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Why America is worried about DJI and Chinese drones

Shenzhen-based DJI is the world’s leading manufacturer of consumer drones. Since the drones they make are essentially flying computers that transmit geodata and can be accessed remotely, it’s hardly surprising that the company has come to the attention of America’s political class.

On June 10, Donald Trump said in a memo that “the domestic production capability for small unmanned aerial systems is essential to the national defense.” Last week, DJI was discussed at a U.S. Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing. Reuters reports:

Senator Rick Scott, a Republican, asked at the hearing if Congress should outlaw the U.S. sale of Chinese-made drones.

“I think we’re crazy to do business with the Chinese,” Scott said during the hearing. “We ought to be buying American products in every way we can…. They are not our friend.”

Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat, said at the hearing that Americans who own Chinese-made drones are worried about individual privacy and security concerns. “Chinese animate (drones) with their values, which are inconsistent with ours,” Markey said…

Harry Wingo, a faculty member at the National Defense University, told the Senate panel “the U.S. is over-reliant” on DJI, saying its market share may exceed 70% globally…He suggested the issue “presents a national risk, similar to that highlighted by President Trump in calling out the risk of using 5G equipment from Huawei in U.S. telecommunications networks.”

In response, DJI yesterday announced “plans to use a company warehouse in California to assemble them,” Reuters reports. The company said it “will assemble its Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual drones in Cerritos, California, after the U.S. Customs and Border Protection determines that the U.S. produced value of its drones will qualify under the U.S. Trade Agreements Act,” which should “make it easier for some U.S. government agencies to buy the drones.”

If I were DJI, I’d make another backup plan.

Also see:

Chinese drone, how do I love thee

Top image: AFP/Drew Angerer

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Jeremy Goldkorn

Jeremy Goldkorn worked in China for 20 years as an editor and entrepreneur. He is editor-in-chief of SupChina, and co-founder of the Sinica Podcast.

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