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China curbs exports of drone equipment amid U.S. tech tension

FILE PHOTO: A drone is seen in the sky as Chinese drone maker DJI holds a demonstration to display an app that tracks a drone's registration and owner in Montreal

BEIJING (Reuters) -China on Monday announced export controls on some drones and drone-related equipment, saying it wanted to safeguard "national security and interests" amid escalating tension with the United States over access to technology.

The restrictions on equipment, including some drone engines, lasers, communication equipment and anti-drone systems, will take effect on Sept. 1, the commerce ministry said.

The controls also affect some consumer drones, and no civilian drones can be exported for military purposes, a ministry spokesperson said in a statement.

"China's modest expansion of the scope of its drone control this time is an important measure to demonstrate our stance as a responsible major country, to implement global security initiatives, and maintain world peace," the unidentified spokesperson said.

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Authorities had notified relevant countries and regions, the spokesperson said.

China has a large drone manufacturing industry and exports to several markets, including the United States.

The Department of Defense and Commerce Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Congress in 2019 banned the Pentagon from buying or using drones and components manufactured in China.

U.S. lawmakers have said that more than 50% of drones sold in the U.S. are made by Chinese-based company DJI, and they are the most popular drone used by public safety agencies.

DJI said on Monday it always strictly complied with and enforced laws and regulations of the countries or regions in which it operates, including China's export control regulatory requirements.

"We have never designed and manufactured products and equipment for military use, nor have we ever marketed or sold our products for use in military conflicts or wars in any country," the drone maker added.

A German retailer in March 2022 accused DJI of leaking data on Ukrainian military positions to Russia, which the company rejected as "utterly false".

China's commerce ministry said in April this year that U.S. and Western media were spreading "unfounded accusations" that it was exporting drones to the battlefield in Ukraine, adding the reports were an attempt to "smear" Chinese firms and it would continue to strengthen export controls on drones.

The drone export curbs come after China announced export controls on some metals widely used in chipmaking last month, following moves by the United States to restrict China's access to key technologies, such as chipmaking equipment.

(Reporting by Beijing newsroom Editing by Mark Potter and Gerry Doyle)