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Pentagon blacklists world’s largest drone-maker DJI as Chinese military company

China's President Xi Jinping. (Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)
October 10, 2022

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Defense officially included Shenzhen DJI Innovation Technology (DJI), the world’s largest drone-maker, on a department blacklist.

The Pentagon solidifies an earlier blacklisting by the U.S. Treasury Department. Last December, the Treasury Department classified DJI and seven other Chinese technology firms as members of the Chinese military-industrial complex.

The U.S. Army has also already banned use of DJI’s drones. The U.S. Department of Interior also grounded its DJI drones amid concerns they were transmitting sensitive information about U.S. infrastructure to the Chinese government, or presenting other vulnerability to hackers who could launch a cyber attack or cause other harm with the drones.

This latest Pentagon move complies with a provision in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to list companies involved in the Chinese government’s Military-Civil Fusion strategy “which supports the modernization goals of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) 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.”

The Pentagon previously blacklisted an initial tranche of 47 Chinese entities on June 3, 2021.

The Pentagon added DJI and 12 other Chinese entities in its latest blacklisting. Those additional entities include:

  1. Beijing Zhidao Chuangyu Information Technology Co., Ltd (Beijing Kownsec)
  2. BGI Genomics Co., Ltd. (BGI)
  3. China International Engineering Consulting Corporation (CIECC)
  4. China National Chemical Corporation Ltd. (ChemChina)
  5. China National Chemical Engineering Group Corporation (CNCEC)
  6. China State Construction Group Co.
  7. CloudWalk Technology Co., Ltd (CloudWalk)
  8. CRRC Corporation Limited (CRRC)
  9. Dawning Information Industry Co., Ltd (Sugon)
  10. Global Tone Communication Technology Co Ltd (GTCOM)
  11. Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co., Ltd. (Dahna)
  12. 360 Security Technology Inc. (Qihoo 360)

The Treasury Department’s original blacklisting of DJI blocked U.S. individuals and entities from investing in DJI and the seven other companies.

This latest Pentagon blacklisting does not specify any additional limitations on the Chinese drone-maker but the Pentagon said the U.S. government “reserves the right to take additional actions on these entities.”

Charles Rollet, an analyst at Pennsylvania-based surveillance research group IPVM, told Al Jazeera that this latest Pentagon listing is a warning to investors.

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

DJI decried the latest Pentagon move in a Saturday press statement.

“DJI stands alone as the only drone company to clearly denounce and actively discourage military use of our products, including suspending all business operations in Russia and Ukraine to try to keep our drones out of the conflict there,” the statement began.

Indeed, DJI did ban sales of its drones in Russia and Ukraine as small off-the-shelf drones have increasingly been converted into make-shift bombers.

“DJI does not fall under any categories set by the law to be included on the list,” the company added in its Saturday statement. “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,” the company’s statement continued. “We stand ready to formally challenge our inclusion on the list.”