Australia probes ‘disturbing’ reports China recruited former pilots to train its military

Australia has launched an investigation into what Defence 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 (A$428, 830) 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 defence ministry told AFP.

Mr Marles announced the probe into whether Australian pilots had also been recruited on Wednesday.
“When our ADF personnel sign up to the defence force, they do so to serve their country and we are deeply grateful of that,” he said in a statement.
“I 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 spokesman Wang Wenbin denied any knowledge of British pilots being targeted.

“I am not aware of the circumstances you mentioned,” he told a regular press briefing.

Mr Marles launched Australia’s investigation from Tonga, where he has been attending a meeting of defence ministers from South Pacific nations.
Australia and the United States have been scrambling to shore-up diplomatic support as China expands its footprint in the Pacific.
In an undated advertisement with the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP) available online, TFASA said it was seeking a number of fixed wing and helicopter test pilot instructors to work at an undisclosed location in “Far East Asia” with an initial contract commitment of four years.
The requirements included having graduated from military test flight schools in the United States or Britain.
“I don’t know anyone who has gone, but they’re clearly targeting Western/Five Eyes test pilots,” an SETP member based in Australia told Reuters on condition of anonymity, referring to the intelligence group of Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.
“We all go to the schools they listed.”

TFASA also runs a flight school for Chinese airline pilots in South Africa as a joint venture with one of China’s largest state-owned aeronautic companies, AVIC, according to its website.

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