Berlin issues demand to China
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has said that he warned his Chinese counterpart, General Li Shangfu, against using former Bundeswehr pilots to train the Chinese military.
“I have made it clear that I expect this policy to be stopped immediately,” Pistorius told reporters at the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in Singapore on Saturday, as quoted by Reuters.
Berlin’s defense chief claimed that Li did not deny the practice of hiring former German pilots, but downplayed its significance. According to Der Spiegel magazine, the meeting between Pistorius and Li, which was scheduled to last 30 minutes, went on for more than an hour.
German media previously reported that former Bundeswehr service members have been finding jobs in China through companies in South Africa and New Zealand and were being paid large salaries to pass their knowledge to Chinese pilots.
Der Spiegel described one such supposed case on Friday. According to the publication, a retired officer referred to as Alexander H., who used to train pilots to operate the Eurofighter Typhoon in Germany, was thought to have moved to China, where he allegedly trained pilots at an air base in Qiqihar.
“The fact that former Air Force officers are training fighter pilots in China is an outrage. We can’t accept this,” Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chair of the parliamentary defense committee, told Der Spiegel.
Beijing has not commented on the matter. However, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin denied knowledge of such employment last year when responding to similar allegations made by the UK.
In 2022, Britain’s defense ministry said it would take measures against potential employment of former RAF service members in China. Australia said last year that it would investigate reports of its own retired Air Force pilots training Chinese military personnel.
Relations between China and NATO have deteriorated significantly in recent years as both sides accuse each other of stoking tensions in the Taiwan Strait. The US-led alliance has described Beijing as a threat, while China accused the West of having a “Cold War mentality.”