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British ex-military pilots ‘threatening UK interests’ by training Chinese army

Up to 30 former pilots are believed to have trained the People’s Liberation Army.

18 October 2022

Former British military pilots have been warned not to teach the Chinese armed forces how to defeat western warplanes and aircraft as a Government minister said the law will be changed to stop them from doing it.

Armed forces minister James Heappey said “China is a competitor that is threatening the UK interest in many places around the world”, while Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, said he is “surprised” that something “akin to the Official Secrets Act” is not already in place to stop it from happening.

The BBC reports up to 30 former pilots are believed to have trained China’s People’s Liberation Army.

The pilots are reported to have served across the British military and not just in the Royal Air Force (RAF).

James Heappey
Armed forces minister James Heappey (James Manning/PA)

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has issued an intelligence alert warning pilots against taking part.

Mr Heappey told Sky News: “We’ve approached the people involved and have been clear of them that it’s our expectation they would not continue to be part of that organisation.

“We are going to put into law that once people have been given that warning it will become an offence to go forward and continue with that training.

“China is a competitor that is threatening the UK interest in many places around the world.

“It is also an important training partner but there is no secret in their attempt to gain access to our secrets, and their recruitment of our pilots in order to understand the capabilities of our air force is clearly a concern to us and the intelligence part of the MoD.”

Mr Ellwood tweeted there are “serious questions for the RAF”, adding: “We should not be surprised by China’s audacity in luring UK pilots to learn about our tactics. But we should be surprised there’s nothing akin to the ‘Official Secrets Act’ preventing this – And the absence of patriotism of those involved.”

In a statement, the MoD said it was attempting to stop the recruitment of both former and serving pilots.

A spokesman said: “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.

“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 Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We are taking decisive steps to stop Chinese recruitment schemes attempting to headhunt serving and former UK armed forces colleagues.”

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