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Sunday, April 14, 2024

China Curbs Exports of Drone Equipment Amid US Tech Tension

China’s commerce ministry on Monday announced export controls on some drones and drone-related equipment, saying it wanted to safeguard “national security and interests” amid escalating tension with the United States over access to technology. The ministry said that the restrictions on equipment, including some drone engines, lasers, communication equipment, and anti-drone systems, would take effect on Sept. 1. It also warned that no civilian drone could be exported for military purposes.

US officials have been pushing for tighter controls on drones because of concerns they might be used to spy on or hurt people. The Trump administration has added seven Chinese companies to its list of entities and individuals prohibited from buying US technology, citing the country’s efforts to modernize the People’s Liberation Army. The Commerce Department has also warned that it will punish Beijing if it continues to block US firms from selling drones in the Chinese market.

While the US still dominates the drone industry, China has rapidly gained ground. Its drone makers have accounted for a large percentage of the drones sold in the United States, with the top maker, DJI Technology Co., controlling around 70 percent of the global market.

Xinhua, the state news agency, reported that the new rules would help protect national security out of fear that uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) could end up in the hands of terrorist groups or other bad actors. But it needs to be clarified that the rules will do much to limit drones from reaching the wrong hands or even to prevent UAVs made in China from being used for espionage.

A recent study found that nearly half of the drones surveyed could record audio or video. The proliferation of inexpensive drones has led to a rise in privacy concerns. For example, a recent lawsuit alleges Pizza Hut improperly used a drone to track customers’ movements. The new export controls will continue the flow of drones from China. Still, they will require those shipped abroad to register the technical specifications and disclose the device’s intended use.

The move comes just a few weeks after Pakistan claimed to shoot down a suspected spy drone from India that was reportedly Chinese-made. The restrictions will affect drones with a wingspan of up to several meters, and domestic drone makers will have to apply for approval for equipment exports.

The boss of French drone maker Parrot expects China to block his company as it did to rival Chinese firm DJI. Henri Seydoux told CNBC that he believes it will happen as the government looks to control the use of drones for military purposes.

Despite the risks, drones are becoming increasingly crucial for business and security. They can deliver goods to hard-to-reach areas, assist law enforcement and fire departments in fighting wildfires, monitor coastlines for incoming storms, and even aid in medical care. For that reason, they likely continue to be in high demand worldwide.

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