US puts Chinese drone giant DJI on military ties blacklist

Shenzhen-based firm is among 13 Chinese companies added to list that clears way for sanctions.

DJI logo with drone underneath
The US Defense Department has added China's DJI, the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial drones, to a sanctions blacklist over its alleged ties to the Chinese military [File: Bobby Yip/Reuters]
This article has been updated with a response from DJI.

The United States Defense Department (DoD) has added more than a dozen Chinese companies, including the world’s largest drone manufacturer, to a blacklist of firms with alleged ties to the Chinese military, clearing the way for restrictions on their business.

Shenzhen-based DJI Technology, which is estimated to control more than half of the global market for commercial drones, is among the 13 firms added to the blacklist released by the Pentagon on Wednesday.

The blacklist grants the US president authority to impose sanctions against companies deemed to have connections to the Chinese military.

The announcement comes after the US Treasury Department last year banned US-based persons from trading shares of DJI and seven other Chinese companies over their alleged involvement in the surveillance of ethnic minority Uighurs in China’s far-western region of Xinjiang.

BGI Genomics Co, a genetic testing company; CRRC Corp, which manufactures rolling stock; and Zhejiang Dahua Technology, a Hangzhou-based surveillance equipment maker, were also included on the updated list.

The blacklist includes more than 60 Chinese firms, including tech giant Huawei Technology and semiconductor maker SMIC.

“The Department is determined to highlight and counter the People’s Republic of China’s Military-Civil Fusion strategy, which supports the modernization goals of the People’s Liberation Army 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 said in a statement.

Charles Rollet, an analyst at Pennsylvania-based surveillance research group IPVM, said the move against DJI was a warning to investors to steer clear of the company.

“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. So the DoD listing confirms the US government firmly considers DJI to be a contributor to the People’s Republic of China (PCR) military,” Rollet told Al Jazeera.

“Note that DJI has received investment from a PRC state-owned fund, China Chengtong, which openly touts Military-Civil Fusion as a core goal.”

DJI spokesman Adam Lisberg said the firm stood alone as the only drone maker to discourage the military use of its products and opposed its inclusion on the blacklist.

“There is no reason why DJI has been added to the Defense Department’s list of ‘Chinese military companies,'” Lisberg told Al Jazeera.

“DJI does not fall under any categories set by the law to be included on the list. 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. We stand ready to formally challenge our inclusion on the list.”

Al Jazeera contacted Dahua, BGI and CRRC for comment.

US President Joe Biden has pushed to isolate Chinese companies with alleged military ties as part of a sweeping effort to counter Beijing in areas ranging from defence to technology and trade.

China has described US sanctions against Chinese firms as “typical political manipulation” and warned scientific and technological advancements should not be used as tools to restrict the development of other countries.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies