Chinese high-flying drone giant DJI in the crosshairs of the United States

Chinese drone maker DJI is by far the most high-profile company targeted in a new round of US economic sanctions against companies over China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority.

Below are key facts about Shenzhen DJI Sciences and Technologies Ltd which is better known around the world to drone users simply as DJI.

The company’s history traces the birth of DJI in the college dormitory of Wang Tao, also known as Frank Wang, then a student at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in the early 2000s.

Wang, a native of eastern China who rarely speaks to the media, is now around 40 years old.

Read also | US hits China with new trade restrictions, sanctions on Uyghur rights

He is said to have manufactured his first prototype components in his dormitory before founding DJI in 2006 in Shenzhen, the southern Chinese city near Hong Kong often cited as “China’s Silicon Valley” due to the prevalence of high-tech companies. .

DJI grew rapidly from 2010 and became the world’s largest manufacturer of consumer drones by 2015, also capturing a large global share of high-end unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Its drones have been praised around the world for their rapid innovations that have contributed to the global explosion in the use of drones for everything from aerial photography and filmmaking to dusting crops, search and rescue operations and public safety applications.

DJI is now the undisputed king of drones in the world, with around 70-80% of the global market in 2020, according to various industry trackers, and estimated annual revenues of around $ 3 billion.

Forbes magazine estimated Wang’s net worth last year at $ 4.8 billion, while Hurun, the corporate wealth ranking company, said the company was worth $ 15 billion in 2020.

DJI’s success seemed destined to anger the United States, which is increasingly concerned about potential security threats posed by Chinese tech companies.

Millions of American hobbyists use DJI drones, as do various US government agencies for tasks ranging from monitoring electrical installations to counting wildlife and military use.

This has raised the specter of a Chinese company capturing oceans of potentially sensitive US images and data.

These concerns intensified after Beijing passed a law in 2017 that requires Chinese companies to report information they compile to state security organs, including data collected abroad.

A number of independent tech research companies have analyzed DJI’s software in recent years, several of which claim to have found suspected security vulnerabilities.

DJI has repeatedly denied any malicious intent and responded with various updates and fixes.

Pressure on DJI increased after the 2016 election of former US President Donald Trump, which intensified business and technology competition with China, and as international concern mounted over the alleged Uighur crackdown by Beijing.

The Pentagon banned the military use of DJI drones in 2017, with other agencies taking similar action, and the Department of Homeland Security formally warned of a security risk from Chinese drones two years later.

In December 2020, the Trump administration restricted US technology exports to dozens of Chinese companies, including DJI, because of their alleged ties to the Chinese military and security apparatus.

DJI was among the companies that the United States accused of allowing “large-scale human rights violations in China” through the collection of data and the export of technology to “regimes. repressive ”.

DJI responded at the time by saying that it had “done nothing to justify” such accusations.

Thursday’s U.S. announcement criminalizes investments and contacts with DJI and other sanctioned companies, and the case of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei shows that such measures are having a real impact.

Alleging close ties between Huawei and the Chinese government, Washington has identified the world’s largest supplier of telecommunications network equipment as a potential Chinese espionage threat.

Under Trump, Huawei did not have the right to acquire crucial American technology like microchips and was no longer allowed to use Google’s Android operating system in its smartphones.

U.S. allies have also been forced to ban or tear Huawei equipment from their telecommunications systems.

As a result, Huawei’s smartphone sales and overall revenue fell, forcing it to quickly turn to new lines of business, including software, business computing, and smart vehicle technology.

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