China escalated its regulations on drone exports Monday when the Chinese Ministry of Commerce announced a new policy aimed at controlling the export of specific drone components and technologies. The policy will officially take effect on September 1, 2023.
The new regulations will target the export of specific drone engines, payloads, radio communication devices and civilian anti-drone systems. Moreover, certain consumer-grade drones will now be subject to a temporary two-year export control. Notably, the regulations strictly prohibit the use of all civilian drones not listed in the control measures for military purposes.
These measures represent China’s stance on preserving global stability and peace. A Ministry of Commerce spokesperson stressed that the expanded drone control measures are a manifestation of China’s role as a responsible global power and reiterated China’s opposition to the use of civilian drones for military objectives.
The implementation of these controls follows previous US restrictions in the drone technology sector. In December 2020, DJI, one of the world’s leading drone manufacturers, was added to the US Department of Commerce’s Entity List over allegations of “involvement in human rights abuses in China and of aiding repressive regimes globally.” In 2021, then-US President Donald Trump issued an executive order to evaluate the security risks related to drones manufactured by “foreign adversaries.” The order specifically identified countries like Iran, North Korea, Russia and China and was aimed at addressing the potential data leakage threat devices from these countries might pose. The executive order further mandated federal agencies to consider halting procurements, renewing contracts and providing grants that might involve the usage of drones with critical components manufactured in these countries.
The tightening of drone export controls by China underscores growing geopolitical and security tensions on the global stage. This comes against a backdrop of allegations made by a New York Times report that, according to official Russian customs data from a third-party data provider, China has sold more than $12 million in drones and drone parts to Russia in the year following its invasion of Ukraine.
These accusations have sparked ongoing debates on the potential misuse of drone technology and the need for international regulatory standards. In response, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce spokesperson dismissed the allegations of China providing military support via drone exports as unfounded rumors perpetuated by certain Western media outlets and US officials. The Ministry highlighted that, since 2002, China has been implementing strict export controls over drones, with control scopes and technical standards aligned with international practices. According to China’s laws, all drone exports that meet regulatory standards must acquire permits to prevent usage for non-peaceful purposes.