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An employee shows the Mavic Pro 2 drone in a DJI store in Shanghai on May 22, 2019. Photo: Agence France-Presse

Chinese drone maker DJI suspends operations in Russia, Ukraine amid controversy over use of its products in battle

  • Few Chinese tech companies have publicly announced a suspension of business with Russia, partly because Beijing opposes sanctions against Moscow
  • A DJI spokesman was quoted as saying the suspension was ‘not to make a statement about any country, but to make a statement about our principles’

Chinese drone maker DJI Technology Co said it will temporarily suspend all business activities in Russia and Ukraine, becoming the first Chinese technology company to halt Russian business activities since the Ukraine war began in late February.

The Shenzhen-based company said in a short statement on its website on Tuesday that the decision was made after an internal assessment of “compliance requirements in various jurisdictions”.

The world’s leading drone manufacturer has found itself under intense scrutiny after accusations emerged that its products were being used by the Russian military in Ukraine. DJI issued a statement a week earlier that its products were designed to “improve people’s lives” and “for civilian use” only.

Ukraine calls on Chinese drone maker to stop use by Russia

Few Chinese tech companies have publicly announced a suspension of business with Russia, partly because the Chinese government holds an official stance that opposes sanctions against Moscow.

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

“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,” Denisov said. “This line of behaviour may be followed by other Chinese companies that sell dual-use equipment.”

Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co, already under US trade sanctions, is preparing a retreat from Russia by furloughing some local employees and suspending new contracts with operators, according to a report by Forbes Russia. Huawei has not confirmed the report. At a press conference last month, then-rotating chairman of Huawei, Guo Ping, said the company was assessing its policies in different markets.
Unlike their Western counterparts, Chinese firms have largely remained quiet over questions about their Russian operations. A few days after Russia launched the invasion, Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Global back-pedalled an earlier decision to cease operations in the country.

A DJI spokesman was quoted by Reuters as saying 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”.

DJI did not immediately reply to requests for further comment.

In early March, Ukraine’s Vice-Prime Minister Mykhailo Federov said Russian troops were “using DJI products to navigate their missiles”, to which the Chinese company responded by saying it cannot deactivate individual drones. In late March, DJI denied accusations it was aiding Russian forces after MediaMarkt, Europe’s largest retailer for consumer electronics, pulled the companies’ products from its shelves.

In last week’s statement, DJI said it “does not market or sell our products for military use” and “has unequivocally opposed attempts to attach weapons to our products”.

It is not the first time DJI has faced political turmoil. Once dominant in the global civilian drone market with a 70 per cent market share, its slice of the pie decreased to 54 per cent in 2021, according to DroneAnalyst, partially due to US sanctions for alleged involvement in the surveillance of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.