The United Kingdom has issued a strong statement, asserting that former British armed forces personnel training Chinese pilots will be held legally accountable and could potentially face prosecution for sharing military tactics with a foreign country.
This action aligns with a broader trend observed in Western nations, where stricter rules and regulations are being implemented to prevent their respective former military personnel from providing training to the Chinese military.
In October 2022, it came to light that several ex-RAF, Royal Navy, and Army pilots had been training the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
These pilots had entered into contracts through a South African company, enticed by salaries averaging around £250,000. It was reported that approximately 30 of them had relocated to China to deliver this training.
This disclosure raised concerns that former British pilots were assisting the Chinese military in gaining insights into Western tactics, possibly providing the People’s Liberation Army with knowledge that could be used to target and intercept the aircraft of Britain and its allies.
In response to these revelations, the country’s Ministry of Defense, at the time, declared plans to amend the law, rendering such activities illegal and subject to potential prosecution.
On September 17, the UK MoD officially announced that former Armed Forces personnel who provide training to foreign militaries could anticipate facing prosecution under newly established offenses within the National Security Act.
The National Security Act, enacted in July of this year, incorporates a range of new measures to modernize counter-espionage laws and address the evolving threats to UK national security.
More precisely, the act incorporates an offense related to “obtaining or disclosing protected information,” with the definition of “information” encompassing tactics, techniques, and procedures.
The Ministry stated that if pilots were suspected of sharing sensitive information with foreign powers, it would forward the relevant details to the police for further investigation.
Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said, “Anyone found to be acting against the UK’s interests by training our competitors’ militaries can now expect to be pursued and brought to justice.”
“The government has acted decisively following the identification of this threat and has made rapid changes to legislation to help shut it down,” he added.
Efforts to Counteract China’s Espionage Activities
This move comes when there is serious concern in Westminster following the disclosure that a parliamentary researcher, who had connections with several senior Conservative MPs, has been apprehended on suspicion of espionage for China.
In answer to a report from Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee on China, the UK government has recently acknowledged that Chinese recruitment programs have actively sought to target British and allied nationals holding key positions and possessing sensitive knowledge and experience.
This includes individuals from the government, the military, various industries, and broader society. The development has also raised concerns for the United States and its allied countries, which are intensifying their efforts to counter China’s covert activities within their borders.
Apart from the UK, the most senior general in the US military recently warned American airmen about the Chinese military’s interest in leveraging their knowledge and expertise to address gaps in their military capabilities.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown emphasized that by effectively training foreign military personnel, many individuals accepting contracts with these foreign companies are undermining national security, jeopardizing the safety of fellow service members and the nation, and potentially violating the law.
Countries like Australia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand have taken measures to prevent former military pilots from providing their expertise to Beijing.
Furthermore, a former US fighter pilot has faced indictment over allegations that he was training Chinese pilots in aircraft carrier landings, a skill he acquired during his military training.
He denied these allegations, contending that he was instructing Chinese civilian pilots looking to enhance their skills. Two Navy sailors were arrested and indicted for purportedly transmitting classified information to Chinese intelligence officers.
The UK Government has noted that its new legislation is intended to create a more challenging operational environment within the UK for individuals acting on behalf of foreign powers in ways that threaten the safety or interests of the country.