Xinjiang polysilicon ban is about promoting Biden domestic agenda
Bradley Blankenship


Editor's note: Bradley Blankenship is a Prague-based American journalist, political analyst and freelance reporter. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN. 

According to various sources, U.S. President Joe Biden's administration is mulling a ban on polysilicon imports from China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region over alleged human rights abuses and forced labor that would allow U.S. Customs and Border Protection to seize the key solar panel component if they believe it was made from forced labor. 

Such a move by the Biden administration has nothing to do with alleged human rights abuses but everything to do with complementing the American Jobs Plan, a $2 trillion infrastructure spending proposal that would seek to, among other things, make the U.S. more competitive on the global clean energy market. This was made clear in a USA Today op-ed written by Jennifer Granholm, the current U.S. Secretary of Energy. 

Granholm noted in her piece that "China has invested nationwide to manufacture 21st-century products, from electric vehicle batteries and solar panels to semiconductors. Meanwhile, the United States has simply grown more reliant on other countries to supply the ingredients in our cars, our phones, our lives."  

"No longer," she continued. "To reclaim our competitiveness, the Biden administration is advancing a new approach to manufacture the clean energy future in America."

Former Pennsylvania Congressman Ron Klink also recently argued in an op-ed for Newsweek that "we will not achieve President Biden's vision of rebuilding our middle class, unless we rebuild American manufacturing."

"If we truly want to Build Back Better, all U.S. wind turbines and solar panels must be constructed with Made in America components that will allow us to create more high wage family-sustaining American manufacturing across our great nation," he wrote.

A GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd. facility in Changji, China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, March 2, 2021. /Getty

A GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd. facility in Changji, China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, March 2, 2021. /Getty

Both of these takes, one of them from a Biden administration official, reflect Washington's outdated thinking. Instead of accepting the reality that the U.S. has probably already lost a hard-fought battle on clean energy development, they're trying to upend the market with frivolous sanctions based on a nonexistent moral high ground.  

Given that Xinjiang currently supplies about half of the global polysilicon supply, disrupting this crucial supply chain would actually do more to harm human rights around the world if we can all agree that people living in a hospitable environment is indeed a human right. 

To be sure, this tactic from the U.S. side is not entirely new. Over the past decades, China has mounted a no-nonsense effort to establish a highly efficient and innovative end-to-end solar energy supply chain that has dwarfed anything comparable in the United States. The result is crushing tariffs imposed by presidents Barack Obama, Donald Trump and potentially also Joe Biden soon.

Beijing's success on solar power has come thanks to the dedication of its policymakers, which stands in stark contrast to how things have been done on this and many other issues in Washington. Past administrations and congresses have only used solar power as an election stunt, promising jobs, pushing short-term incentives and passing policies that eliminate trade barriers – all without a serious strategy to bolster supply and demand together.  

For Biden, this must be a clear warning of what will come if he chooses to go the same way as his predecessors. But, already, things don't show any clear sign of changing. The U.S. Congress is stuck in a perennial deadlock on elementary issues, struggling even to pass the American Jobs Plan or iron out tax credits for green energy. Meanwhile, China's progress on green energy continues unabated.  

A U.S. ban on Xinjiang-produced polysilicon would not make any fundamental difference in this trajectory but would inevitably backfire to the detriment of American workers, as has often been the case with U.S.-instigated trade wars. Instead, Biden should focus on keeping his domestic agenda in the domestic arena by working on the myriad green-energy-related legislative issues stopped in Congress right now and leave Chinese producers out of it.  

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