As tensions between the US and China continue to rise, the Shenzhen-based consumer drone manufacturer, DJI, has been dragged into the scrap by being added to the US Government’s ‘Entity List’ over accusations it enables human rights abuses.
The US Government Department of Commerce’s Entity List forces companies to obtain a licence in order to export specified products. While the Entity List was originally designed to prevent US technology landing in the hands of foreign powers, it has since been weaponised to fight China in a trade war. When the Chinese-owned telecommunications company, Huawei, was placed on the Entity List due to concerns it may spy on Americans, it was temporarily shut out from using Google Android technology.
DJI has also experienced numerous issues in the US market, with concerns the Chinese company could be providing customer data to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as is a legal requirement in China. DJI assures its products are safe and secure, with no ‘automatic’ data transmission, and there is no proof this has actually happened. However, there is no evidence to suggest it isn’t happening, either.
But DJI’s addition to the Entity List has no relation with data and security. It’s due to China’s human rights abuses. Here’s what Commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, said about the raft of Chinese companies recently added to the blacklist:
China’s corrupt and bullying behavior both inside and outside its borders harms U.S. national security interests, undermines the sovereignty of our allies and partners, and violates the human rights and dignity of ethnic and religious minority groups. Commerce will act to ensure that America’s technology—developed and produced according to open and free-market principles—is not used for malign or abusive purposes.
China actively promotes the reprehensible practices of forced labour, DNA collection and ubiquitous surveillance to repress its citizens in Xinjiang and elsewhere. Over the last two years this administration has added nearly 50 entities to the Entity List for their support for the Chinese Communist Party’s despicable offensive against vulnerable ethnic minorities. With these new additions, we are applying those principles to the rest of China, including in Tibet, and to the authoritarian regimes to which these practices are being exported.
A US Government report claims that DJI, along with three other companies, have ‘enabled wide-scale human rights abuses within China’.
It apparently stems from a Bloomberg article, which highlighted a deal from 2017 for DJI to provide police drones to the public security bureau in Xinjiang, where reports have emerged regarding the mistreatment of citizens of Uyghur ethnicity.
DJI is once again ‘disappointed’ by the US government’s decision (it was ‘extremely disappointed’ when the government grounded its DJI drone fleet). A DJI spokesperson told TechCrunch that American drone customers ‘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.’
The blacklist may only last for just over a month, as US president-elect Joe Biden is tipped to have a softer approach with China.