DJI drones to be made in America. The large manufacturer of Chinese drones, is facing growing security issues within the Trump administration: the preoccupation is that its flying machines could send sensitive surveillance data to China. Now, the company is trying to partner with American officials by building a new product in the United States.
The company, which is privately owned, stated that it will install a warehouse in Cerritos, California, to assemble a new version of a DJI drone that has been popular among federal and local government agencies. Assembly of its flying devices in the United States will account for a small percentage of DJI’s total global production. But it could help the company meet certain federal requirements.
In addition, the new Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual can save the data it collects only on the drone itself and can be removed from the drone only after landing. This means the drone cannot transfer any of the information wirelessly online.
The new production structure and data characteristics of the drones, the company hopes, will be sufficient to allow the sale of the new product in the United States. About 70 percent of all drones in the country are supplied by DJI, according to an estimate. The company produces both small drones for hobbyists and high-end industrial drones used for remote area detection and forest fires, among other uses.
This announcement arrived as President Trump was preparing to meet with President Xi Jinping of China for the trade talks that have put Chinese and American technology companies in the sights of a prolonged and punitive battle over trade and a race for technological leadership.
The main concerns
The White House said that telecommunications giant Huawei and other Chinese technology companies have the ability to spy and steal trade and government secrets, posing a security threat to the United States. These concerns have entered the trade and economic war with China, causing shivers in the global technology sector.
DJI is based in Shenzhen and is the last Chinese tech company fighting to maintain the possibility to sell in the United States.
Huawei was blacklisted for export and the Commerce Department included five more Chinese companies in its “list of entities”, which restricts companies to buying U.S. goods. Entering the list can be a crippling blow for many manufacturers of products such as smartphones and wireless networks because they use global supply chains to collect all the necessary parts.
DJI has not been blacklisted by the government for exports. But since the end of 2017, it has been the focus of government attention. U.S. customs and immigration officials raised concerns that drones, with cameras, mapping technology and infrared scanners could be used to collect sensitive data and send it back to the Chinese government. Last month, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning expressing the same concerns about drones manufactured in China.
DJI executives reject claims that its products pose any threats to security.
“We’re running into the geopolitical problems of the day,” said Mario Rebello, vice president of DJI’s North American operations, in an interview. “There’s a lot of fear and fuss, and a lot of things are not true and misleading.”
Assembling 60% of the new drone in the United States, DJI said it would be able to submit certification that its devices meet the requirements of the Trade Agreement Act. The law requires that government agencies may purchase certain products only if they are manufactured in the United States.
DJI’s compliance with the law should offer its customers greater comfort with the safety and security of the drone, Rebello said. The new drone, intended for emergency responders, filmmakers and industrial inspections, is capable of carrying heavier cameras and other payloads.
The Cerritos plant was previously used by DJI to store drones for distribution. Assembly operations will lead to some highly skilled workers putting drones together, but it is not expected to have a major effect on jobs.
“We’ll be more proactive to make sure we give as much information as we can,” Rebello said. “We plan to invest in America, and now is the right time.” The announcement of DJI drones to be made in America is perfectly in line with this strategy.
Chinese officials have rejected US restrictions on Chinese companies. The Chinese government threatened South Korea’s Microsoft, Dell and Samsung with serious consequences if they cooperated with the recent export ban.
The Chinese government said it is also assembling its own blacklist of “unreliable” companies that would have problems operating in the Chinese market.