by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The U.S. government at the federal, state, and local levels is using Chinese drones that the Chinese Communist Party is exploiting for espionage. That is the public conclusion of a branch of the Department of Homeland Security. Citing “security concerns,” other departments have all-but-explicitly publicly made the same claims, and some have begun to take steps to limit the purchase of Chinese drones.
Drones made in China and operated by Americans map U.S. infrastructure, agriculture, railroads, government buildings, power plants, disaster-relief operations, and the movements of law-enforcement officers. The data collected in those drone flights are believed to be sent back to China, where there is no divide between civil and military sectors. The Commerce Department’s listing on Friday of one major Chinese drone company on the U.S. entities list makes it difficult for U.S. companies to buy its products and underscores the growing sense of urgency to end their access to the United States. But it is time to go further. The U.S. government at all levels should immediately stop purchasing Chinese drones and end Chinese drone companies’ access to the U.S. commercial market.
The U.S. dependence on Chinese drones and the parts that go into drones is unsustainable. While there are U.S. companies waiting to meet demand if Chinese drones are excluded from the American market, there are still too few of them to meet the U.S. government’s needs, and some American drone companies still rely on cheap Chinese parts. This is one of the arguments against cutting off access to the Chinese drone market. But the risks to national security are too great to move slowly, and so in addition to cutting off access to the Chinese drone market, the U.S. should also expand existing Pentagon efforts to build an American and American-ally drone-manufacturing base that does not rely on Chinese-made parts.