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Biden Enacts a Half-Measure Against Chinese Forced Labor

Then-vice president Joe Biden shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, December 4, 2013. (Lintao Zhang/Reuters Pool)

The somewhat good news is that the Biden administration instructed U.S. Customs and Border Protection to bar the importation of “silica-based products made by Hoshine Silicon Industry Co., Ltd., a company located in Xinjiang, and its subsidiaries. This WRO is based on information reasonably indicating that Hoshine used forced labor to manufacture silica-based products.” Xinjiang Hoshine Silicon is the world’s largest manufacturer of metallurgical-grade silicon, the raw material for polysilicon, the material inside most solar panels.

In addition to the ban on Hoshine’s silica products, the U.S. is restricting products from “Xinjiang Daqo New Energy; Xinjiang East Hope Nonferrous Metals; Xinjiang GCL New Energy Material Technology, and XPCC— for participating in the practice of, accepting, or utilizing forced labor in Xinjiang and contributing to human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups in Xinjiang.”

The bad news is that a few days ago, Biden and his team were considering “an effective region-wide ban on polysilicon from Xinjiang, according to the four sources in the industry and on Capitol Hill with knowledge of administration plans.” As noted Tuesday, Chinese state-run media responded furiously, and the Biden team appears to have backed down from the threat of the blanket ban and chosen the lesser measure. But those who are importing solar panel components from China are probably just going to shift to other companies with similar circumstances of using forced labor.

Hoshine is the biggest producer in the region, but there are others and there is little reason to think that any of the companies involved in the production process in that region do not use forced labor in one form or another. An extensive investigation and report by the Helena Kennedy Center for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University in the U.K. concluded that scrutinizing the supply chain reveals  “only a few Chinese alternatives with no confirmed exposure to forced  labour in the Uyghur Region.” All four of the Uighur region’s polysilicon manufacturers “Daqo, TBEA (and subsidiary  Xinte),  Xinjiang GCL,  and  East  Hope  – have reported their  participation in labor transfer or labor placement programs and/or are supplied by raw  materials companies that have.” (The term “labor transfer” is the Chinese government’s euphemism for coerced forced labor).

If you’re importing anything solar power-related from Xinjiang, you’re probably indirectly profiting from the oppression and exploitation of the Uighurs. The Biden team chose to restrict imports from the biggest offender – and left the rest of the offenders to deal with another day, if ever.

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