Pentagon Blacklists Drone Giant DJI as ‘Chinese Military Company’

Pentagon Blacklists Drone Giant DJI as ‘Chinese Military Company’
A Phantom 4, developed by major Chinese consumer-drone maker DJI, flies during its demonstration flight in Tokyo, Japnan, on March 3, 2016. (Shizuo Kambayashi/AP Photo)
Andrew Thornebrooke

The Pentagon has blacklisted a Chinese drone manufacturer that Ukrainian officials previously accused of providing military support to Russia.

DJI Technology, the world’s largest consumer drone manufacturer, was added to a Department of Defense (DOD) list of 60 “Chinese military companies” operating in the United States, the Pentagon announced on Oct. 5.
Adding DJI to the list (pdf) means that the Department of Commerce may now choose to take additional actions to restrict U.S. companies from doing business with or investing in DJI.
The move is part of a broader effort by the United States to curb the growth of companies affiliated with China’s military or that have helped promote its development.

China’s ‘Military-Civil Fusion’

Identifying and effectively mitigating the dangers posed by such companies has proven difficult, however, as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) implements a “military-civil fusion” strategy in which all civil technologies are expected to serve a dual use as military technologies. Military and commercial-first drones are critical to the CCP’s efforts to expand and modernize its military through this strategy.

The DOD’s announcement noted that the effort is intended to “highlight and counter” military-civil fusion and the military modernization that it’s fueling.

A DOD spokesperson said in an email that the designation of DJI as a Chinese military company was made in accordance with Section 1260H of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (pdf).

That section defines Chinese military companies in two ways: first, companies that are owned, controlled, or act on behalf of the CCP’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, and second, companies that assist with military-civil fusion by contributing to the CCP’s defense-industrial base.

This includes companies that knowingly accept assistance from “the Chinese Communist Party through science and technology efforts initiated under the Chinese military-industrial planning apparatus.”

The spokesperson didn’t specify which of the definitions DJI fell under or whether it fell under multiple categories.

A History of Security Complaints

The designation isn’t the first time that DJI has come under fire from U.S. leadership for its connections to the CCP.
A July 2021 statement by the DOD said some DJI drones “pose potential threats to national security,” citing DJI drones’ China-based manufacturing and cyber security risks.

“Mitigating the threats posed by small [drones], including DJI systems, remains a priority across the Department, and DOD continues to ensure [the] existing policy remains current and appropriately implemented,” the DOD stated at the time.

In a more extreme but unverified case, Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov accused the company of assisting in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Fedorov said the Russian military was using DJI technology to navigate its missiles and accused the company of downgrading the usability of some of Ukraine’s own DJI systems in a March 16 Twitter post.

Fedorov also published an open letter to DJI CEO Frank Wang, pleading that he cut business ties with Russia.

“The socially responsible business always supports values of humanity, responsibility, and peace,” Fedorov wrote. “We call on your company to end any relationship and stop doing business in the Russian Federation until the Russian aggression in Ukraine is fully stopped, and fair order is restored.”

The letter also followed reports alleging that DJI downgraded its service for Ukrainian platforms but not for Russian platforms.
DJI issued a statement on Twitter, saying its technology couldn’t be turned off and denied that it had altered the functionality of Ukrainian-based systems.

There’s no indication of whether the Department of Commerce will impose new controls on DJI’s U.S. operations or U.S. businesses’ ability to transact with the company.

Representatives for DJI didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.

Andrew Thornebrooke is a national security correspondent for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master's in military history from Norwich University.
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