US sanctions Chinese solar firms for Uighur human rights abuses

Export restrictions target companies that produce raw materials used in Xinjiang’s solar panel industry.

A man walks among solar panels at a solar power plant under construction in Aksu, Xinjiang in the Uighur Autonomous Region [File: Stringer/Reuters]

The United States on Wednesday restricted exports to five Chinese companies that it said were implicated in Chinese human rights violations, including large producers of polysilicon for the solar panel industry.

The companies were listed over human rights violations and abuses of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, according to a US government filing on Wednesday. The US Department of Commerce said the firms are accepting or utilising forced labour.

The companies added to the Commerce Department’s Entity List include Hoshine Silicon Industry; Xinjiang Daqo New Energy, a unit of Daqo New Energy Corp; Xinjiang East Hope Nonferrous Metals, a subsidiary of Shanghai-based manufacturing giant East Hope Group; Xinjiang GCL New Energy Material and Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC).

At least some of the companies are major manufacturers of monocrystalline silicon and polysilicon that are used in solar panel production.

US officials had suggested that the administration of President Joe Biden was considering restrictions on Chinese solar producers in Xinjiang, where much of the global supply of polysilicon used in solar panels is sourced.

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry delivers remarks during a press briefing at the White House on April 22, 2021 [File: Tom Brenner/Reuters]

“It is my understanding that the Biden administration is right now in the process of assessing whether or not that will be the target of sanctions,” Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry told the US House of Representatives in May, referring to solar products in Xinjiang.

The XPCC was sent to Xinjiang in the 1950s to build farms and settlements. It remains powerful in the region’s energy and agriculture sectors, operating almost like a parallel state.

The US also banned cotton imports from the XPCC in December, citing “slave labour”.

Foreign governments and human rights activists say it has been a force in the crackdown and surveillance of Uighurs in the region, running some detention camps. The US Department of the Treasury last year sanctioned XPCC for “serious rights abuses against ethnic minorities”.

In March, the US Treasury Department announced sanctions on two more Chinese officials in connection with serious human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region, where Washington says ethnic Muslims are the victims of genocide. One of the sanctioned officials was Wang Junzheng, secretary of the Party Committee of XPCC.

Both the Biden administration and the previous administration of former President Donald Trump have taken harsh tones against China’s treatment of the Uighurs.

The Trump administration declared China’s conduct in Xinjiang “genocide” in January, shortly before Biden took office.

Biden pushed world leaders to take action against forced labour in Xinjiang during his first international trip in April.

Source: News Agencies