Canada’s Department of National Defence says it is investigating reports that China has attempted to use lucrative payouts to lure British, Canadian and other former military pilots to train its air force.
“The Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces and its members are committed to the preservation of national security,” a National Defence spokesperson told CTVNews.ca. “We are aware of these reports, and we are looking into this further with federal partners.”
In October, the BBC and others reported that as many as 30 former British military pilots had travelled to train members of China’s People’s Liberation Army. Former military personnel from other allied nations, including Australia and Canada, are also reportedly being targeted by intermediaries with offers that can include six-figure payouts. The BBC says fighter jet, helicopter and other pilots are being sought to help the Chinese military learn how British and allied forces operate, information that could prove vital in a potential conflict, like one over Taiwan.
“When former UK military pilots provide training to the People’s Liberation Army of China it clearly erodes the UK’s defence advantage,” the British Ministry of Defence said in an Oct. 18 statement. “We are taking immediate steps to deter and penalise this activity.”
In Canada, a retired military source told CTVNews.ca that they are aware of former Royal Canadian Air Force members being approached with, and declining, offers to train military pilots in China. They did not know if others had accepted, and claimed they were first made aware of these activities in a 2014 briefing.
While it is unclear if any Canadians have accepted an offer, according to The Globe and Mail, several former Royal Canadian Air Force pilots are currently employed by a South African flight school that also reportedly trains Chinese military pilots.
“The Security of Information Act applies to both current and former members, and non-compliance with the Act could result in serious consequences,” the Canadian defence spokesperson said, referring to legislation that affects those with federal security clearances.
Consequences for breaching the Security of Information Act can include up 14 years imprisonment on indictment for “Unauthorized communication of special operational information.”
“As an institution that upholds democratic principles and the rule of law, we trust and expect current and former [Canadian Armed Forces] members to adhere to the values of the institution,” the National Defence spokesperson added. “Any behaviour that could potentially harm Canadian national interests is a violation of this trust, and will be dealt with appropriately. As our work on this matter continues, it would not be appropriate to comment further.”
In a defence committee meeting on Thursday, members of Parliament were told by a brigadier-general that enforcement of the Security of Information Act falls on the Department of Justice, to which the matter has been referred.
Opposition defence critic James Bezan says the Conservatives expect the federal government to fully investigate these reports, and hold anyone who has violated Canadian law accountable.
“It’s very disconcerting to learn that former RCAF members are potentially training fighter pilots for the communist regime in Beijing,” the Manitoba MP told CTVNews.ca. “Not only is this unpatriotic but it could undermine national security for Canada and our allies.”
According to Reuters, a former U.S. military pilot and flight instructor who worked in China was arrested in Australia in October on undisclosed charges, following an American request. Australian authorities say they are also investigating reports of their pilots being approached.
The BBC states the U.K. became aware of pilots being recruited in 2019, and that the efforts have now increased with easing of pandemic-related travel restrictions.
Source: CTV News