DJI among eight Chinese companies on new US blacklist: FT

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The world’s leading drone maker, DJI, is among eight Chinese companies set to be added to official US government blacklists Thursday, according to a Financial Times report. The development risks compounding woes the company has experienced in the US over allegations of involvement in the repression of minority Uighurs by China’s government.

If confirmed, the new official blacklisting will come almost an exact year after DJI was initially included on the US Department of Commerce’s Entity List, which prohibits businesses operating in the US from exporting technology to companies on it. According to the FT’s report today citing sources informed about the move, the US Treasury will be placing DJI and seven other firms on its “Chinese military-industrial complex companies” list Thursday. The reason is their purported assistance in Beijing’s surveillance and repression of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang Province. About 60 businesses are already on that export blacklist.

Other companies reportedly joining the banned scroll are image-recognition firms Megvii and CloudWalk Technology; artificial intelligence specialist Yitu; cyber security enterprise Xiamen Meiya Pico; super-computer maker Dawning Information Industry; and cloud computing companies Leon Technology and NetPosa Technologies.

The US Commerce Department is also reportedly set to add two dozen new Chinese entries onto its Entity List, which DJI joined on December 18, 2020. Since then, the company has tended to respond to related developments by referring back to its initial position.

DJI is disappointed in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s decision. Customers in America can continue to buy and use DJI products normally. DJI remains committed to developing the industry’s most innovative products that define our company and benefit the world.

Unfortunately for the company, it has had multiple opportunities to repeat that reply. 

DJI a favored target in declining US-China relations, but for what objective?

With US-China relations debatably even worse under the Biden administration than in the Trump era, DJI has become a rather large target for attack by drone sector rivals and their political partners. Though official US blacklisting moves cite suspected DJI drone use in China’s repression of Uighurs – clearly a human rights matter – third-party detractors continually accuse the company foremost of being a data security risk to American businesses and individuals.

In July, a lobbying group representing US drone manufacturers fired repeated salvos by describing DJI as a “serious national security risk,” and accusing it of abusive pricing practices to attain its market domination. In September, a Republican-Democrat House duo teamed up – an astonishing feat in these hyper-partisan times – to slam DJI on human rights grounds, then echo the lobby’s dumping charge with claims that “DJI dropped its prices for consumer drones by as much as 70%” in order to capture “77% of the American consumer drone market.”

In October, the senior Republican commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission urged for DJI drones to be added to that agency’s blacklist as well. Among his arguments was the craft can collect data ranging from “critical infrastructure to facial recognition technology… to an individual’s body temperature and heart rate,” which he then claimed could be relayed back to China to “be exploited by Beijing.”

Thus far, DJI and its drones have weathered that prolonged storm of hostility from Washington – and lousy publicity it has generated – in fairly solid form. Most market analyses still show the company remaining the preferred UAV manufacturer in the US and around the globe by far. That popularity, meanwhile, aided its recent series of greatly anticipated and successful product launches, including its flagship Mavic 3 Pro and professional-grade cinematic Ronin camera.

Perhaps less of a concern to DJI and fans of its drones, then, is less about how many DC blacklists its name is added to, but rather what the final outcome of all that unwanted attention is actually seeking to achieve.

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