Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry told lawmakers Wednesday that the Biden administration is weighing sanctions over China’s alleged use of forced labor in the production of solar panels and other renewable energy components.
Republican Texas Rep. Michael McCaul asked Kerry during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing how the administration’s climate strategy would account for energy companies in China, particularly solar producers, allegedly involved in forced labor from Xinjiang.
“When you look at the supply chain, when you look at China, they dominate the critical mineral supply and solar supply chains all coming out of Xinjiang Province,” McCaul said.
Kerry responded that the reported use of forced labor in Xinjiang “is a problem” and McCaul was “absolutely correct” in his concerns about supply chains. Kerry also told senators that the Biden administration is weighing sanctions on Chinese energy companies alleged to be using forced labor. (RELATED: John Kerry Invested In Fossil Fuel Stocks Before White House Climate Job)
“It is my understanding that the Biden administration is right now in the process of assessing whether or not that would be the target of sanctions,” he said. “I’ve heard some discussion about it. I’m not privy to where that decision is at this point in time but I can tell you that nothing can be traded. And I’ve made that very clear, President [Joe] Biden has made it very clear.”
Almost all of the polysilicon material used to produce photovoltaic cells — the key component in solar panels — comes from China, and much of the country’s polysilicon extraction takes place in Xinjiang, according to Bloomberg.
Researchers at the geopolitical consulting firm Horizon Advisory concluded in January that Chinese polysilicon manufacturers such as GCL-Poly were using forced labor from Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities, The New York Times reported.
Researchers also identified major Chinese energy companies including Daqo New Energy and Jinko Solar as employing workers who were transferred from Xinjiang with the help of Chinese authorities.
Biden’s climate plan calls for $2 trillion in federal spending over four years and major investments in renewable energy. His infrastructure plan has been commended by solar project developers for including a proposal to extend the industry’s key tax credits by a decade, Reuters reported.
Kerry said in late April that the U.S. should pursue cooperation with China on the issue of global climate change, even if that meant putting aside differences on human rights and China’s actions in Xinjiang, which the administration officially designates as a genocide.