After Considering Region-Wide Ban, Biden Targets Just One Xinjiang Solar Material Company

Republican hawks press Biden to go further on Chinese forced labor

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June 25, 2021

The Biden administration's decision to sanction a Chinese solar company does not go far enough, according to lawmakers who say a region-wide ban is the only way to stop the regime's use of forced labor.

GOP lawmakers are urging President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats to broadly target the use of forced labor in China's renewable energy industry. The Biden administration considered such a ban after climate envoy John Kerry conceded that Xinjiang province produces solar panels using "forced labor by Uyghurs." On Thursday, the White House announced a decision to block the import of solar materials made by just one company in Xinjiang, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas quickly downplayed the prospects of a regional ban.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) painted Biden's decision as ineffective. She called on Congress to take matters into its own hands and issue a wider ban on "solar panels made with Xinjiang slave labor."

"The United States must end its reliance on Communist China for solar panels made with forced Uyghur slave labor," Blackburn told the Washington Free Beacon. "These latest actions by the Biden administration are unlikely to have any real effect."

A region-wide ban targeting Xinjiang's solar industry enjoys bipartisan support on the Hill, but such a move would likely cripple Biden's alternative energy aspirations. Roughly half of the world's polysilicon—a raw material crucial to producing solar panels—comes from Xinjiang, where up to two million Uyghur minorities are being detained. The Biden administration has labeled China's treatment of Uyghurs as "genocide."

Sen. Rick Scott (R., Fla.) echoed Blackburn's call, urging Congress to pass his Keep China Out of Solar Energy Act, which would prohibit the use of federal funds to import solar panels "manufactured or assembled in Communist China."

"No company using Uyghur forced labor in its supply chains should be allowed to sell its products in the United States, and while [Biden's] action is welcomed, we must go further," Scott said in a statement. "Washington must work to make sure no taxpayer dollars are used to prop up the Communist Party of China and its horrific human rights abuses."

Biden's import ban targets Hoshine Silicon Industry Co., a Xinjiang-based silicon producer that recruits Uyghur minorities through China's forced labor programs. The Trump administration took a similar approach before instituting a regional ban on Xinjiang cotton and tomatoes. But Mayorkas on Thursday deemphasized any similarities between the two situations, suggesting that the White House may be hesitant to widely sanction an industry central to its energy policy priorities. 

A senior administration official told the Free Beacon that Chinese forced labor "remain[s] a high priority for the Biden-Harris administration" and that "nothing is off the table going forward." Any further sanctions, the official said, will rely on "additional evidence" of forced labor in the polysilicon industry. 

Those investigations, however, could be stifled by Chinese authorities. U.S. supply-chain auditors have been "detained, threatened, harassed, and subjected to constant surveillance" while investigating Chinese companies, Biden's State Department told Axios on Thursday. 

According to Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, China's actions "undermine our values and the international trading system."

"There is no question that the PRC's supply chain for polysilicon and solar panels is using forced slave labor—as Secretary Kerry admitted to our committee earlier this year," McCaul said. "While I am pleased that the Biden administration is finally doing something to address this problem, yesterday's actions are largely symbolic and therefore insufficient."