US reassures on solar supplies and human rights

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Washington: White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday that the United States could have strong solar energy supply chains while standing up for human rights, following criticism that solar imports from China are linked to forced labor.

The US government has issued warnings to businesses about the risks of supply chains and investments in China’s Xinjiang region – which supplies much of the world’s solar industry – based on accusations of mass detention camps there for Muslim ethnic groups.

The global industry depends on Chinese raw materials that might be produced by forced labour. One big hurdle is polysilicon from Xinjiang, commonly used to make photovoltaic cells for solar panels.

The global industry depends on Chinese raw materials that might be produced by forced labour. One big hurdle is polysilicon from Xinjiang, commonly used to make photovoltaic cells for solar panels. Credit:AP

Sullivan told reporters at a White House briefing ahead of President Joe Biden’s attendance at the UN Cop 26 climate change conference next week that there was no “structural” reason why the United States should be “forced to choose” between solar energy and human rights.

“The president fundamentally believes that we can both take a strong stand against forced labor, against slave labor, anywhere it occurs, including in Xinjiang, and at the same time cultivate and develop a robust, resilient, and effective solar supply chain,” Sullivan said.

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Biden, he said, was “determined to produce an outcome in which we can both get the solar deployment we need and we can stand up unapologetically and unequivocally for our values.”

The US government has labelled China’s actions in Xinjiang a “genocide,” something Beijing vehemently denies.

Metallurgical silicon is used to produce polysilicon, the solar industry’s key raw material, and about 45 per cent of all polysilicon used in solar module production is produced in Xinjiang.

The US Senate earlier this year passed a bill that would go beyond existing bans on Xinjiang tomatoes, cotton and some solar products to effectively ban all imports made in the region.

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