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VOA Asia Weekly: Security Risks of Chinese-Made Drones

VOA Asia Weekly: Security Risks of Chinese-Made Drones
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China-born Australian democracy blogger receives death sentence. Sri Lanka debt restructuring plan expected in first half of 2024. Myanmar border guards flee posts and take shelter in Bangladesh. Taylor Swift fans swarm Tokyo Dome.

Experts warn of the security risks of using Chinese-made drones.

Welcome to VOA Asia Weekly. I'm Chris Casquejo in Washington. That story is just ahead, but first, making headlines:

A Chinese court gave a suspended death sentence to a China-born Australian democracy blogger on Monday. Yang Hengjun was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said. Yang was detained in China five years ago. He is a former Chinese diplomat.

An armed group in Indonesia's eastern region of Papua said on Wednesday it will release a New Zealand pilot it has held hostage for a year. In a series of videos released by the West Papua National Liberation Army on Wednesday, pilot Philip Mehrtens said his kidnappers were treating him well. It was unclear when Mehrtens would be released.

Sri Lanka expects to implement a debt restructuring framework within the first six months of 2024, the country's president said on Wednesday. The South Asian island nation defaulted on its overseas debt in May 2022. The country finalized a $2.9 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund in March last year.

Nearly a hundred members of Myanmar’s Border Guard Police have fled their posts and taken shelter in Bangladesh during fighting between Myanmar security forces and the rebel Arakan Army in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, an official of Bangladesh's border agency said Monday. He said the police have been disarmed.

China has replaced the chairman of the Securities Regulatory Commission Yi Huiman with Wu Qing, a veteran securities regulator who had led the Shanghai Stock Exchange. China's policymakers are struggling to stabilize the country's financial markets. Chinese stocks have been trading near 5-year lows in a prolonged downturn.

Hundreds of millions of people are traveling from China's cities this week in the world's largest annual migration, heading home to share meals, pay respects to their elders, and deliver blessings for the Year of the Dragon. Celebrations begin on Saturday.

Chinese-made drones dominate the global market and are used widely by government agencies inside the United States. As VOA’s Matt Dibble reports, U.S. cybersecurity watchdogs warn that using those drones comes with risks.

When it comes to drones, one brand rises above all others. DJI, based in Shenzhen, China, has captured the drone market for everything from amateur photography to fighting wildfires… to protecting sensitive sites.

And this is a problem, say U.S. cybersecurity watchdogs.

In January, the FBI and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warned that laws enacted in recent years by the Chinese government give it the ability to look at any data collected by Chinese firms. Drones used widely across the U.S. could become tools for spying, the agencies say.

“You could think of a police department in a major city using a drone where the feed might be accessible to the Chinese government.”

The concern is not new. In 2021 DJI was sanctioned along with other Chinese manufacturers who the U.S. said made products that could be used for spying.

And last year the U.S. Congress passed a bill banning the purchase and use of Chinese-made drones by federal agencies, as well as state and local agencies using federal funding for the purchase.

The Chinese government objects to claims of spying.

“The U.S. has overstretched the concept of national security and fabricates all kinds of excuses to abuse export controls to unreasonably suppress Chinese institutions and firms.”

The new guidance, which did not cite any specific incidents, encourages the adoption of American-made drones equipped with security features.

The new warning aims to speed up a transition, says Lewis.

“It makes people step back and say it's not just the price tag that reflects the full cost of

buying this drone. There's a security risk.”

In a statement, DJI said, “Customers only share flight logs, images or videos with us if they affirmatively choose to do so.” And that users can always “fly offline” without connecting to the internet.

Matt Dibble, VOA News, Oakland, California.

Visit for the most up-to-date stories.

I’m Chris Casquejo. We leave you now in Tokyo, where Taylor Swift fans arrived for the first of four shows of the Asia-Pacific leg of her global Eras Tour, which are part of a month of sold-out dates including Singapore and Australia. Excited fans lined up to buy merchandise at Tokyo Dome prior to the concert Wednesday.

Thanks for watching VOA Asia Weekly.