U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio this week called for John Kerry to be fired as President Joe Biden’s climate envoy for national security. That’s after accusing the former Secretary of State and presidential candidate of profiting off slavery in China.
Rubio, in an op-ed published by Fox News, said Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz, hold a $1 million financial stake in the Hillhouse China Value Fund. That investment fund is a top shareholder in YITU technology, a company involved in the “the surveillance, detention, and repression of Uyghurs and others,” according to Rubio’s office.
“In other words, Kerry appears to be profiting from slave labor,” Rubio wrote.
Florida’s senior Senator has been one of Congress’ most vocal critics of China’s human rights record, which last year prompted the superpower to impose sanctions on Rubio personally, including being barred from entering the country. He responded to that in a RealClearPolitics op-ed in which he torched the nation for oppression of Muslim populations in the Xinjiang province.
“Throughout history, authoritarian regimes have ruled by forcing people to accept fear and violence in their everyday lives. We see this in western China, where the Communist Party is overseeing a slow-motion genocide of Uyghurs and other Muslims. International companies regularly turn a blind eye to the atrocities because business is good in China,” he wrote then.
Now Kerry has a direct hand in that through his and his wife’s financial stake in YITU, a software company making billions off surveillance software, Rubio alleges. The company was blacklisted in the U.S. by former President Donald Trump’s administration, forbidden from doing business here. But the company has continued to expand and last week was valued at $2.2 billion by GlobalData. The financial stake proves Kerry can’t work on behalf of U.S. interests, Rubio wrote in his recent op-ed.
“Now it makes sense why he is actively working against my Uyghur Forced Labor Act, which would make it impossible for products made with slave labor in Xinjiang, China to be imported into the United States,” the Miami Republican wrote. “Kerry has been working against my legislation, and has convinced President Joe Biden to stay silent on the bill.”
The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act is bipartisan legislation Rubio reintroduced this year with Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat. The bill forbids the import of goods made with Uyghur forced labor from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The bill passed in the Senate by voice vote in July but has stalled in the House.
While that effort has been a priority this Congress for Rubio, his criticisms of Kerry date back years to when the former Massachusetts Senator served as former President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State.
While Rubio was still a freshman Senator, he slammed Kerry in 2015 for negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran. He, at the time, expressed outrage Kerry placed a low priority on the release of U.S. hostages in Iran, including Bob Levinson of Coral Springs. U.S. intelligence believes Levinson has since died in Iranian captivity.
“It is unacceptable that the United States has reached a final agreement with Iran while innocent Americans languish in the most brutal conditions of Iranian jail cells,” Rubio wrote in a letter to Kerry six years ago. “I am profoundly disappointed that the agreement with Iran did not ensure the unconditional release of American citizens.”
Earlier this year, Rubio was among Republican senators who jumped on reports Kerry had shared intelligence on Israeli covert actions against Syria to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
“Several Republican Senators have called for an investigation into the veracity and context of the allegations against Kerry, and for his resignation or firing if the allegations are confirmed,” read a letter signed by Rubio and three other senators, sent to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez earlier this year.
Rubio and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan also sent a letter to Biden calling on him to directly investigate allegations of leaked intelligence.
And that’s not the first time Rubio wanted Kerry’s actions during his time as Secretary of State and afterward investigated. He urged former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2018 to investigate whether Kerry violated the Logan Act after leaving office. His problem then was Kerry’s communications with Iran in an apparent effort to preserve the nuclear deal after Trump’s election. The Logan Act prohibits U.S. citizens from negotiating with foreign governments without the authority to do so and from working in conflict with the current measures and interests of the U.S. He also said Kerry may have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires disclosure by any American acting as an agent of a foreign power in a quasi-political capacity.
“The American people deserve to know that U.S. laws are enforced regardless of any individual’s past position,” Rubio wrote in a letter to Sessions. “The Department of Justice should therefore make a determination on whether or not former Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s recent actions related to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran potentially violate the Logan Act or the Foreign Agents Registration Act.”
More recently, it has been talks with China, with Kerry working as a member of the current administration, that irked Rubio. He’s complained for months that Biden’s climate plan, in which Kerry played a major role, would benefit China by ignoring environmental threats in the Eastern nation while imposing restrictions domestically.
Last month, Rubio in a letter penned with Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, voiced fears Kerry was fighting the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act for the sake of importing more Chinese solar cells in service of the administration’s climate agenda. The letter states Kerry was “downplaying the genocide precisely because he intends to import solar panels that are produced using forced labor in the (People’s Republic of China) to the United States in order to meet your administration’s climate goals.”
For his part, Kerry testified to the House in May that the administration is separately considering sanctions regarding products, including solar cells that are produced using forced labor. “It is a problem,” Kerry said.
But most of the world’s polysilicon, a product used in solar panels, comes from the Xinjiang province. That means it’s highly likely cells exported from China rely in part on production in the province where human rights activists say Uyghurs have been forced to manufacture goods.
China has denied accusations of detaining ethnic groups, including the Uyghurs.
Kerry also publicly denied sharing any state secrets with Iran, tweeting earlier this year: “I can tell you that this story and these allegations are unequivocally false. This never happened — either when I was Secretary of State or since.”