China headhunting former UK Air Force Pilots
Beijing is hiring mostly pilots for contracts at as lucrative rates as USD 2,70,000 a year, for a job that does not necessarily violate Britain’s Official Secrets Act. However, UK officials said that they were determined to curb this practice that could contravene espionage laws.
China has already hired nearly 30 retired British military pilots to train pilots in the People’s Liberation Army, The New York Times (NYT) reported citing Britain’s Defence Ministry, which has issued a threat alert fearing that the practice could threaten its national security.
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.
“We are taking decisive steps to stop Chinese recruitment schemes attempting to head hunt serving and former U.K. Armed Forces pilots to train People’s Liberation Army personnel in the People’s Republic of China,” a spokesman for the Defence Ministry, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, as quoted by NYT.
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.
UK spy agency chief Jeremy Fleming last week said Beijing is using its financial and scientific muscle to manipulate technologies in a manner that risks global security, The Washington Post reported.
Fleming, the director of Britain’s GCHQ spy agency, said China aims to bring countries into its sphere of influence by encouraging them to buy Chinese tech and incur what he called “hidden costs.”