US-China tech war: DJI, world’s largest drone manufacturer blacklisted

'The company is the only drone manufacturer to discourage using its aircraft for military purposes,' says DJI spokesman.
Baba Tamim
DJI Mavic 2 pro drone.
DJI Mavic 2 pro drone.

Eshma/iStock  

The biggest drone manufacturer in the world, DJI, has been placed by the U.S. Defense Department (DoD) on a blacklist of corporations with claimed ties to the Chinese military.

DJI is one of the 13 companies put on the Pentagon's blacklist on Wednesday, reported Al Jazeera.

"The Department is determined to highlight and counter the People's Republic of China's Military-Civil Fusion strategy, which supports the modernization goals of the People's Liberation Army by ensuring its access to advanced technologies and expertise are acquired and developed by PRC companies, universities, and research programs that appear to be civilian entities," according to the Pentagon's press statement.

Meanwhile, China has warned against using scientific and technological achievements to impede the development of other nations, describing U.S. penalties against Chinese companies as "typical political manipulation."

The tally goes up

The list of the blacklisted firms now comprises more than 60 Chinese companies, including semiconductor manufacturer SMIC and I.T. giant Huawei Technology, as well as the Shenzhen-based DJI Technology, which is said to control more than half of the global market for commercial drones.

The Pentagon statement comes after the U.S. Treasury Department last year prohibited U.S. residents from trading shares of DJI and seven other Chinese companies over their alleged involvement in the surveillance of the Uighur ethnic minority in China's far-western region of Xinjiang.

Action against DJI served as a signal to investors to stay away from the business, claimed analyst Charles Rollet of the surveillance research group IPVM in Pennsylvania.

"DJI had already been added by the U.S. Treasury to the Non-SDN Chinese Military-Industrial Complex Companies list in December 2021, barring U.S. investment into the firm. So the DoD listing confirms the U.S. government firmly considers DJI to be a contributor to the People's Republic of China (PCR) military," Rollet told Al Jazeera.

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"Note that DJI has received investment from a PRC state-owned fund, China Chengtong, which openly touts Military-Civil Fusion as a core goal."

DJI response

According to DJI spokesman Adam Lisberg, the company is the only drone manufacturer to discourage using its aircraft for military purposes and opposes being listed on the blacklist.

"There is no reason why DJI has been added to the Defense Department's list of 'Chinese military companies,'" Lisberg told Al Jazeera.

"DJI does not fall under any categories set by the law to be included on the list. DJI is not a military company in China, the United States, or anywhere else. DJI has never designed or manufactured military-grade equipment, and has never marketed or sold its products for military use in any country. Instead, we have always developed products to benefit society and save lives. We stand ready to formally challenge our inclusion on the list," he added.

DJI, held the title of top drone maker as of March 2021. According to sales volume, the enterprise held a 76 percent market share, followed by Intel, which held a four percent market share. Although DJI is best known for its consumer drones, the business also sells industrial drones for public safety, infrastructure and power line inspection, farming, and other uses.

As part of a broad strategy to confront Beijing in sectors ranging from trade and technology to defense, U.S. President Joe Biden has allegedly attempted to isolate Chinese enterprises with apparent military ties.

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