On Sunday, the US and China issued a joint statement on climate change following a tense visit to Shanghai by Joe Biden’s special envoy John Kerry. But don’t think that Beijing is now a US partner on this issue and Biden has a clean shot towards achieving his goals on renewable energy.
As the new administration gears up for a massive infrastructure spending blitz, which will focus considerably on renewables, the Republicans, who are very much invested in ‘legacy’ energy industries, are already deriding it as a “green new deal”. And to make life difficult for the White House, they have a new tool of choice to undermine the entire thing: the weaponization of forced labor allegations in China’s Xinjiang autonomous region.
China just happens to be the world’s largest exporter of solar panels. The Xinjiang region is also the biggest supplier of polysilicon, a key material in their manufacture, and acts as the center of a global supply chain which spans the world. Despite tariffs from President Trump, the US is importing solar tech at an overwhelming rate, because China’s industry is more effective, advanced and affordable than anything in America. So what is a big blitz on environmentally focused spending by Biden going to do for US-China trade? The answer is obvious.
But not everyone is happy. The Republicans cannot block Biden’s bill in Congress, but they can use anti-China politics to make his life difficult. In January, a mysterious short-lived consultancy firm named ‘Horizon Advisory’ appeared out of nowhere and published a report claiming, without sufficient evidence, that solar panels in the Xinjiang autonomous region are being manufactured using forced labor from the Uyghur minority.
The claims have since been plastered across the mainstream media, most particularly by papers with known business portfolios, such as Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal, as well as by the ultra-fiscal-conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank in Foreign Policy, all in a strange synchronization.
But the Horizon Advisory organization itself is extremely dubious. It was founded in 2020 and a visit to its website reveals a few vague details and literally nothing but anti-China content, with a mission statement that talks about “the commercial and security implications of China’s approach to global competition.”
Secondly, the firm appears to be a front for the ultra-neoconservative think tank, the ‘Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ (FDD) with its director Emily De La Bruyere sitting as a senior fellow there. The FDD website states that Horizon Advisory is a “consulting firm focused on the implications of China’s competitive approach to geopolitics.” So, what we appear to have is a single purpose consultancy firm which espouses anti-China policy, linked to a very right-wing, pro-war organization.
But that isn’t all. During the tenure of the Trump administration, Horizon Advisory received funding from the US Department of Defense and the International Trade Association. If this doesn’t make its agenda obvious, nothing will.
Yet, there is still even more to the puzzle. In conjunction with the claims of forced labor in the Xinjiang solar panels industry, by coincidence several weeks ago US senator and ultra-China hawk Marco Rubio introduced a bill titled ‘The Keep China Out of Solar Energy Act,’ demanding a ban on federal funds to purchase solar panels – something which of course will cause serious problems for Biden’s renewable plans.
What is going on here? This is what’s called an ‘Iron Triangle’ in US politics; an interest group coalition of politicians, supportive think tanks and big business and their associated media outlets, who lobby in tandem to push a varying agenda. And the issue is being weaponized on two fronts – oppositional politics against Biden and the interests of big energy firms who are threatened by his focus on renewables.
Republicans do not like initiatives designed to address climate change. Why did Trump scupper the Paris accord and scores of environmental regulations? Three words: coal, oil and automobiles, the very things which are threatened by a shift from Biden. And the issue becomes more pressing given that America’s environmental energy products are far behind China.
The answer? To discredit China’s solar panel and renewable energy firms by linking them to forced labor in Xinjiang. Because there is no definitive proof it’s happening, they take the line of “it’s impossible to verify,” which translates as “guilty because we can’t prove them innocent.”
Highlighting Xinjiang has, in fact, become the modus operandi for undermining any industry in China the US dislikes, from Huawei, to cotton and now solar panels. This is a catch-all strategy which gives moral and political capital to preferred policies. So-called ‘consultancy’ firms such as Horizon Advisory create allegations, which are then parroted in the mainstream media and never given proper scrutiny, and used to foment public concern. This subsequently provides political capital for a given bill or executive order. Ultimately, in attacking clean energy, we have seen how dirty US politics works.
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