The UK government has warned that current and former British military pilots are being lured to China with large compensation packages to train the country’s armed forces, and said it would take measures to stop such recruitment schemes amid national security concerns.
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it believes that up to 30 former British military pilots are currently providing training in China, and that numerous others have been approached, including British personnel who are currently serving.
The MoD said China is using third parties to find British and other western pilots to directly train Chinese pilots, as well support state-owned defense industry companies and research institutions.
“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,” an MoD spokesperson said in statement.
“All serving and former personnel are already subject to the Official Secrets Act, and we are reviewing the use of confidentiality contracts and nondisclosure agreements across Defence, while the new National Security Bill will create additional tools to tackle contemporary security challenges – including this one,” the spokesperson added.
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The MoD said there was no evidence to suggest that any former UK pilots have passed on any information which would violate the Official Secrets Act.
James Heappey, Britain’s Minister of State for the Armed Forces and Veterans, said the government is currently looking to change the law to punish military pilots who pass on their expertise to the Chinese army.
“We are going to put into law that once people have been given that warning it will become an offense to go forward and continue with that training,” Heappey told Sky News. “China is a competitor that is threatening the UK interest in many places around the world.”
Heappey acknowledged China’s important role as a trading partner but added that “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.”