Australia probes claims China recruited ex-air force pilots: Minister
The Australian Defense Minister launches an investigation into whether Australian pilots had been recruited by China to train its air force.
Australia launched an investigation Wednesday into what Defense Minister Richard Marles called disturbing reports that China has been hiring retired Western air force pilots to train its military.
The UK government had earlier announced it would take "decisive steps" to stop Beijing from headhunting former pilots after British media reported that over 30 former pilots had accepted offers upwards of £240,000 ($273,750) to train China's air force.
"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," a spokesperson for the British Defense Ministry told AFP.
Marles announced a probe into whether Australian pilots had also been recruited.
"When our ADF personnel sign up to the defence force, they do so to serve their country and we are deeply grateful of that," the Australian Defense Minister said in a statement.
He pointed out that he "would be deeply shocked and disturbed to hear that there were personnel who were being lured by a pay cheque from a foreign state above serving their own country."
According to the reports, many of the recruited pilots were in their 50s and had recently left the British air force.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, denied any knowledge of British pilots being recruited, telling a regular press briefing that he is "not aware of the circumstances you mentioned."
Marles launched Australia's investigation from Tonga, where he has been attending a meeting of defense ministers from South Pacific nations.
Truss set to formally designate China as a "threat" to UK
It is noteworthy that The Telegraph reported last Wednesday that UK Prime Minister Liz Truss is set to formally designate China as a "threat" to the UK, marking a major shift in the UK's foreign policy.
While British military personnel frequently take part in training exercises with foreign armies, any collusion by ex-pilots with China -- which the UK has dubbed the "number one threat" to domestic and global security -- poses a serious concern.
"Confidentiality contracts and non-disclosure agreements" are being reviewed by the British Defense Ministry, which stated that UK public servants, serving or former, are subject to the Official Secrets Act, which forbids them from exposing the country's secrets to foreign states.
UK Armed Forces Minister, James Heappey, told Sky News that "We've approached the people involved and have been clear with 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," he indicated, adding that "China is a competitor that is threatening the UK interest in many places around the world."
Heappey explained that China "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."
Chinese British relations have been in a downward spiral for several years due to UK's more aggressive policy toward Beijing, most notably on China's internal matters in Hong Kong and Taiwan, in addition to London's fear of Beijing's growing dominance in technology, which was dubbed as as "increasingly urgent problem" by Jeremy Fleming, the director of the GCHQ - the UK's intelligence, security, and cyber agency, who called on Western countries to take action to defend themselves and their values.