China imposes export controls on certain UAVs to safeguard national security, interests; curbs to take effect on September 1
Published: Jul 31, 2023 05:18 PM


Chinese authorities on Monday issued two notices to implement export controls on certain unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and related items to safeguard national security and interests, which will take effect on September 1. Some Chinese experts considered the latest controls as China's action as a responsible major country, and the export control is conducive to the regional security, especially when the drones for civilian use are increasingly converted for military purpose. 

High-performance drones have certain military attributes, and it is an international norm to implement export controls on them. Since 2002, China has gradually implemented export controls on drones, with the scope of control and technical standards in line with international practices, a spokesperson from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) said on Monday commenting on the latest export restrictions. 

In recent years, drone technology has rapidly evolved, and its application scenarios expanded. The risk of high-grade, high-performance civilian drones being repurposed for military use has increased, the spokesperson said. As a major producer and exporter of drones, China, based on comprehensive assessments, has decided to moderately expand export controls on drones. This is not targeted at any specific country or region, the spokesperson said.

The certain UAVs to be under export control include unmanned aircraft or unmanned airship-related items which are capable of controlled flight beyond the operator's visual line of sight, with a maximum endurance of 30 minutes or more, and a maximum take-off weight of over 7 kilograms or an empty weight of over 4 kilograms, as well as with certain features, said one notice issued by China's Ministry of Commerce, General Administration of Customs, State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense and the Equipment Development Department of China's Central Military Commission.

The period of temporary export control on certain UAVs shall not exceed two years, according to the notice.

During the period, if an exporter knows or should know that the export will be used for proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorist activities or military purposes, all the relevant UAVs, whose indicators do not meet the existing control standards, won't be allowed to be exported, according to the notice.

In the other notice issued on the same day, certain export restrict requirements are listed for UAV-related items.

It's the first time that China has explicitly imposed export controls on anti-drone systems, according to media. The systems can be used to disrupt and destroy the operating function or flight capability of UAVs through technical measures. However, if the anti-drone systems are used improperly, it may also lead to serious consequences, including affecting civilian aviation safety and increasing the risk of military conflict, noted experts.

By managing different drone products, especially in line with the different types of products with export permit required, the latest restriction showed that "China holds a responsible attitude" as a major country in drone export, since if unrestricted, some drones could end up in the hands of terrorists, posing threats to other countries and regions, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Monday. 

"China has its own standards for weapons and equipment export curbs, including missiles, drones, and other objects. We strengthen the permit control over these drone exports in order to act as a responsible country, ensuring that drones aren't transferred to end users who should not possess them," Song said. 

Especially now as some drones converted from civilian to military use have become increasingly frequent on the Russia-Ukraine battlefield. "As a responsible major country, it's necessary for China to tighten its regulations," Song noted.

Export controls on certain UAVs are "not a ban on exports." As long as they are used for lawful civilian purposes, they can be exported normally after going through the relevant procedures, so it will not have a huge impact on the civilian UAV industry, Wang Yanan, an aviation expert from Beihang University and chief editor of Aerospace Knowledge, told the Global Times on Monday.

The export control is focused on the civil UAVs which could be possible used as military purposes so that the tech indicators include infrared imaging equipment, UAVs' power, to prevent those UAVs with large and more accurate tech indicators to be used as other purposes, according to Wang.

In response to the newly introduced export control on certain drone items, Chinese drone maker DJI told Global Times on Monday that as a global company, DJI always maintains a strict and responsible attitude in the field of export control. DJI has always strictly complied with and implemented the export control laws and regulations applicable in China and other countries or regions where our business is located, the company said.

If an operator exports without permission, beyond the scope of the license or commits other illegal acts, the relevant departments shall impose administrative penalties in accordance with the provisions of relevant laws and regulations. If the case constitutes a crime, criminal responsibility shall be investigated based on the law, according to the notice.