UK to block Chinese recruitment of British military pilots
London — The UK government is taking immediate steps to deter and penalise Chinese recruitment of British military pilots.
“When former UK military pilots provide training to the People’s Liberation Army of China it clearly erodes the UK’s defence advantage. We are taking immediate steps to deter and penalise this activity,” tweeted the Ministry of Defence Press Office on Tuesday (local time).
The move comes amid reports of China hiring nearly 30 retired British military pilots to train pilots in the People’s Liberation Army which raised alarms that the practice could threaten the UK’s national security.
“Defence Intelligence is engaging with the individuals already involved to ensure they are fully aware of the risk of prosecution under the Officials Secrets Act,” tweeted the Ministry of Defence Press Office.
The Government’s National Security Bill will capture a range of relevant activities and provide additional possible routes to prosecution.
“We are conducting a review of the use of confidentiality agreements across Defence with the aim of providing additional contractual levers to prevent individuals breaching security,” tweeted the Ministry of Defence Press Office.
Meanwhile, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin denied any knowledge of Chinese recruitment efforts, reported Al Jazeera.
“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, reported Al Jazeera.
The UK government said it is working with allies to try to stop China’s bid to recruit British pilots using third-party liaisons, which includes former members of the Royal Air Force and other armed forces.
Beijing is hiring mostly pilots for contracts as lucrative as USD 270,000 a year, for a job that does not necessarily violate the country’s Official Secrets Act. However, UK officials said that they were determined to curb this practice that could contravene espionage laws.
Media reports said that the UK government came to know about this practice as early as 2019. However, it dealt with every case independently.
Ties between China and Britain have gone sour in recent years, over a number of issues including Beijing’s crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. (ANI)