China's Top Drone Manufacturer Sells Tech to Iran, Watchdog Says

China's Da-Jiang Innovations Science & Technology Co. could be subject to U.S. sanctions for supplying Iran's drone procurement network

A Chinese drone in 2015 / Getty Images
March 31, 2023

China's top drone manufacturer is selling technology and components to Iran, suggesting the Chinese Communist Party is more active in Tehran's drone production than previously known, according to a watchdog group.

China's Da-Jiang Innovations Science & Technology Co. (DJI)—a global leader in drone technology with a large presence in America—has been marketing its equipment in Iran, according to evidence collected by United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI), a research and advocacy organization.

UANI researchers discovered "multiple and explicit examples of DJI products being sold in Iran," according to a March 28 letter sent from the watchdog group to DJI's North American office in Los Angeles. These examples include at least three Farsi-language websites branded with DJI's logo and selling drone equipment that appears to be produced by the Chinese company. Each of the websites remains active at the time of this writing. The sites include DJI Tehran, Pro-DJI, and DJI Land—all of which appear targeted at an Iranian audience.

This evidence could subject DJI to U.S. sanctions as the State Department ramps up efforts to crack down on Iran's drone procurement networks in light of the country's support for Russia's war in Ukraine. DJI is already sanctioned by the United States for helping China's Communist government surveil the embattled Uyghur community. DJI's presence in the Iranian marketplace could in part explain why Chinese-made parts have been discovered in Iranian military drones used in Yemen and Ukraine. DJI drones are being used by Russia, even after the company claimed to have halted sales in April of last year.

Daniel Roth, UANI's research director, said the Biden administration's lax enforcement of sanctions during the past several years has encouraged Chinese companies like DJI to market products in Iran. The State Department has only moved to crack down on these networks in recent months, primarily due to Iran's involvement in the Ukraine war.

"China has no reason to fear any consequence for funding and equipping the Iranian regime," Roth said. "For more than two years, Washington has sat on its hands while Beijing sends Iran billions for discounted oil and allows companies to sell the regime surveillance and drone technology."

DJI denies that it is selling products in Iran, telling the Washington Free Beacon that it does not operate in sanctioned countries. "DJI and its dealers abide by a robust compliance policy which strictly prohibits the sale of our products to sanctioned countries," the spokesman said.

DJI also provided the Free Beacon with a March 2022 letter to UANI, which claims the company's investigators determined that at least one of the Iranian sites flagged by the watchdog group does not "have genuine business related to DJI products."

UANI first raised concerns to DJI about that site, Bal Golstar Negah Aseman Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, in February 2022.

Bal Golstar advertises a large number of DJI drones on its website and has extensive ties to Tehran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which relies heavily on drones for strikes across the Middle East, according to the watchdog.

DJI denied any links to Bal Golstar, saying that "there is no proof that this website and the underlying firm have any business relationship with" the company—but it has not addressed the three Iranian sites flagged this week by UANI.

When asked about DJI's denial, UANI's Roth said it "seems dubious at best, given that the site flagged in 2022 still extensively features DJI products, more than one year later."

"Ultimately," Roth said, "how 'robust' and 'strict' can a compliance policy really be if products are seemingly readily available in sanctioned countries, even after being flagged by a third party?"

"Given DJI's position as the number-one supplier of drones in the U.S. market, including a retail presence at more than 100 stores and resellers throughout the country, we must restate that doing business of any kind in Iran is simply not acceptable," UANI wrote in its latest correspondence with DJI.

Two other Chinese companies—CUAB Tech Inc. Ltd. and Beijing MicroPilot UAV Flight Control Systems—also "have sold Iran components for its military drones program," according to UANI.

A State Department spokesman would not preview any potential sanctions on Iranian procurement networks, but he told the Free Beacon that U.S. officials are "closely watching and regularly taking actions against actors supporting Iran's production of UAVs and their transfer to Russia for use in Russia's unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine."

The Biden administration, the spokesman said, "will continue to use every tool at our disposal to disrupt Iran's efforts to supply Russia with drones for use in Ukraine, and will work with allies and partners to hold Iran accountable for its actions."

Since January, the State Department has authorized several new sanctions on Iranian drone networks, including more than 10 tied to China. A March designation, for instance, was issued on a Chinese national and four other entities for "sale and shipment of components to the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company (HESA), which was itself sanctioned in 2008," according to information from the State Department provided to the Free Beacon.