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Politics & Security

Chinese Forced Labor: The Ugly Truth About Solar Panels

An Uyghur Japanese national urges consumers to stop buying goods tainted with Chinese forced labor and human rights abuses. How about Tokyo's solar panels?

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"By refraining from buying Chinese goods as much as possible, you can help the Uyghurs being forced to labor." Mr Gheyret Kenji became a naturalized Japanese citizen in 2008. His words, calling for an end to Chinese forced labor, were quoted in a book co-authored by critic Kotaro Miura and the Japan Uyghur Association titled Nihonjin Ni Natta Uyghur Jin Tachi ni Chugoku ga Yatteirukoto (Sankei Shimbun Publishing, 2022). It means "What China is Doing to Uyghurs Who Became Japanese Citizens."

According to the International Energy Agency's (IEA) report last July, China's share in all key global manufacturing stages of the world's solar panels exceeds 80%. 

Among the key elements, 40% of the world's polycrystalline silicon is produced in Xinjiang. Human rights violations and forced labor in the region have been long-standing problems. 

Last June, the United States enforced the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which bans imports from Xinjiang. The European Union is reportedly considering similar regulations. On December 22, the US Senate Finance Committee launched a probe into eight major Japanese, European, and American automakers concerning possible ties to forced labor in Uyghur. 

Chinese forced labor
A "class" teaching Mandarin Chinese to residents at a detention facility in Artush, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China in April 2019. (Kyodo)

'Please Help My People'

Unfortunately, Japan's National Diet is slow on the uptake when it comes to global trends. On December 5, the House of Councillors passed a human rights resolution. It urged "the government of the country concerned" to take responsibility for human rights issues.

However, as with a similar resolution passed last February by the House of Representatives, the Diet did not mention the words "China" or "human rights violations."

Further going against the times is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. It issued an ordinance requiring the installation of solar panels on the rooftops of newly built houses. How will the government ensure that it would not rely on solar panels tainted by Chinese forced labor?

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Governor Yuriko Koike (right) and Toshihide Koyano, Executive Director of the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association, signed an agreement on solar power generation on December 2, 2022 (© Sankei by Yukako Ueki)

The ordinance will take effect in April 2025. Does that mean the government expects the human rights situation in Xinjiang to drastically improve by then? If not, can it secure a supply chain that has no links to China's human rights violations? The questions are endless.

Mr Gheyret has pleaded, "Please help my people by expressing a clear intention that you will not buy Chinese goods."

How would Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike respond to his words?

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(Read this Sankei Sho column in Japanese at this link.)

Author: The Sankei Shimbun

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