US grounds Chinese-made drones, China calls it ‘abusive and discriminatory’
US Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt ordered the grounding of department’s entire fleet of 800 drones over a claim that their Chinese origins may pose a threat to national security. The US Department of the Interior announced that it will review the potential security risks posed by drones produced in China or incorporating Chinese parts. An exception will be made for emergency situations or when lives are under threat.
Beijing said the move is abusive and discriminatory.
Beijing criticized the decision, saying Washington should “stop abusing the concept of national security” to introduce anti-Chinese discriminatory practices. The US has been using the same approach to push Chinese manufacturers out of various markets, most notably the market for 5G mobile networks equipment.
Washington claims Chinese-made electronic producers can be pressured by the government to secretly spy on their clients. No definitive evidence that it was actually happening has been made public so far, and even some of the US’ closest allies, like Germany, refused to ban China from its infrastructure upgrades.
The Interior Department’s fleet of over 800 drones is the largest among civilian federal agencies in the US. The unmanned aircraft are used to monitor natural disasters and search for people in need of rescue, among other things. The missions saved more than $14 million in taxpayers’ money in 2018, according to the department’s estimate.
The decision was taken a month after a bipartisan group of US lawmakers introduced a bill that seeks to bar federal agencies from buying drones made by China or any other nation deemed a national security risk. Earlier this year, the Pentagon was banned from purchasing Chinese-made drones, a move that tightened already-existing restrictions for using off-the-shelf drones for military use.