Four of China’s ministries and ministry-level state agencies yesterday imposed a set of restrictions on the export of Chinese-made drones, in an apparent bid to deflect Western criticisms over the spread of its drones being used in armed conflicts.
China’s Ministry of Commerce announced the curbs together with General Administration of Customs, State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry, and Ministry of National Defense.
According to a joint statement, in accordance with China’s export, trade and customs laws and in a bid to protect national security and interests, the ministries decided to place temporary restrictions on certain types of UAVs.
The curbs, effective starting September 1, will be in place for no more than two years, said the Ministry of Commerce.
During a press conference held yesterday, a spokesperson with the ministry told reporters that high-performance drones have military attributes, and the slapping of export controls on them is in line with international norms.
Since 2002, China has steadily adopted export controls over drones, with the scope and technical requirements aligned with international standards, said the ministry.
The temporary controls apply to certain types of UAVs manufactured in China. Those with a maximum endurance of 30 minutes of more and a maximum takeoff mass (MTOM) of 7 kg or a net weight of 4 kg will need to secure approval to be exported.
What’s more, UAVs with projectiles or mounts for projectiles, hyperspectral camera or multispectral camera that supports wave bands of 560 nm, 650 nm, 730 nm and 860 nm are also included in the restrictions.
In addition, UAVs equipped with infrared cameras featuring a Noise Equivalent Temperature Difference (NETD) of less than 40 mK are also subject to the controls.
The ministries also set forward other requirements domestic drone suppliers have to meet in order to ship their goods abroad.
Notably, the joint announcement also makes a mention of unmanned airship as part of the stricter scrutiny over UAV exports.
This fueled speculation about whether China is attempting to pre-empt controversy it as a so-called spy balloon from China drifted into US airspace early this year and led to a fierce diplomatic row between the two nations.
During the implementation of the controls, UAV exports will be prohibited if exporters know or should know that their drones will be used to help spread weapons of mass destruction, conduct terrorist activities or satisfy military purposes.
However, the ministries didn’t spell out what penalties would apply if the exporters were found to be violating the controls.
China has been accused of being complicit in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which began February last year, as the two sides used drones, some supposedly made in China, to launch strikes against military and civilian targets in both countries, resulting in fatalities and injuries.
Relevant countries and regions had been briefed earlier about the new export controls, the Ministry of Commerce spokesperson said yesterday, without being named in Chinese media reports.
Pundits said these claims were alluding to Russia, China’s long-time non-official ally and a big buyer of Chinese-made drones.
In recent years, as drone technologies develop rapidly, with wider application scenarios, the risks for some high-grade and high-performance civilian drones to be weaponized are becoming higher and higher, said the spokesperson.
Against this backdrop, China, as a major producer and exporter of drones, has chosen to expand the controls over drones on the basis of a comprehensive assessment and review, the spokesperson said, adding the curbs are not directed at any particular country or region.