Chinese drone maker's US move

A DJI drone on display at the Consumer Electronics Show, Ces Asia 2019, in Shanghai earlier this month. DJI, a privately-held Chinese firm says it is repurposing a warehouse in California to assemble a new version of a drone popular among US governme
A DJI drone on display at the Consumer Electronics Show, Ces Asia 2019, in Shanghai earlier this month. DJI, a privately-held Chinese firm says it is repurposing a warehouse in California to assemble a new version of a drone popular among US government agencies. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • Chinese drone company DJI is facing mounting security concerns within the Trump administration that its flying machines could send sensitive surveillance data back to China. Now, it is trying to build some products in the United States.

The privately-held, Shenzhen-based firm on Monday said it would repurpose a warehouse in California to assemble a new version of a drone popular among US government agencies. The move will represent a small percentage of DJI's overall global production, but it could help it meet some necessary federal requirements.

DJI will also build some drones with a newly available set of features: Data collected by the drone will be saved only on the machine, and the information can be taken off the drone only after it lands. The drone cannot transfer any of the information wirelessly online.

DJI hopes the latest moves will be enough for it to continue to sell its products in the US. About 70 per cent of all drones in the country are supplied by DJI. The firm makes small drones for hobbyists as well as higher-end industrial grade drones used to survey remote areas and forest fires, among other uses.

The announcement comes as President Donald Trump prepares to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping this week for trade talks that have put Chinese and US tech firms in the crosshairs of a prolonged battle over trade and a race for technology leadership.

DJI is the latest Chinese tech firm scrambling to retain its ability to sell to the US. Since late 2017, it has become the focus of US government scrutiny after Customs officials raised concerns that the drones could be used to collect sensitive data for China.

DJI executives have rejected the claims, with Mr Mario Rebello, vice-president of DJI's North American operations, saying: "We are getting caught up in geopolitical issues of the day."

 

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2019, with the headline 'Chinese drone maker's US move'. Print Edition | Subscribe