National Security & Defense

Indiana Rep. Criticizes Chamber of Commerce Approval of Chinese-Made Drones

A volunteer in protective suits controls a drone to spray disinfectants at Zhengwan village, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the coronavirus, China January 31, 2020. (China Daily/Reuters)

Representative Jim Banks (R., Ind.) criticized the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in an open letter on Monday for the lobbying group’s opposition to country-of-origin restrictions on drone manufacturing.

A Chinese company suspected of spying on U.S. citizens donated drones to police departments across the country in April, and the drones were used to enforce social distancing measures despite the apparent national security risk. The U.S. Air Force purchased dozens of drones in September from the same company, Da-Jiang Innovations, to use for testing and training purposes, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. (Banks said in a statement to National Review that “this decision shows a serious lack of judgment.”)

The Department of Defense, Department of the Interior, and Justice Department have prohibited purchase or use of DJI drones, which have been implicated in gathering data on U.S. infrastructure. The Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, opposed country-of-origin restrictions on drones in policy recommendations made in October.

“The [COC] report states that country of origin restrictions would harm the United States’ economy and ability to produce drones and provide a ‘false sense of security.'” Banks wrote in his letter. “The fact is that foreign-manufactured drones, and particularly, drones produced by Dà-Jiāng Innovations (DJI)—a behemoth manufacturer with ties to the Chinese Communist Party, pose a present national security threat and require an immediate executive and/or legislative response. Denying that fact places temporary convenience ahead of America’s national security.”

In an email to National Review, a Chamber of Commerce spokesperson said, “The Chamber shares the legitimate national security concerns raised by policymakers when it comes to the use of emerging technologies. We look forward to working with policymakers to ensure the safe and secure integration of unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace. ”

Banks was endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a “friend of business” in 2020 and 2018, and was also backed by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce in his first election in 2016. However, in the 2020 elections the powerful lobbying group endorsed a raft of Democrats, bucking traditional support for Republican candidates.

Banks’s letter also comes in the midst of a major crisis in U.S.-China relations, brought on by economic competition and fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Republican China hawks have called for the repatriation of various industrial supply chains, in a shift away from outsourcing production to China.

“Congress does not have to choose between preserving our national security and maintaining a healthy [drone] industry,” Banks concluded. “I was concerned by the Chamber’s hasty dismissal of proven national security risks, and I hope that you properly weigh the seriousness of these risks in any future report.”

Read the full letter here.

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Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.

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