The U.S. Department of Commerce's Entity List — which denotes companies of national security concern — has added DJI, one of the largest and most popular drone companies in the world for its connections to the Chinese government, according to the Federal Register listing.
This effectively bans U.S.-based companies from exporting technology to the Chinese company.
US government bans exports for DJI drones over ties to Chinese government
The ban was executed via the same mechanism the U.S. is currently using on Huawei products — and is principally focused on blocking the export of U.S. technology to the China-based drone-maker.
This new ban will make it hard for U.S.-based businesses to send parts or components to DJI, which will probably disrupt its supply chain for drone assembly. The move might also make it more difficult for U.S. stores to sell DJI products, or transact with the company — especially if China reacts with further restrictions.
The ban went into effect when it was added to the Federal Register listing, at 11:15 AM EST.
UPDATE Dec. 18, 3:15 PM EST: DJI filing related to drones used in Chinese detention camps
The news on the DJI ban initially broke from DroneDJ, which Reuters then confirmed via a conference call with a senior U.S. commerce official. The U.S. Department of Commerce referred questions to the Federal Register listing, according to a report from The Verge.
The precise filing placing the DJI in the entity list alleges the company has "enabled wide-scale human rights abuses within China through abusive genetic collection and analysis or high-technology surveillance." This is presumably a reference to DJI's role in providing the Chinese government with drones later used to surveil detention camps in the nation's Xinjiang province — initially reported in Bloomberg Businessweek.
UPDATE Dec. 18, 3:20 PM EST: DJI's ban comes along with others
The new filing also makes allowance for a "case-by-case review for items necessary to detect identify and treat infectious disease," but stands firm with a "presumption of denial for all other items." It remains to be seen which of DJI's drones and accessories might qualify for this exemption.
DJI's ban came along with a more specific U.S. government action against the Chinese Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), which was added to the list after ties were alleged between the firm and the Chinese military.
UPDATE Dec. 18, 3:30 PM EST: Trump escalates blocks on China's industries as his term nears end
However, the U.S. government also cited past concerns regarding security with and of the drones — which are largely built in China and contain numerous Chinese-made parts. The U.S. Department of the Interior has announced its aim to ground its present drone fleet while it reviews whether they present substantial security concerns — from Chinese cyberattacks or spying.
Additionally, the Department of Justice banned the purchase of all foreign-built drones (including DJI's) in October, posing the same security concerns as justification. Whether stop-gap or replacement, the Department of Defense has certified numerous other drones from competitors like Skydio and Parrot for official government use — following years of review.
This is a critical escalation in President Trump's continuing efforts to block Chinese tech companies from increasing their presence in the U.S. Trump initially put Huawei on the entity list in May 2019 via an executive order that was renewed this year. He has taken similar measures to block WeChat and TikTok from availability in U.S. app stores — but these attempts were interrupted when court challenges reopened the market to both apps, which are still widely available.
Time will tell whether the incoming Biden administration will maintain Trump's policies, come Jan. 20.