DJI asserts drones’ civilian use after Russian official calls them ‘symbol of modern warfare’

Jiaxing Li, South China Morning Post

Posted at Aug 15 2022 10:55 PM

Russia’s embassy in China deletes post praising DJI’s drones for bringing 'real revolution’ to artillery weapons

A DJI FPV drone is seen on display on the DJI trade fair stand during a media day of the Auto Shanghai 2021 motor show in Shanghai, China, on April 19, 2021. EPA-EFE/Alex Plavevski
A DJI FPV drone is seen on display on the DJI trade fair stand during a media day of the Auto Shanghai 2021 motor show in Shanghai, China, on April 19, 2021. EPA-EFE/Alex Plavevski

Shenzhen-based DJI Technology Co, the world’s largest maker of consumer drones, has rebuffed a social media post by Russia’s embassy in China that heaped praise on the alleged use of its products in modern warfare, months after the company denied accusations that its devices were deployed in military operations in Ukraine.

“All DJI products are designed for civilian purposes and cannot meet the requirements of military specifications,” DJI said in a statement posted on microblogging service Weibo on Saturday. “We do not support applications for military purposes.”

The response was triggered by the Russian embassy’s post on Weibo on Friday that cited a report from state media Sputnik about a new book by Army General Yuri Baluyevsky, the former Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. In his book, Baluyevsky said Chinese commercial drones have brought “a real revolution” to traditional artillery weapons.

When drones hover over a target area to guide the artillery, its pinpoint accuracy and efficiency are comparable to precision-guided missiles, according to the Russian embassy’s Weibo post quoting Baluyevsky. “The Mavic quadcopter drone made by China’s DJI has become a true symbol of modern warfare,” he said.

That post has been deleted by the Russian embassy, which did not reply to a request for comment on Monday.

Before it was removed, the post was swamped with condemnations from Chinese internet users, many of whom indicated that there was a malicious intent behind its publication.

“What do you want by saying this? Western countries to block DJI? Or more sanctions on China?,” one of the most liked comments on Weibo said.

The embassy’s post has put further pressure on US-sanctioned DJI, which suspended all its business activities in Russia and Ukraine in April after accusations emerged in March that its drones were being used in the war in Ukraine by Russian military forces.

That decision was made after an internal assessment of “compliance requirements in various jurisdictions”, DJI said in a statement in April to explain the suspension of operations in the two countries.

In early March, Ukrainian Vice-Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov posted an appeal to DJI on Twitter to deactivate drones in Ukraine that were bought and activated in Russia, Syria or Lebanon: “Block your products that are helping Russia to kill the Ukrainians!”

Once dominant in the global civilian drone market with a 70 per cent market share, DJI’s slice of that pie decreased to 54 per cent in 2021, according to industry research firm DroneAnalyst, partially because of US sanctions.

DJI was added to the US government’s trade blacklist in December last year for alleged involvement in the surveillance of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

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