The U.S. Commerce Department on Friday added drone maker DJI to its “Entity List,” effectively banning U.S. companies from doing business with the China-based firm.
The addition of DJI to the Entity List, first reported by Reuters, marks a last-minute acceleration in the Trump administration’s crackdown on Chinese firms and follows similar action against Huawei, which was added to the list last year on national security grounds. The move comes just weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. Biden has criticized Trump’s handling of U.S.–China relations, which have boosted tensions between the two countries and set the stage for what some call a New Cold War.
According to DroneDJ, the Commerce Department cited “human rights violations” as its reason for the ban in a call with media on Friday morning. In March, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that DJI supplied drones to police in China’s Xinjiang region, reportedly the location of the Chinese government’s Uighur detention camps where the country’s Muslim minority group is allegedly subjected to brutal abuses. DJI reportedly removed from its website a statement regarding its work with Xinjiang police after reporters inquired about its involvement.
Unnamed sources told the Washington Post that DJI was added for participating in the dragnet surveillance of Chinese citizens.
In addition to DJI, China-based chipmaker Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) has also been added to the list, which was officially updated at 11:15 am ET on Friday.
“We will not allow advanced U.S. technology to help build the military of an increasingly belligerent adversary. Between SMIC’s relationships of concern with the military industrial complex, China’s aggressive application of military civil fusion mandates and state-directed subsidies, SMIC perfectly illustrates the risks of China’s leverage of U.S. technology to support its military modernization,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.
“DJI is disappointed in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s decision. Customers in America can continue to buy and use DJI products normally,” the company said in a statement. “DJI remains committed to developing the industry’s most innovative products that define our company and benefit the world.”
SMIC did not yet respond to a request for comment.
Controversy has surrounded DJI, which has grown over the past 14 years into the most popular consumer drone maker in the U.S. with 77% of the market share, due to suspicions about its relationship with the Chinese government and allegations of user data collection.
DJI also offers drones for government and industrial use. The U.S. Justice Department banned the agency from purchasing drones from foreign companies in October, and the Interior Department has stopped using its drone fleet as it conducts a security assessment, the Verge reports. So far, however, officials have offered little detail about any potential risk DJI’s products pose to U.S. national security or Americans’ privacy.
Update 10:26pm ET, Dec. 18: Added comment from DJI.