Korea within 180 days.  

Other industries which can be sanctioned for involvement in North Korea include construction, energy, financial services, fishing, information technology, manufacturing, medical, mining, textiles, and transportation.

The executive order also penalizes foreign financial institutions facilitating transactions tied to North Korean trade. President Trump stated, “Foreign banks will face a clear choice. Do business with the United States, or facilitate trade with the lawless regime in North Korea.”

By tightening the screws on North Korea’s economy, we can further isolate Kim Jong Un’s regime, limit its resources, and, ideally, prevent further advancement of North Korea’s nuclear program.

The House has long been working on efforts to increase sanctions on North Korea. We called on the Obama administration to take action, but unfortunately we only saw the continuation of “strategic patience.” After the Trump administration stated the era of strategic patience with North Korea was over, the House passed the Countering Adversarial Nations Through Sanctions Act to increase sanctions on North Korea, Iran, and Russia. One of the most far-reaching sanctions packages in history, this legislation passed the House and the Senate and was signed into law by President Trump in August.

Japan and Korea have been working with the United States on strategies to counter North Korean aggression, but until recently, China had yet to take significant steps against the regime. Now, multiple reports say China’s central bank has issued a directive to its banks throughout the country to stop providing loans or financial services to North Korean customers. This is an important development from the country which accounts for 90 percent of North Korean trade.

The latest threat from North Korea is to test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean. As the rogue regime escalates its intimidation campaign, we must keep strengthening U.S. intelligence so we know the true capabilities of North Korea’s nuclear program. We should also continue to invest in our missile defense system, which was originally mocked as President Reagan’s “Star Wars” but enjoys much wider support today.

The world faces a precarious situation with North Korea, and taking action to limit the regime’s finances is a smart strategy. The U.S. must show leadership and strength, and I am glad to see the Trump administration taking aggressive action against those who choose to do business with Kim Jong Un’s regime.