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Kerry’s Call: Solar Panels Matter More Than Human Rights

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool, File

The Biden administration faced a big question: Should it take a stand for human rights during the ongoing genocide of Uyghurs in western China? Or should it mute its criticism to hopefully get a symbolic agreement with the Chinese government on climate change? 

At a climate conference this week, special presidential envoy John Kerry made the administration’s answer clear: Screw the Uyghurs.

When presented with an opportunity to condemn the human rights abuses the Chinese Communist Party is carrying out against the Uyghur Muslims, Kerry declined. Instead, he said he was just “the climate guy” and said condemning China’s detainment and forced labor of the Uyghur people was “not [his] lane.” 

Yet the question directly involves policy issues in his lane. He was asked a question related to China's use of forced labor to produce solar panels. Solar panels fall well inside the purview of “the climate guy.” 

If the United States has to pay workers to make solar panels and China uses forced labor to make those panels (to say nothing of the environmentally destructive mining practices for the raw materials), isn’t that something “the climate guy” should have an opinion on? 

Moreover, Kerry is not being agnostic. Kerry has been lobbying his old pals in Congress to try to stop the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, according to a report by the Washington Free Beacon. The bill would prohibit imports of Chinese items made by forced labor, such as Kerry’s prized solar panels. (Kerry also has a reported $1 million stake in a Chinese investment group tied to human rights abuses.)

Clearly, Kerry thinks that the gains we have made with China on combating climate change are worth papering over the torture, rape, and detainment committed by the Chinese Communist Party.

But what gains have actually been made? Almost nothing. 

China is one of 22 countries opposing the COP26’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. China is burning more coal than ever. There’s an active plume of greenhouse gases hovering above China because of faulty pipelines. 

China did release its plan to cut emissions, but most are in agreement that the plan does very little to address climate change. And there’s no reason to believe China will actually do what it says it is going to do. 

The Chinese have cheated and lied on international deals before. Remember when they said they would respect Hong Kong’s autonomy? And the Chinese Communist Party has shown little concern for the environment. (I would know, I breathed Beijing air for a year and a half.) 

The real question for the United States shouldn’t be climate change or human rights. The question should be: Are any of our efforts to snuggle up to China worth it? 

China has slowly taken control of industries vital to the national security of the United States. China controls the supply of antibiotics and many other pharmaceutical ingredients. It wields significant influence in Hollywood and our schools. It has a massive database of American DNA samples. When its military isn’t testing hypersonic missiles, it’s designing American aircraft look-a-likes to blow up in the desert. 

Yet, we’re supposed to ignore all of this for solar panels, which will increase our over-reliance on China? 

Kerry is best known for pimping the Iran deal under the Obama administration which saw the US give over $100 billion to the hostile Iranians. The Chinese have marked “the climate guy” as a sucker. And he just confirmed it. 

As John Kerry flies home on his private jet from Glasgow, hopefully, he’ll consider whether ignoring human rights abuses while mindlessly ceding power to China is really worth it. 

Will Coggin is the managing director of the American Security Institute (

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