U.S. Special Envoy on Climate John Kerry acknowledged on Wednesday that obtaining solar panels from Xinjiang, China is a problem given the forced labor reported in the area and China’s strength in the market.
During a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, asked Kerry about ensuring that the U.S.’ climate strategy wouldn’t involve solar panels produced from forced labor.“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 told McCaul he was “absolutely correct” in his concerns. “It is a problem,” he added.
“Xinjiang Province not only produces some of the solar panels that we believe are being in some cases produced in forced labor by Uighur[s], but also there are significant amounts of a certain rare earth mineral that’s used in the solar panels themselves.”
Although Kerry didn’t commit to precluding those panels, he indicated that the Biden administration was moving toward doing so with sanctions.
“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 privvy 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 Biden has made it very clear.”
Kerry’s comments came during a hearing focused on the U.S. response’s to climate change, which is widely viewed as limited in effectiveness based on how much superpowers like China cooperate. The issue has become particularly thorny as the U.S. is pursuing cooperation after it accused China of genocide.
“Climate is existential for everybody on the planet,” Kerry said. “We have to deal with it, and because China is nearly 30% of all the emissions on the planet, China’s got to be part of the solution.”
Over the past few months, harrowing reports have emerged from purported witnesses of brutality committed against Uighurs in Xinjiang. For example, a BBC report on the Uyghurs included alleged former detainees who claimed horrific abuses like raping women with electrocuting instruments.