The Conservatives have been accused of risking national security by reportedly sending British military pilots to Beijing to teach the Chinese air force and giving students from China basic officer training in the UK.
Several serving Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots taught an “Aviation English Course” in China in 2016, while a number of Chinese nationals studied at the RAF’s college at Cranwell in Lincolnshire and the Joint Services Command and Staff College at Shrivenham in Swindon, Sky News reported.
A Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesperson said: “The UK has never provided fast jet flight training, or any other sensitive training, for People’s Liberation Army (Air Force) pilots.”
It is understood that the MoD’s official defence activities with Beijing, which included initial officer training on English language and armed conflict law, were stopped in 2019.
But Labour criticised the Tories of being “too slow to emerge from their ‘golden era’ with China and repeatedly blase about security threats”.
Shadow defence secretary John Healey said: “This official deployment could have compromised details of UK military operations, technology and training to a foreign power, posing a significant threat to our national security.
“Ministers must answer serious questions about why they backed this activity and what risks it poses. The public also want reassurance on the actions taken to halt it.”
Earlier this month, the Government warned former British military pilots not to teach the Chinese armed forces how to defeat western warplanes and aircraft.
Serious questions for the RAF👇
We should not be surprised by China’s audacity in luring UK pilots to learn about our tactics.
But we should be surprised there’s nothing akin to the ‘Official Secrets Act’ preventing this – And the absence of patriotism of those involved. pic.twitter.com/uyGKlRv8jC
— Tobias Ellwood MP (@Tobias_Ellwood) October 18, 2022
Armed forces minister James Heappey said: “China is a competitor that is threatening the UK interest in many places around the world”, while Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, said he was “surprised” that something “akin to the Official Secrets Act” was not already in place to stop it from happening.
The BBC reported that up to 30 former pilots, including some RAF veterans, were believed to have trained China’s People’s Liberation Army.
The MoD issued an intelligence alert warning pilots against taking part and that it was taking “decisive steps” to stop Chinese recruitment schemes targeting military pilots.