Global drone giant DJI is apparently having some success in opposing draft legislation that would formally prohibit US government agencies from buying its UAVs, according to a report in the Financial Times.
In an article Thursday, the daily said DJI has been working with a pair of lobbying firms to push back against the American Security Drone Act (ASDA), which would prohibit US federal funding from being used to buy Chinese UAVs. That bill was not retained within the far broader National Defense Authorization Act passed by the House yesterday, though several Republican representatives vowed to make the ASDA law in a final version, or on its own.
DJI’s activities in the US have been weighed down since 2020, when it was placed on the Entities List, and later included on other blacklists prohibiting various US federal agencies from using the UAVs. Justification for that cite claims the products pose data security threats. DJI has continually called those allegations unfounded, and has denied additional accusations it has abetted the Chinese government in repressing human rights.
Amid continually degrading relations between the US and China, however, not only have the number of federal blacklists targeting DJI drone increased, but additional moves have also been made to complicate any future efforts to end the prohibitions. Language in the ASDA would effectively make those permanent – or at very least devilishly difficult to amend by US legislators who tend to disagree on everything anymore.
The ASDA would also broaden current bans affecting DJI drones by interdicting any federal money being used to purchase Chinese-made craft – including police departments that have received such funding. The bill’s absence from the wider legislation passed by the House Thursday therefore marks an apparent success of DJI’s lobbying efforts, and its action to reverse a continued decline of its US market share since 2020.
Perhaps not surprising amid such acrimonious US-China relations, the blacklisting of DJI drones has often gone beyond alleged security concerns – which themselves have never been factually substantiated – to something closer to plain old protectionism.
American drone sector trade groups have repeatedly stepped up to heap additional allegations upon the Shenzhen-based company – virtually all related to business practices, not national security. They have also urged continuation of blacklisting, a desire that has since been echoed by supportive officials and legislators on both sides of the aisle.
At the same time, however, reports have circulated about frustration at US agencies about the blacklists. The US bans on DJI drones, leaked memos said, forced authorities to procure what they described as more expensive and less effective options from domestic manufacturers.
And in another unexpected twist to the sage, during testimony to the House Senate Homeland Security Committee on Thursday Biden administration officials acknowledged the FBI has continued to buy and use DJI drones despite the multiple blacklists, and indicated the same was true at the Department of Homeland Security.