Chinese drone manufacturer DJI suspends operations in Russia

DJI's suspension comes as a surprising change in the Chinese approach to the conflict, marking the first time any major Chinese company has taken action against Russia.

 A drone operator flies his drone as Chinese drone maker DJI holds a demonstration to display an app that tracks a drone's registration and owner in Montreal (photo credit: REUTERS)
A drone operator flies his drone as Chinese drone maker DJI holds a demonstration to display an app that tracks a drone's registration and owner in Montreal
(photo credit: REUTERS)

World-leading Chinese drone maker, DJI Technology Co, said on Tuesday that it will temporarily suspend all business operations in both Russia and Ukraine, becoming the first Chinese technology firm to suspend business activities with Russia in relation to the Ukraine-Russia war.

"DJI will temporarily suspend all business activities in Russia and Ukraine. We are engaging with customers, partners and other stakeholders regarding the temporary suspension of business operations in the affected territories," the company stated on their website.

While China has mostly remained relatively neutral regarding the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, it has stated several times that it opposes the sanctions imposed on Russia, and has even boasted about strong economic ties with the country.

DJI's suspension, particularly with Russia, comes as a surprising change in the Chinese approach to the conflict, marking the first time any major Chinese company has taken action against Russia on account of their invasion of Ukraine.

“The decision was prompted by the possible shutdown of [DJI] sales as a result of secondary sanctions by other markets, primarily EU countries,” Igor Denisov, a senior research fellow at the Institute for International Studies at Russia’s MGIMO University told the South China Morning Post.

“Apparently, it is not meant as a complete and final withdrawal from the Russian and Ukrainian markets, but a temporary suspension of business during the hot phase of the conflict. This line of behavior may be followed by other Chinese companies that sell dual-use equipment,” Denisov said.

"The suspension of business in Russia and Ukraine was not to make a statement about any country, but to make a statement about our principles,” A DJI spokesperson was quoted saying by Reuters.

A week before, DJI found itself scrutinized after claims have been made that its drones were being used by the Russian military in Ukraine. The company issued a statement that its products were designed to “improve people’s lives” and “for civilian use” only, stating the products themselves were not suited for military use.

“DJI does not market or sell our products for military use” and “has unequivocally opposed attempts to attach weapons to our products,” a DJI spokesperson said in a statement.

A DJI representative said last month that they were aware of footage circulating online that suggested the Russian military was using its drones. DJI stated they have not been able to confirm this and the company had no control over the use of its products.

Ukraine’s Vice-Prime Minister Mykhailo Federov claimed that Russian troops were “using DJI products to navigate their missiles” in early March,  DJI responded by claiming it cannot deactivate individual drones nor control the use of their products.

In late March, DJI again denied accusations it was aiding Russian military forces after MediaMarkt, Europe’s largest consumer electronics retailer, pulled the companies’ products from its shelves across the EU.

This isn't DJI's first rodeo with political turmoil, Once the company dominated the civilian drone market with an impressive 70 percent market share, a number that has since fallen to 54 percent as of 2021. This drop is partially due to US sanctions for their involvement in the surveillance of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, according to a report by DroneAnalyst.

In 2021, A member of the US Federal Communications Commission said that the agency should impose restrictions on Chinese drone maker DJI Technology, stating it may pose serious national security risks, describing DJI, the world’s largest drone maker, as “Huawei on wings”.

“They are collecting vast troves of sensitive data on Americans and US critical infrastructure, including high-risk images, facial recognition technology, and remote sensors that can measure an individual’s body temperature and heart rate,” said Carr, a Republican commissioner.