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Chinese drone maker DJI halts Russia and Ukraine operations

Shenzhen-based drone maker DJI has suspended its business in Russia and Ukraine, making it one of the first big Chinese companies to publicly halt Russian operations after President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

Russia’s use of DJI drones had drawn condemnation from Ukrainian officials and direct pleas to the company’s billionaire chief executive to cease its business in the country and prevent drones purchased by Moscow from flying within Ukrainian borders. 

The world’s largest drone maker’s equipment has been used by both sides in the war to peer over front lines and scope out battle positions. But Beijing’s support for Moscow and the close relationship between China’s president Xi Jinping and Putin have put Chinese companies in a difficult position.

Abroad, they face condemnation for supplying Russia and the threat of tougher US sanctions, while at home they must be aligned with the government.

Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing was forced to reopen its Russian operations after facing a homegrown nationalist backlash over its plans to leave the market. Chinese computer giant Lenovo met similar domestic condemnation for exiting Russia. 

DJI said in an English language statement that it would “temporarily suspend all business activities in Russia and Ukraine” pending an internal compliance review. 

The company did not post the statement in Chinese to its website or social media accounts, though DJI’s head of public relations did post a translation to his personal Weibo account.

When a Weibo user asked why DJI wasn’t sharing the statement to its official accounts, DJI’s head of communications Xie Tiandi said: “It’s just a minor internal review and not worth mentioning.”

Prior to suspending operations, DJI had repeatedly said its products were intended for civilian use only and not designed for military purposes.

DJI has previously been added to a US export blacklist and a separate US investment blacklist for its alleged support of the Chinese military and involvement in the surveillance of the Uyghur Muslim minority.

Washington’s actions have not had a significant impact on the company’s business and DJI still sells consumer drones in the US and globally. Last year, the company had cornered more than half the commercial drone market by unit count, according to research from DroneAnalyst.

DJI has raised millions of dollars in investment from big-name venture funds including Sequoia Capital China and Accel, according to Crunchbase, and has thousands of employees at its Shenzhen offices. 

While hundreds of western companies have decided to abandon operations in Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine, relatively few Chinese groups have followed suit. 

Researchers at the Yale School of Management estimated that the vast majority of Chinese companies with operations in Russia continued their business as usual.

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