Republicans on the House Oversight Committee are concerned that funds from the Department of Homeland Security are being used to purchase Chinese solar panels in violation of federal law.
Republican lawmakers asked the DHS inspector general to look into the $5 billion in funding the US Virgin Islands received from the department to shore up its energy grid following two devastating hurricanes in 2017. The lawmakers are concerned that the territory may have used the funds to purchase solar panels made using forced labor inflicted by China’s communist regime.
“With China’s dominance in the solar industry, we must ensure that no government-funded projects enrich Chinese companies profiting from Uyghur slave labor in western China,” said Ohio Rep. Bob Gibbs. “It becomes a matter of national security if we have to rely on the Communist Chinese government and the companies it controls to create and maintain it.”
According to a federal law passed in December 2021, it is illegal for the United States to purchase or import goods made in China by forced labor in the largely Muslim Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region.
Earlier this year, the governor of the United States The Virgin Islands announced plans to convert a large portion of its electrical grid to 100% solar power.
“Having one island that uses the least amount of fuel possible is a huge solution for us,” said Gov. Albert Bryan, D-V.I.
Republicans argue that the pledge is problematic because DHS, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has given the Virgin Islands $5 billion to rebuild its electrical grid since 2017. They point out that China controls a large portion of global solar panel production as well as key resources for their production.
“Unfortunately, nearly 40% of global production of polysilicon, a key component in solar panels, comes from the region [Xinjiang], and nearly 85% of the world’s solar components are produced in China,” Republican lawmakers wrote in their letter.
Xinjiang, which borders India, Pakistan, and most of Central Asia, has a population of 25 million people, the majority of whom are Muslim Uyghurs. Since the early 1990s, tensions between Beijing and Uyghur separatists have risen in the province.
In recent years, the Chinese government has waged a repressive campaign based on the threat of separatism and alleged links between Uyghur independence groups and Islamic fundamentalists. Beijing has used a national counterterrorism law to impose mass imprisonment, forced sterilization, torture, and forced labor, as well as restrictions on religious freedom and freedom of movement within the region.
According to a State Department report released in May, Beijing has violated the rights of more than 200 million religious adherents, including Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists. “China broadly criminalizes religious expression and continues to commit crimes against humanity and genocide against Muslim Uyghurs and other religious and ethnic minority groups,” State Department Secretary Antony Blinken stated at the time.
The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act “requires that US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detain all products” originating in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region “on the presumption that the goods were produced with forced labor,” according to the lawmakers. Nonetheless, exports from the region “reached a two-year high,” casting doubt on the Biden administration’s enforcement efforts.