China Restricts Drone Exports Due to Concerns of Military Use

China Restricts Drone Exports Due to Concerns of Military Use
China-made Guizhou WZ-7 Soaring Dragon drone (Infinty 0)

The Lede: On Monday, China announced export controls on drones and drone equipment that have military applications as it becomes more widely used in the Russia-Ukraine War and other conflict zones.

What We Know:

  • Under a new Chinese directive, exporters in China will have to apply for permission from the Ministry of Commerce with evidence of the end users and their final use. The export controls are temporary and will remain in effect for up to two years starting in September. The new legal requirement applies to products that enable the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorist activities, or military purposes.
  • Restrictions will apply to drones that can fly beyond the natural sight distance of operators or stay aloft for more than 30 minutes, have attachments that can project objects, and those that weigh over 7 kilograms. Other features that are banned under the export order include radio equipment that exceeds internationally certified civil power limits, devices that can launch or drop weights, hyperspectral, multispectral, or precision infrared cameras, and high-power laser locators.
  • The drone export controls were announced by four Chinese government agencies: the Ministry of Commerce, the State Council, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence, and the Central Military Commission’s Equipment Development Department.

The Background: China is one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of civilian drones, some of which have been used in military conflicts around the world. Both sides in the Russia-Ukraine War have been observed using drones and drone equipment made by Chinese brands.

In March of 2022, a German retailer accused DJI Technology Co. of leaking data on Ukrainian military positions to Russia, which the company denied. The Shenzhen-based DJI, the world’s top drone manufacturer, also makes more than 50% of drones sold in the U.S. and are even used among U.S. public safety agencies. The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report last week alleging that China has shipped more than $12 million in ‘dual-use’ drones and drone parts to Russia since March according to analysis of Russian customs data.

Likely Outcomes:

  • China’s new export curbs on drones and drone equipment may halt the shipment of such products to conflict areas such as Ukraine, but the firms that manufacture them may seek ways to circumvent the measures by shifting supply chains through third countries. They may also alter the designs of future models and related parts to fit the allowable parameters under the new law to continue exporting products into the future.
  • Parties in Ukraine and other conflict areas that continue to seek drones will likely find markets where they can still purchase them. Other countries that produce drones may benefit from the new Chinese export controls with increased orders and demand. There is a possibility that drone developers outside of China such as in Turkey, will develop increasingly sophisticated drones in the future that will impact both military and civilian applications.
  • Chinese drone firms will likely continue to deliver products for civilian purposes to countries that are not in a state of conflict. However, it remains to be seen to what degree the various agencies of the Chinese state that are part of these new measures will be willing to enforce these export restrictions or if they will be selective in their enforcement.


“China’s modest expansion of the scope of its drone control this time is an important measure to demonstrate our stance as a responsible major country, to implement global security initiatives, and maintain world peace.” – spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce

Good Reads:

China imposes curbs on drone exports, citing Ukraine and concern about military use (AP)

China imposes drone export curbs amid US tech tensions (Al Jazeera)

China curbs drone exports over ‘national security concerns’ (CNN)

China expands export controls on drones with military potential (SCMP)