China Imposes Export Controls on Drones Amid Security Concerns
Potential Impact on Ukraine Conflict
China announced on Monday,July 31, that it will impose export controls on drones and associated equipment, a move it says is intended to "safeguard national security and interests." The new restrictions, which are due to come into effect on September 1, could influence the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
The Commerce Ministry stated that vendors would now need to seek permission to export specific drone components, including engines, lasers, imaging, communication, radar gear, and anti-drone systems. Civilian-grade drones meeting certain criteria will also be subjected to these controls.
In an online statement, an unnamed ministry spokesperson indicated that all civilian drones not covered by these controls will be banned from being exported for military purposes. This reinforces China’s stance on the misuse of civilian drones for military activities, which it has continually denounced.
Drones have taken center stage in the modern battlefield, with both Russia and Ukraine incorporating them into their arsenals. The incident earlier this year, where a downed Chinese-made drone, weaponized and retrofitted, was used against Ukrainian forces, brought the potential for misuse of civilian drones to the fore.
Tech bloggers have nicknamed such machines "Alibaba drones" due to their availability on Chinese online marketplaces like Alibaba and Taobao. China, home to a substantial drone manufacturing industry, exports these machines to several markets, including the United States.
These controls follow closely on the heels of a report from the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The report alleges that China had shipped over $12 million worth of drones and drone parts to Russia as of March, according to an analysis of Russian customs data. It remains unclear whether these alleged shipments were used on the battlefield.
China's Foreign Ministry rebuked the report on Friday, maintaining that Beijing's relationship with Moscow does not target any third party. The Commerce Ministry also previously refuted claims that China's drone exports to Russia were aiding the latter's military activities in Ukraine, labeling such reports as "deliberate smears."
The new restrictions are designed to prevent certain drones from being used for "non-peaceful purposes," according to the ministry spokesperson. They also revealed that some Chinese civilian drone companies had voluntarily suspended operations in conflict areas following the start of the Ukraine crisis.
The move comes amidst warnings from Western officials against China providing material support for Russia's war. Although Beijing professes neutrality in the conflict, its diplomatic and economic support for Moscow continues unabated.
The announcement of these measures does not specifically target any country, China stated. This comes after the United States imposed broad controls last year prohibiting Chinese companies from purchasing advanced chips and chip-making equipment without a license. In retaliation, China introduced export controls on two essential semiconductor manufacturing elements last month.
DJI, a prominent drone company, was added to the US investment blacklist in 2021 amid allegations that it facilitated human rights abuses against China’s Uighur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang. DJI responded to Monday's announcement by declaring that it does not design or market equipment for military purposes and pledged to actively cooperate with the new export control policy.