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Chinese drone giant DJI calls off business in Russia as it ‘reassesses requirements’

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The Shenzhen-based firm has announced it is temporarily halting operations in Russia and Ukraine, in a rare example of a Chinese firm suspending business in response to the war in Ukraine. The company said on Wednesday it would suspend its business in the two countries while “internally reassessing compliance requirements in various jurisdictions”.

DJI, which was founded in Hong Kong in 2006, added it was “engaging with customers, partners and other stakeholders regarding the temporary suspension,” according to a company statement.

Adam Lisberg, DJI’s director of corporate communications for North America, told Al Jazeera the company had taken the action “not to make a statement about any country, but to make a statement about our principles”.

Mr Lisberg said: “DJI abhors any use of our drones to cause harm, and we are temporarily suspending sales in these countries in order to help ensure no one uses our drones in combat.”

DJI’s announcement comes after the company last month denied claims it had been leaking Ukrainian military information to Russia, saying that a German retailer that pulled its products from the shelves had been “subject to what appeared to be a coordinated campaign making false allegations”.

Few Chinese tech companies have publicly announced a suspension of business with Russia, partly because Beijing opposes sanctions against Moscow.

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies Co, already under US 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.

However, Huawei has not confirmed the report.

At a press conference last month, the then rotating chairman of Huawei, Guo Ping, said the company was assessing its policies in different markets.

Last week, DJI reiterated that its products were intended for purely civilian use, saying its partners agree not to sell its products to “customers who clearly plan to use them for military purposes, or help modify our products for military use”.

The company said in a statement: “We will never accept any use of our products to cause harm, and we will continue striving to improve the world with our work.”

Ukraine’s military has used DJI drones extensively for reconnaissance during the conflict, while battlefield pictures and footage suggest Russia has also deployed drones manufactured by the company.

In early March, Ukraine’s Vice-Prime Minister Mykhailo Federov said that Russian troops were “using DJI products to navigate their missiles”, to which DJI responded by saying it cannot deactivate individual drones.

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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.

Charles Rollet, an analyst at surveillance research group IPVM told Al Jazeera that DJI’s move likely reflects the consumer pressure the firm has faced in Europe over claims it has been assisting Moscow’s war effort.

Mr Rollet said: “DJI is a Chinese state-backed company but it wants to be seen as a neutral global manufacturer, so the Russian invasion has brought unprecedented scrutiny against it and I think DJI is incredibly concerned about being perceived as an agent of Beijing.

“But they’re also doing this without concretely supporting Ukraine either.

“So in that way, they are in line with the Chinese government’s stance as well.

“And if you look at their statement, it’s very terse. It used the word ‘hostilities’ rather than war or invasion.”

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