US grounding of Chinese drones shows decoupling intention: analyst
Published: Oct 31, 2019 07:58 PM

Photo: VCG

China urged the US to stop cracking down on Chinese firms and ditch its cold-war mindset after the US Department of Interior (DOI) reportedly grounded Chinese-made drones by citing national security reasons.

Geng Shuang, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a regular briefing on Thursday that it hoped that the US could stop citing the general concept of national security and rendering the "China threat theory", while providing a just, fair and non-discriminatory environment for Chinese firms that have business operations in the US.

The DOI is grounding its entire fleet of aerial drones, citing increasing concerns about the national security risk from Chinese manufacturers, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

The department has more than 800 drones, all of which were either made in China or have Chinese parts, said the report, citing a person familiar with the matter. The drones will remain grounded until the DOI completes a review of the security risks they may pose.

The DOI is responsible for evaluating and approving drone technology for use across a wide range of applications.

US government agencies, including the DOI, used to be big purchasers of drones produced by Shenzhen-based drone giant DJI, reports said.

DJI told the Global Times Thursday that it was aware of related reports but had no further information to share.

The US government's random crackdown on Chinese high-technology companies reflects its decoupling intentions as China has grown stronger, but these moves will only damage the global industrial chain and disrupt the normal course of bilateral business, analysts said on Thursday.

From Huawei's 5G technologies to Chinese start-ups' facial recognition, the US has just picked its next target - Chinese drone manufacturers - to brandish its protectionism stick, citing so-called national security issues.

A source close to the matter told the Global Times on condition of anonymity that DJI passed a 15-month first-phase security test by the DOI and had been preparing for the second stage of testing. 

"Everything changed after (US President Donald) Trump appointed a new DOI senior official, and the test team is shocked and anxious," the source said.

In July, DJI received independent validation from the DOI for its high-security solutions for government drone programs, according to a statement on DJI's website.

There is no evidence of data leakage and all the drones operated well during 1,245 tests that took a total of 538 hours.

DJI approached the DOI in 2017 to collaborate on creating and testing drones deemed safe by the US, and the department found no indication that data was being transmitted outside the system after 15 months of testing, reported by the South China Morning Post.

The source added that he believed such a ban was politically motivated rather than a business decision, and he suggested that Chinese drone companies may be targeted because of their leading position. "But politics should never ever get in the way of normal business operations. This is unacceptable." 

He also expressed concern that Washington may come up with more steps to crack down on the Chinese drone industry.

Sun Chenghao, a research fellow at the institute of American Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing, told the Global Times on Thursday that "the US has clearly shown its intention to decouple from China in the high-technology area by continuously picking faults with Chinese companies."

"The US wants to hamper China's pursuit of high technology, even at the cost of sacrificing its own enterprises' interests," said Sun.

However, it is not possible to realize an overall decoupling, Sun added. "US protectionism will only harm global industrial chains and cooperation."

Besides, China is ready to play its countermeasure cards when that is needed, he noted.