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US blacklisting popular Chinese drone maker DJI banned by US Army

DJI Inspire 2 drone. (Sven Teschke/Wikimedia Commons)
December 15, 2021

The United States government will blacklist eight more Chinese companies reportedly involved in the surveillance of Uyghur Muslims, including popular drone manufacturer DJI. Financial Times reported Wednesday that the companies will be placed on an investment block list early next week, which will prevent U.S. citizens from making investments in the firms.

The Department of Commerce’s Entity List currently includes DJI, which means American companies cannot sell their components without a license. When DJI was added to the list, the government said it was enabling “wide-scale human rights abuses within China through abusive genetic collection and analysis or high-technology surveillance.”

Many products with similar links to human rights abuses have been banned for sale in the United States, including those from Huawei, but DJI drones have yet to be outlawed despite previous actions halting use of the drones.

In 2017, the U.S. Army ordered its soldiers to stop using DJI drones. The U.S. Department of the Interior also decided to ground its entire drone fleet, consisting out of mostly Chinese drones and components, out of concern the drones were relaying sensitive information about U.S. infrastructure back to China.

The decision to blacklist additional companies comes as part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to hold China accountable for committing human rights atrocities against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.

Congress is currently working toward banning imports from Xinjiang unless individual companies can prove they are not using forced labor.

Last week, White House Press Secretary Jenn Psaki said that the U.S. will be holding a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Olympics in China “given the [People’s Republic of China’s] ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, and other human rights abuses.”

“We will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games,” Psaki added. “U.S. diplomatic or official representation would treat these games as business as usual in the face of the PRC’s egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang and we simply can’t do that.”

Uyghur exiles have described the human rights violations being committed against them by the Chinese Communist Party, including forced abortions, killings, torture, rape, enslavement, forced separation of children from their parents, forced sterilization, labor, enforced disappearances, destruction of cultural and religious heritage, persecution, forced marriages, and the imposition of Han Chinese men into Uyghur households.

China has repeatedly denied committing any human rights violations against the Uyghurs and warned the US will “pay” for its boycott of the Beijing Olympics.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said, “The US will pay a price for its erroneous actions. You may wait and see.”

Zhao accused the Biden administration of “fabricating the biggest lie of the century” about what he characterized as the “so-called ‘genocide’ in Xinjiang,” which he said has been “debunked.”