UK seeks to prevent military pilots from training China’s army

The move comes after a report said up to 30 former pilots had gone to train members of the Chinese army.

British Royal Air Force aircrafts perform a fly-past during the celebration of Britain's Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee, in London, Britain June 2, 2022.
A BBC report said up to 30 former UK pilots had gone to train members of the China's People's Liberation Army. {File: Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

The British government is taking measures to prevent China from recruiting serving and former Armed Forces pilots to train army personnel in China, according to the UK Ministry of Defence.

“We are taking decisive steps to stop Chinese recruitment schemes attempting to headhunt serving and former UK Armed Forces pilots to train People’s Liberation Army personnel in the People’s Republic of China,” a spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday.

“All serving and former personnel are already subject to the Official Secrets Act, and we are reviewing the use of confidentiality contracts and non-disclosure agreements across Defence, while the new National Security Bill will create additional tools to tackle contemporary security challenges – including this one.”

The comment came following a BBC report claiming that up to 30 former pilots had gone to train members of China’s People’s Liberation Army.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin denied any knowledge of Chinese recruitment efforts.

“I am not aware of the circumstances you mentioned,” he said during a press briefing.

UK Minister of State for the Armed Forces James Heappey told Sky News the recruitment scheme is not new and it had been a concern for “a number of years”. British counterintelligence had been looking at it closely, he added.

“China is a competitor that is threatening the UK interest in many places around the world. It’s also an important trading partner,” Heappey said.

“But there is no secret in their attempt to gain access to our secrets and the recruitment of pilots in order to understand the capabilities of our air force is clearly a concern to us.”

Heappey said those involved in the training had been approached and told to stop, and the government was putting in place a law that would make it an offence to disregard the warning.

Last week, Jeremy Fleming, director of Britain’s GCHQ spy agency, said China is using its financial and scientific muscle to manipulate technologies in a manner that risks global security, warning that the actions could represent “a huge threat to us all”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies