A Chinese company that produces a key ingredient in solar panels will be barred from the U.S. market as part of a broader effort to halt commerce tied to the country's repressive campaign against Uyghurs and other minorities, the Biden administration said Thursday.
A significant portion of the world's polysilicon, which is used to make solar panels, comes from Xinjiang, where the United States has accused China of committing genocide through its repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.
In one of the newly announced actions, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has banned imports of silica-based products made by Hoshine Silicon Industry Co. as well as goods made using those products.
China is the dominant global producer of the polysilicon products that are a key part of solar energy panels, and Xinjiang has over the past decade risen as the country's main production base for the material. Xinjiang makes about 45% of the world's polysilicon, according to InfoLink, a renewable energy research company.
The Commerce Department also added Hoshine Silicon Industry (Shanshan) Co. and four other Chinese entities to a trade blacklist, a move that restricts U.S. companies from exporting products and technology to them. The other entities are Xinjiang Daqo New Energy Co., Xinjiang East Hope Nonferrous Metals Company, Xinjiang GCL New Energy Material Technology Co. and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.
Those entities, the department said, "have been implicated in human-rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China's campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labor and high-technology surveillance against Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other members of Muslim minority groups" in Xinjiang.
In addition, the Labor Department added Chinese polysilicon to a list of goods believed to be produced by child labor or forced labor. The list, which already contained a number of other Chinese goods, is intended to increase awareness about exploitative labor practices.
"Our environmental goals will not be achieved on the backs of human beings in a forced labor environment," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said at a news conference. "We are going to root out forced labor and we are going to use alternative products that are manufactured legitimately in keeping with our values and our commitment to a fair market place."
DILEMMA FOR WHITE HOUSE
Allegations of forced labor in the solar panel supply chain have created a dilemma for President Joe Biden and his aides. The administration wants to press China over human- rights abuses, but it also wants to expand the use of clean energy sources like solar power in the United States as it seeks to reduce carbon emissions.
Shortly before Biden took office, the Trump administration banned imports of cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang. The Biden administration had faced pressure to take action regarding products containing polysilicon produced in the region.
In a letter this month to the acting head of Customs and Border Protection, a group of House Democrats wrote that there was "overwhelming evidence of the use of forced labor in polysilicon production," adding, "Our government cannot sit idly by."
The bans could create diplomatic and economic ripples.
Customs and Border Protection is still investigating the extent of Hoshine in the U.S. market but direct shipments over the past 2½ years totaled about $6 million while imports that include material from the company were about $150 million, said Ana Hinojosa, who runs the agency's trade enforcement team.
The company's shipments to the country have declined amid expectations that the U.S. would take some kind of enforcement action over abuses in Xinjiang.
China denies allegations that it uses forced labor in Xinjiang or elsewhere and has broadly rejected the consistent and well-documented reports that Uyghurs and other minorities have been detained under brutal conditions, subjected to indoctrination and intensive surveillance intended to force them to assimilate into the dominant Han culture.
The Biden administration has pursued a strategy of pressing the Chinese government on areas of contention, such as Xinjiang, while seeking to cooperate on global priorities like climate change. The ban on the solar energy products -- important for reducing fossil fuel use -- will test how far Beijing is willing to go along with that bifurcated approach, and the Chinese government may hit back through its growing arsenal of retaliatory powers.
A spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian, suggested earlier this week that Beijing could retaliate against the possible bans, which had been reported by Politico, although he did not specify what form that could take. Asked again Thursday, Zhao said the United States wanted "turmoil in Xinjiang to contain China's development."
"The U.S. is using lies as its basis," he said at a regular news conference in Beijing, before the bans were announced in Washington. "This act not only violates the rules of international trade rules and market economies; it is also damaging global industry and supply chains."
Information for this article was contributed by Thomas Kaplan and Chris Buckley of The New York Times and by Ben Fox of The Associated Press.