Climate czar John Kerry is lobbying House lawmakers to oppose legislation that would ban the import of all Chinese-made goods that are produced using Uyghur slave labor, a move aimed at buying goodwill with Beijing as the United States seeks a new climate deal, according to congressional sources and foreign policy insiders familiar with the matter.
Kerry and a faction of State Department officials oppose legislation meant to curtail Chinese imports made using slave labor, sources said, due to concerns that the restrictive measures will agitate Beijing. The legislation, known as the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, in July passed the Senate by voice vote but is stalled in the House. It would target China's construction of solar panels and other equipment the United States needs to migrate the country to green energy sources.
The Biden administration's internal strife over China points to a tug-of-war between the White House, which supports this type of measure, and the State Department, which is pushing a softer China policy in the hopes of securing a climate deal with Beijing—an effort that Kerry is spearheading in his role as presidential envoy for climate change. Kerry has been under fire in recent weeks for owning stakes in an investment group that funds companies that are linked to forced labor and have been blacklisted for human rights abuses, as the Washington Free Beacon reported.
Reports issued during the past several weeks indicate that Kerry, who operates out of the State Department, is the principal opponent of increased sanctions on China and its use of Uyghur slave labor. During remarks Wednesday at the United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow, Kerry told reporters that the United States and China have made progress on reducing carbon emissions, which is fueling speculation that any action on Uyghur slave labor will take a backseat to these ongoing negotiations.
Kerry was reported to have engaged in a "forceful debate with other administration officials on the matter before his most recent China trip," according to the Associated Press, a claim that jibes with information provided by congressional and foreign policy community sources to the Free Beacon. One veteran foreign policy hand told the Free Beacon that there "is a lot of chatter about" Kerry's opposition to the legislation swirling "in the China policy circle."
"This is false. Secretary Kerry has a thirty-seven-year record as a Senator and Secretary of State standing up for human rights and defending democracy. As Secretary Kerry has said from the start, the United States and China have mutual interests in solving the climate crisis while there's still time, even when we fundamentally disagree on other critical issues."
Michael Sobolik, a fellow in Indo-Pacific studies at the American Foreign Policy Council, told the Free Beacon he sees evidence of an "ongoing turf war within the Biden administration over China policy—specifically, how will the president square his climate goals with his insistence that human rights is at the center of his foreign policy?"
China is forcing the Biden administration "to choose between those priorities," Sobolik said. "If the bill remains stuck, it's a safe bet that Biden's rhetoric about human rights in China is just that—rhetoric."
Renewed attention has been cast on the issue in the days since Democrats stripped language from the hotly contested House budget reconciliation bill that would have leveled restrictions on China's surveillance and internment of Uyghurs, a move that generated outrage in the human rights community.
One senior GOP congressional aide tracking the matter said it is becoming clear that Kerry's push for a climate deal is eclipsing the Biden administration's human rights agenda, which has expressly included Uyghur rights issues.
"It's not surprising that the Biden administration, especially Secretary Kerry, is actively pushing back against any efforts in Congress to stop Uyghur Muslim slave labor in China. Kerry will do whatever he can to get a climate deal with China, even allowing federal science funding for Uyghur Muslim slave labor and those involved in constructing the Uyghur forced labor camps," said the source, who was not authorized to speak on record. "The Democrats should never again mention the word human rights."
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was also reported to be siding with Kerry on the issue, but the White House National Security Council rejected this claim when contacted by the Free Beacon.
"This is false," an NSC spokesman told the Free Beacon when asked if Sullivan was part of the faction opposing the slave labor legislation. "We share Congress's concern about forced Labor in Xinjiang and in fact the Biden administration has taken concrete measures on our own, including but not limited to visa restrictions, financial sanctions, export controls, import restrictions, the release of a business advisory, and rallying the G7 to commit to take action to ensure all global supply chains are free from the use of forced labor, including from Xinjiang."
Republican lawmakers say that Kerry's lobbying on the issue is wholly inappropriate given Kerry's holdings in an investment group that funds companies linked to Uyghur slave labor. Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.) wrote to President Joe Biden earlier this week to express their concerns about the matter.
"There isn't a good explanation for why President Biden has not fired John Kerry, who appears to be profiting from slave labor," Rubio told the Free Beacon. "But it does help explain why Kerry and others in the Biden administration continue to undermine my commonsense, bipartisan, and bicameral Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act."
Sen. Ben Sasse (R., Neb.), another chief backer of efforts to penalize China, told the Free Beacon, "John Kerry wants all of us to have a moral backbone as weak as a soufflé. Let's be clear what he's asking for: He's so desperate for a paper-thin Chi-Comm climate pledge he can parade around Paris that he wants us to deny a genocide. It's pathetic."
Congressional Democrats are also divided on efforts to penalize the CCP's use of Uyghur slave labor. Republican foreign policy leaders in the House told the Free Beacon that Democratic leaders refuse to explain why they stripped language from the budget reconciliation bill that would have penalized Beijing's use of slave labor.
"Democrats still haven't explained why they're taking steps to enable and protect the Chinese Communist Party's use of Uighur slave labor in the reconciliation bill," Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Free Beacon. "I sure hope it doesn't have anything to do with John Kerry's desperate attempts to reach a climate deal with China. Anyone who says they care about the worst human rights violation of our lifetime but supports this bill is a hypocrite."
Rep. Greg Steube (R., Fla.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Democrats "cruelly decided to remove" measures aimed at ensuring U.S. taxpayer dollars do not fund entities engaged in using Uyghur slave labor. "Democrats decry racial injustice in America but actively support slavery in China," Steube said.
Update 7:10 p.m.: This post has been updated with comment from a State Department spokesman.
Published under: China