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Jun 5, 2024, 3:03pm EDT
net zeroEast Asia
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Semafor Signals

World’s largest solar farm brings China’s Uyghurs into spotlight

Insights from Sourcing Journal, High Capacity, and the Carnegie Endowment for Peace

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Solar Panel Production in Hefei
Solar Panel Production in Hefei/China Daily via REUTERS
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The News

China opened the world’s largest solar farm in Xinjiang on Monday. Spanning some 200,000 acres, the plant is capable of producing an estimated 6.09 billion kilowatt hours of electricity each year — enough to meet the energy demands of entire countries, like Papua New Guinea or Luxembourg.

The solar farm is a testament to China’s dominance in the global green energy industry and China’s commitment to rapidly decarbonize. But Beijing’s reliance on Xinjiang as a green energy hub undermines that reputation due to the continued suppression of the Uyghur people.

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Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

China’s green tech revolution may be tied to forced Uyghur labor

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Source:  
Sourcing Journal

With an abundance of both natural resources and sunlight, Beijing sees Xinjiang as a critical center for its green energy transition. But sectors like solar panel and electric vehicle battery production are likely “heavily exposed” to Uyghur forced labor, according to supply chain news site Sourcing Journal: 35% of the world’s solar-grade polysilicon comes from Xinjiang, and the region is also a major source of nickel and lithium, both of which are needed for EV batteries. Foreign investors in Chinese green tech, meanwhile, have a “limited grasp of how state-sponsored forced labor compares with other forms of modern slavery,” Sourcing Journal wrote.

China’s ‘bragging’ about green tech model could backfire

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Sources:  
High Capacity, Financial Times

Many climate scientists and economists agree that China is crucial to help the world decarbonize quickly. But China is not only trying to dominate critical industries like clean energy, it is actively “bragging about it” — and not fully realizing how this is “angering foreign audiences and fueling a powerful geopolitical backlash,” according to High Capacity, a Substack focused on green industries. Some Chinese academics agree that if the country does not heed these criticisms, the subsequent protectionist backlash would be “detrimental” to China’s green tech sector. China could take a different tack and instead promote the country’s investment and exports abroad as a vector for high-paying jobs, High Capacity argued.

Central Asia key regional target for Chinese green tech

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Sources:  
Carnegie Endowment for Peace, Voice of America

Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have become centers for Chinese green tech investment and Chinese-built renewable energy infrastructure. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the international sanctions that followed, Moscow had been pressuring Central Asia to increase Russian oil imports. But many of these Central Asian governments are worried about Moscow’s growing influence over former Soviet states and want to ensure energy independence and security, according to the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, instead eyeing China as a key partner to achieve their goals. But China’s investment in the region is also perhaps keeping these countries relatively silent on the Uyghur suppression despite sharing close cultural and linguistic ties to Xinjiang, according to Voice of America.

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