Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles has ordered an urgent review of the military’s internal policies in response to allegations that Australian pilots are among Western military personnel recruited to provide training to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) People’s Liberation Army.
Marles declined to say whether any Australians were confirmed to have provided military training to the Chinese. But he did say that a joint police and intelligence task force was investigating “a number of cases” among former service personnel.
As he reported, people who join the Australian forces and gain access to certain “state secrets” are forbidden to divulge them; otherwise, they would be committing a crime.
In this context, Marles stressed the importance of having “the strongest possible framework to protect Australia’s information and protect our secrets.” For this reason, he ordered an urgent review of state secrets policies within the security forces.
Marles added that they are currently focused on determining that the policies and procedures concerning retired defense personnel are adequate. However, if flaws are found, he pledged to address them.
Marles pledged to the media to review the recruitment mechanism and investigate what happened.
“When our Australian Defence Force personnel sign up … they do so to serve their country and we are deeply grateful of that,” Marles said. “I would be deeply shocked and disturbed to hear that there were personnel who were being lured by a pay cheque from a foreign state above serving their country.”
Further graphing the gravity of the matter, Australian defense department officials told a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday that it costs more than $9.75 million (AU$15 million) to train a jet fighter pilot.
What the report says
According to a hard-hitting report released mid-October, several former New Zealand and Australian air force pilots were offered substantial lucrative packages to train Chinese pilots to fly Western attack aircraft.
According to the report, a group of Australian pilots reportedly approached a South African flight school to train Chinese pilots to operate fighter jets.
That same week Britain’s defense minister confirmed that at least 30 former Royal Air Force pilots had been offered salaries of up to £237,000 a year in return for training People’s Liberation Army pilots.
The New Zealand Defense Force also acknowledged the allegations and admitted to being aware that the South African Test Flight Academy employed at least four former pilots but that no service personnel was involved.
Britain and Canada also take similar action
Australia’s allies Britain and Canada share Australia’s concerns that China is attempting to steal military expertise.
So much so that the United Kingdom has already taken a step forward and presented a bill to tighten the country’s espionage laws to prevent any leaks of state secrets.
The new regulations will require anyone working for a foreign government, whether a lawyer, a public relations firm, or an undercover spy, to declare their activity, or else they could face up to two years in prison.
In addition, a public registry will be created where the declared activities of those working for a foreign state will be published.
The new National Security Bill, introduced to parliament in May, would also make it an offense for former British military personnel to work for certain foreign powers, most notably the Chinese communist regime.
This legislation would apply to the 30 former British military pilots who, the Ministry of Defense said, had been lured by the Chinese military to train its aircrew.
For its part, Canada’s Department of National Defense is also investigating its former service personnel, noting that they were still subject to secrecy commitments after leaving the Canadian Armed Forces.
A retired military source confirmed to Canadian media that former Royal Canadian Air Force members were tempted with significant offers to train military pilots in China. In principle, the known cases would have been rejected, but he could not say whether others had accepted.
Other Canadian media claim that several former Royal Canadian Air Force pilots are currently employed at the flight school in South Africa that has been identified as a training center for Chinese military pilots.
Canada’s legal framework is sufficiently explicit to determine that those former members of the military who are carrying out these tasks without reporting are committing a crime against their country’s national security.
The US case
The United States was also involved in the pilots’ conflict. A former U.S. pilot was arrested in Australia on October 21 on charges of collaborating with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in training Chinese pilots.
The arrest came just days after Britain warned its former military pilots offering their air training services to China that they risked arrest.
According to a Reuters report, former U.S. Air Force pilot Daniel Edmun Duggan was arrested by Australian Federal Police in the rural town of Orange, New South Wales. The accused appeared in court the same day.
Duggan’s LinkedIn profile indicates that he was working in Qingdao, China, as a director of AVIBIZ Limited, described as “a comprehensive aviation consulting firm with a focus on the dynamic and fast-growing Chinese aviation industry.”
It is worth noting that the Chinese military has thoroughly modernized its aircraft fleet and aircraft carriers, which have been stationed in various strategic offshore locations for over a decade.
The CCP needs to train qualified pilots to operate its growing aircraft fleet properly.