Lawmakers Urge Pentagon to Deny Export Licenses for Chinese Drone Manufacturer DJI

Lawmakers Urge Pentagon to Deny Export Licenses for Chinese Drone Manufacturer DJI

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‘These export licenses should not have been approved, and American technology should not be advancing DJI drones.’

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has urged the Pentagon to deny export licenses to Chinese drone manufacturer DJI and review the export approval process over national security concerns.

In a letter dated Dec. 18 to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, 15 lawmakers raised concerns that U.S. companies export critical technology to DJI that helps American adversaries attack U.S. allies. They said the Department of Defense (DOD) “should not be recommending approval of export control licenses for U.S. technology that advances DJI’s capabilities.”

“DJI supplies our adversaries around the world, including Iranian-backed Hamas and Russia, with drones to carry out vicious attacks against our allies,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) said in a statement. “These export licenses should not have been approved, and American technology should not be advancing DJI drones. It is time to end Communist China’s weaponization of American ingenuity.”

DJI is the world’s biggest drone manufacturer with 70 percent of global market share, according to Drone Industry Insights.

DJI has been blacklisted in a number of entity lists from the departments of Treasury, Commerce, and Defense for posing threats to national security and alleged human rights violations.

Once added to those lists, DJI is subject to a “presumption of denial” under the license review policy, meaning its license application will often be denied. But the lawmakers noted that they are aware “that DJI’s drones likely still contain critical components from American companies, just as they did prior to DJI being listed.”

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The lawmakers noted that a recent teardown of a DJI drone found U.S.-manufactured components, which suggests government approval of export licenses.

Additionally, the letter cited evidence showing that “DJI drones have been exported to America’s adversaries for military purposes, in violation of U.S. export laws and sanctions.”

In the letter, the lawmakers wrote that the Hamas terrorist group reportedly used DJI drones to attack Israeli forces and disable its surveillance systems.

According to the 2023 China military report by the DOD, from March 2022 to 2023, Chinese companies exported over $12 million worth of drones and drone components to Russia. Russian forces use these Chinese-made drones for “targeting, surveillance, and strike missions in Ukraine.”

The lawmakers then requested that the Pentagon provide information regarding approving export licenses and the national security review process when granting DJI approval.

They also require DOD experts and technicians who review DJI transfer requests to give a briefing to members of Congress “to explain their national security review processes and their final recommendations.”

Among those signing the letter were Ms. Stefanik, China Select Committee Chair Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), and Sens. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Joni Ernst (R- Iowa), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.).

Last month, a bipartisan group of 11 U.S. lawmakers asked the Biden administration to investigate and potentially sanction another Chinese drone maker, Autel Robotics.

The Epoch Times has reached out to the Pentagon for comment.

 Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) speaks at a press conference following a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on May 16, 2023. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) speaks at a press conference following a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on May 16, 2023. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

DJI’s Dominance Threatens National Security

According to a whitepaper by the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International, “China has used its monopolistic position to flood the U.S. with subsidized drones, distorting the marketplace in favor of Chinese drones, stifling competition, and inhibiting new entrants.”

As a result, the U.S. drone manufacturing industry has been hit significantly by Chinese drone dumping, losing almost the market share of this crucial industry to China. According to a 2020 report from the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, DJI represented 90 percent of the U.S. market for commercial drones and 77 percent of the U.S. hobby drone market.
In 2017, Homeland Security warned that “since 2015, DJI has targeted a number of U.S. companies in the critical infrastructure and law enforcement sectors to market its UAS [uncrewed aircraft systems]” and “the Chinese government is likely using information acquired from DJI systems as a way to target assets.”
In August, former director of operations at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, warned that: “Numerous [Chinese]-made drones have been detected in restricted U.S. airspace, including over Washington, D.C., despite DJI’s claim that their drone design includes geofencing restrictions to avoid sensitive locations. Drones made by Autel Robotics, another prominent manufacturer, do not even have geofence restrictions.”
An investigation from The Washington Post in 2022 revealed that DJI “obscured its Chinese government funding while claiming that Beijing had not invested in the firm.” The newspaper also found that the investors in Chinese drone manufacturers included at least four Beijing-controlled investment firms, with one state investment firm that has close ties to the Chinese military.

Legislation Efforts

Chinese-made drones, particularly DJI, have been under close scrutiny from Washington lawmakers as well as the administration. A series of legislation and measures targeting these drones have been introduced.

In 2019, Congress banned the Pentagon from buying or using drones and components manufactured in China.

In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice banned using its funds to buy Chinese drones as these devices are “subject to or vulnerable to extrajudicial direction from a foreign government.”

In 2020, the Department of Commerce (DOC) added DJI to its entity list, accusing it of enabling “wide-scale human rights abuses within China through abusive genetic collection and analysis or high-technology surveillance.” U.S. firms are not allowed to export their technology to DJI unless they get a U.S. government export license.

In 2021, the Department of Treasury added DJI to the list of entities for allegedly providing drones to Xinjiang police to track and surveil China’s Muslim Uyghur minority, banning Americans from trading DJI stocks.

In 2022, the Department of Defense identified DJI as a Chinese military company, which allowed the DOC to restrict U.S. firms from doing business with or investing in the Chinese company.

Last month, Mr. Gallagher and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) introduced legislation seeking to ban the U.S. government from buying Chinese drones.

In July, the Senate passed the American Security Drone Act, banning federal agencies from buying and using DJI and other Chinese-made drones.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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