This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Online sales platform Alibaba has temporarily suspended the sale of drones in China ahead of celebrations for the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s centenary on July 1.
“As a result of regulatory requirements, please cease the sale of any … drones, including related products like top-mounted displays, image transmission modules, flight control modules and other key parts,” the company said in an announcement dated June 17.
The temporary ban took effect on the date of the notice, and will run until July 15, it said.
Documentation containing instructions about the operation of drones and related equipment has also been banned, according to state-sponsored media citing a Beijing municipal government directive.
A website user surnamed Lu said not all online sales platforms appeared to have complied with the ban by afternoon on June 18, however.
“I had a look, and [drones] have so far only been completely removed from [sales platform] JD.com,” Lu said. “It seems you can still buy them on other sites.”
“The restriction order in is in place until mid-July, so it’s probably linked to the CCP centenary,” he said.
A search of sales platforms Taobao and Tmall for DJI, a well-known drone manufacturer, yielded no results on Friday.
Some drones remained listed on Taobao, but when an attempt was made to add them to a basket, a message appeared saying sales had been suspended.
On Jingdong, a keyword search for “drones” returned the message “no drone-related products were found.”
Authorities in Beijing, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Sichuan, and Henan have been issuing “no-fly” orders over their cities since early June.
A Beijing municipal government directive said the order was to “ensure the safety of relevant flight activities during celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding.”
Restrictions on drone flights are in place over Dongcheng, Xicheng, Chaoyang, and other districts in the capital.
Restrictions have also been imposed on any activities “affecting flight safety,” including helium or hot-air balloons, as well as flights of domesticated doves and pigeons.
Local media reported that a Beijing resident surnamed Li was detained after he flew a drone in defiance of the restrictions.
Burnishing China’s image
Chongqing-based dissident Xu Wanping said the CCP is keen to use the centenary to burnish its international image.
The centenary comes amid a growing chorus of international criticism over human rights abuses in Xinjiang, as well as an ongoing crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong in the name of national security.
“Of course [local authorities] are going to be tightening controls of their own accord,” Xu told RFA. “Another factor is their need to put on a show for the rest of the world.”
“They want to turn their international image around, and they’re making sure they have room to do that,” he said.
Petitioner Li Ping from the northeastern city of Shenyang said the government’s entire focus is on “stability maintenance” ahead of the centenary.
“They have to do this for stability maintenance purposes,” Li said. “Because drones are also used for surveillance.”
Political commentators have said during previous drone bans during major political meetings that the authorities are concerned about the possibility of terrorist attacks, but also that confidential information could be leaked if ordinary citizens are allowed to fly drones over major events.