The defense minister has ordered checks on whether Australians were recruited by Beijing
The Australian Defense Ministry has launched a probe after a report that some of its retired military pilots may have been hired by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The investigation comes after similar concerns were voiced by the British government.
“I would be deeply shocked and disturbed to hear that there were personnel who were being lured by a paycheck from a foreign state above serving their own country,” Defense Minister Richard Marles said in a statement on Wednesday.
Opposition leader and former defense minister, Peter Dutton said he was also “alarmed” by the prospect and urged Marles to amend the law to prevent such activities.
“If there is a hole in the legislation now, the coalition [of opposition parties] will support a change which will tighten it up,” Dutton said.
He added: “We can’t allow our secrets and our methodologies to be handed over to another country and particularly not China under President Xi.”
Concerns were raised after several media outlets reported that up to 30 former British pilots were believed to have been recruited to train PLA personnel. Reuters quoted an unnamed Australian member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP) as saying that Beijing has been seeking to attract pilots from the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the US.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday it “clearly erodes the UK’s defense advantage” when former pilots provide training to the PLA. The ministry added that it will amend confidentiality agreements in order to add more “contractual levers to prevent individuals breaching security.”
The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) said in a statement to the media on Wednesday that four of its former pilots were working for the Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFSA), which was allegedly involved in the recruitment of instructors for the Chinese military. A spokesman for NZDF explained that retired pilots are free to seek employment elsewhere but must keep in mind that their decision may lead to “repercussions” on any future employment with the force.
The South China Morning Post reported this month that Beijing needed at least 200 qualified pilots for its aircraft carriers.
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