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China recruiting retired Royal Air Force pilots, UK says

China is offering about $270,000 a year to retired pilots.

Published: October 20, 2022 12:37pm

Updated: October 20, 2022 1:19pm

As many as 30 retired Royal Air Force pilots have been recruited by China to train People's Liberation Army pilots, according to the United Kingdom's Defense Ministry.

A senior British defense official said the ministry is concerned about implications the practice may have on national security, The New York Times reported Monday.

China is offering about $270,000 a year to retired pilots who are recruited through a private flying academy based in South Africa.

"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," said a Defense Ministry spokesman who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The British pilots are not suspected of violating espionage laws. But one official said the U.K. is "determined to tighten the controls on retired service members to guard against training activities that could contravene espionage laws," according to the Times.

Relations between China and the west have deteriorated in recent years over human rights concerns. The U.K. relationship especially went downhill after China cracked down on the former British colony of Hong Kong.

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