Australia to block ex-military pilots flying to China
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s defense minister said on Wednesday he had told the country’s military to review confidentiality safeguards in response to fears Beijing was recruiting pilots to train China’s People’s Liberation Army.
Defense Secretary Richard Marles ordered the review after asking the Ministry of Defense last month to investigate the reports. China approached the former Australian military personnel to become a coach.
“Within the information provided to me by Defence, there are enough concerns in my mind that I have asked Defense to scrutinize our ex-defence personnel and particularly those coming in on policies and procedures. to master the secrets of our nation,” Marles told reporters.
Marles declined to say whether any Australians provided military training to the Chinese.
He said a joint police and intelligence task force was investigating “a number of cases” between ex-servicemen.
“What we’re focused on right now is we really look at the policies and procedures that are currently in place for our former protection personnel to make sure they’re adequate,” Marles said. “And if they are not, and if there are weaknesses in that system, then we are absolutely committed to fixing them.”
Australia’s allies Britain and Canada share Australia’s concern that China is poaching military expertise.
Last month, Britain’s Ministry of Defense issued an intelligence alert warning former and current military pilots against Chinese bounty hunting programs aimed at recruiting them.
Armed Forces Minister James Hippey said authorities would make it a legal offense for pilots to continue such training activities.
Sky News and the BBC have reported that around 30 British ex-military pilots are currently in China training PLA pilots. Reports say the pilots are paid £240,000 ($272,000) a year to train.
Canada’s Department of National Defense was also investigating its ex-servicemen, saying they were bound by confidentiality obligations after leaving the Canadian Armed Forces.
The Australian Department of Defense will report to the Minister by December 14.
Neil James, executive director of the Australian Defense Association think tank, said Australia’s laws on fraud, collusion and privacy protection were complex and depended on the circumstances.
“For example, it’s very difficult to accuse anyone of treason outside of wartime,” James told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
James said there were no circumstances under which ex-Australian military personnel should have worked with the Chinese.
“Most people in the defense force would be disgusted if people actually did that because you’re potentially training people to kill Australians in the future,” James said. “It’s just not on. It is a moral obligation and professional as well as legal.”
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