UK wants China to stop hiring its ex-military pilots – media
The UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) is reportedly alarmed by China’s alleged hiring of some 30 veteran British military pilots to teach trainees in the People’s Liberation Army.
The practice is legal and was first noticed by the British government in 2019, when a handful of such cases were identified, an unnamed official explained, according to several Western news outlets, including the BBC, Sky News and the New York Times.
According to media reports, the MoD considers the situation grave enough to issue a formal “threat alert” to warn serving and former pilots about the Chinese recruitment drive.
“We are taking decisive steps to stop Chinese recruitment schemes,” an MoD spokesperson said as quoted by the press. The statement reminded that military personnel were “subject to the Official Secrets Act” and stated that the ministry was “reviewing the use of confidentiality contracts and non-disclosure agreements” to deal with such issues.
According to the primary source, which was described as a “Western official” or an official in the British MoD by reporters, China pays the pilots $270,000 a year.
Pilots familiar with US-made F-35 fighter jets have not been recruited, the source claimed. But those who flew older models, such as the Typhoon, Harrier, Jaguar and Tornado, as well as military helicopters, including Wildcat and Merlin, are now working for China, the official added. Some of the pilots were described as folk in their 50s, but no one was named.
China sought talent not only in the Royal Air Force, but also in other branches of the British military, the reports claimed. An academy in South Africa, which was also not named, allegedly acted as a middleman in the scheme.
UK pilots among instructors “are almost certainly enhancing China’s military knowledge and capability,” Sky News quoted the source as saying. But the British government has no evidence that any have broken the law by working in China.
“We are taking measures to dissuade current and former pilots from being recruited, and we want to avoid any perception by China that our previous silence on this matter is misinterpreted as our acceptance or approval of this activity,” the official claimed.
Relations between London and Beijing have been souring for years under consecutive Tory governments. Prime Minister Liz Truss will reportedly soon designate China as a “threat” to Britain in an updated version of a global strategy paper.