John Kerry skips slave labor in China question, says ‘that’s not my lane’

DCNFThomas Catenacci, DCNF

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry skirted a question about the use of Chinese slave labor in producing solar panels during a press conference at the ongoing United Nations climate summit.

Kerry explained that he’s the “climate guy” and that while he has mentioned the issue to his Chinese counterparts, addressing slave labor isn’t his “lane.” Pushing forward green policies continues to be his main focus, he continued.

“Well we’re honest about the differences,” Kerry told reporters at the summit. “We certainly know what they are, and we’ve articulated them, but that’s not my lane here … My job is to be the climate guy and stay focused on trying to move the climate agenda forward.”

The response was prompted by a question from a reporter who noted that forced labor has been tied to solar panels in the Xinjiang province where the Chinese government has oppressed Uyghurs, a Muslim minority population, for years. The State Department accused China of committing genocide against Uyghurs in its annual human rights report published in March.

China produces an estimated 80% of the total polysilicon — a key material in solar panels — used for solar panels worldwide, according to a recent S&P Global report. One-third of all solar panels produced across the world used polysilicon originating specifically from Xinjiang, research cited in the report concluded.

“I think the climate conversation is just such a loud voice that no one’s really interested in playing this story out,” Dustin Mulvaney, an energy and sustainability professor at San Jose State University, told S&P Global. “I don’t think they’re giving it any attention.”

While analysts believe solar panel technology has roots in forced labor in Xinjiang, tracing it is nearly impossible, according to a Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) report published in January.

“Forced labor in the XUAR is widespread and systematic and exists within the mass internment camps and elsewhere throughout the region, as part of a targeted campaign of repression against Turkic and Muslim minorities,” the CECC report stated.

“These facts are confirmed by the testimony of former camp detainees, satellite imagery, media reports, and leaked government documents,” the report continued. “Many U.S., international, and Chinese companies are increasingly at risk of complicity in the exploitation of forced labor involving Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities.”

On Wednesday, the U.S. and China issued a joint statement on the importance of tackling climate change. The two sides announced their intentions to cooperate on the issue moving forward.

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