EXCLUSIVE: Republicans on the House Oversight Committee are raising concerns that Department of Homeland Security money is being used to purchase Chinese solar panels in contravention of federal law.
GOP lawmakers sent a letter to the DHS inspector general Wednesday requesting a review of the $5 billion in funding the U.S. Virgin Islands has received from the department to shore up its energy grid after two devastating hurricanes in 2017. The lawmakers say there are concerns that the territory may have used the money to purchase solar panels manufactured by forced labor inflicted by the communist regime in China.
“China’s dominance in the solar industry, we need to verify no government-funded projects are enriching Chinese companies profiting off Uyghur slave labor in western China,” said Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio. “It becomes a matter of national security if we have to rely on the Communist Chinese government and companies it controls for the parts necessary to create and maintain it.”
GOP lawmakers note that it is illegal for the U.S. to purchase or import goods made in China by forced labor in the largely Muslim Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region under a federal law passed in December 2021.
Earlier this year, the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands announced plans to transition a large portion of the territory’s electrical grid to 100% solar power.
“If we have one island that’s burning the least amount of fuel possible, that’s a huge solution for us,” said Gov. Albert Bryan, D-V.I.
Republicans say the pledge is problematic given that DHS, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has given the Virgin Islands $5 billion since 2017 to rebuild its electrical grid. They note that China controls a large portion of global solar panel production and the resources key to their manufacture.
“Unfortunately, almost 40 percent of the global production of polysilicon, a key component in solar panels, comes from the region [Xinjiang], and nearly 85 percent of the world’s solar components are produced in China,” GOP lawmakers wrote in their letter.
Xinjiang, which borders India, Pakistan and most of central Asia, is home to 25 million people, most of whom identify as Muslim Uyghurs. Since the early 1990s, the province has seen escalating tensions between Beijing and Uyghur separatists.
In recent years, the Chinese government has used the threat of separatism and the purported ties that Uyghur independence groups have with Islamic fundamentalists to wage a campaign of repression. Using a national counterterrorism law, Beijing has imposed mass imprisonment, forced sterilizations, torture, forced labor, and restrictions on religious freedom and freedom of movement within the region.
A report issued by the State Department last May estimated Beijing has repressed the rights of more than 200 million religious devotees, 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,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the time.