31 Chinese Military Personnel Trained in UK Over 4 Years: Minister

31 Chinese Military Personnel Trained in UK Over 4 Years: Minister
People's Liberation Army soldiers at the Shek Kong barracks—part of the Hong Kong garrison—on June 30, 2017. (Dale De La Rey/AFP via Getty Images)
Lily Zhou

Thirty-one Chinese military personnel attended training courses in the UK in the years between 2016 and 2020, while British personnel gave nine training sessions in China since 2014, a UK government minister revealed on Nov. 7.

Responding to written questions from a number of MPs, Armed Forces minister James Heappey said that the training didn’t include any sensitive information and that there had been no training since 2020.

Robert Clark, director of the Defence and Security Unit at think tank Civitas, said that although the minister said the training sessions didn’t breach the Official Secrets Act, they are “not compatible with British national security, and those of our allies.”

It comes after the revelation that China’s Communist Party-controlled People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been recruiting Western military pilots, including retired British pilots.
Clark told The Epoch Times that the training of Chinese personnel is incompatible with the UK’s defence strategy, while U. S. China expert, Epoch Times contributor Rick Fisher said the headhunting of Western military personnel is “one of the purest forms of espionage.”

Official Training Programmes

Asked whether any Chinese military personnel have attended training courses in the UK during the past five years, Heappey told the Defence Committee’s Conservative Chair Tobias Ellwood that 31 Chinese students have attended a total of 15 courses at British Armed Forces establishments including the Defence Academy, RAF Cranwell, and Royal Military Academy Sandhurst between 2016 and 2020.
Responding to a separate question from Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey regarding training provided in China by British training staff in the past 10 years, Heappey listed nine training sessions, covering areas including language, medical training, mountain rescue service, and foot drill instruction for the Hong Kong Police between 2016 and 2017.

Heappey said these sessions didn’t include any sensitive information and that no training was provided, either in the UK or in China, since the last courses in 2020.

But Ellwood told The Times of London that it doesn’t mean there is “nothing to see here.”

“Of course they don’t have access to classified information. The problem isn’t so much that. It is the connections they make, the understanding of our protocols and doctrines, and the fact they could potentially recruit others for the future,” the MP said.

It’s unclear why there has been no military training provided to Chinese personnel since 2020. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in August 2020 that its annual offer to train one person from the Hong Kong Police Force was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but a spokesperson also told The Epoch Times at the time that the offer “will be reevaluated when restrictions are lifted.”
In a written statement sent to The Epoch Times, Clark welcomed Heappey’s statement that the training opportunities have ceased, and he urged the government to “make sure that it follows through with the rhetoric.”

Retired UK Military Pilots

In October, UK media quoted unnamed officials as saying the PLA had been headhunting serving and retired British military pilots with lucrative remuneration, and that around 30 former pilots were successfully recruited.

Heappey said at the time that the MoD had approached those who were involved and warned them against continuing their involvement.

It came days before Australian citizen, former U.S. Marine fighter pilot, and flight instructor Daniel Edmund Duggan was arrested on Oct. 21 after a warrant was issued by the United States for his provisional arrest.

It isn’t known what Duggan is alleged to have done as the court documents, arrest warrant, and charges have been sealed.

Reuters alleged that Duggan’s arrest was related to his work in China, citing “an aviation source,” while Duggan’s lawyer declined to comment.

Planes from the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) air force fly in formation in Beijing on Oct. 1, 2019. (Wang He/Getty Images)
Planes from the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) air force fly in formation in Beijing on Oct. 1, 2019. (Wang He/Getty Images)

British Conservative MP Julian Sturdy asked the MoD what it plans to do with former British pilots involved in training PLA personnel. In response, Heappey wrote on Nov. 7 that the department has “no evidence that anyone has breached the high threshold of the Officials Secrets Act.”

Heappey said the MoD wouldn’t hesitate to bring criminal charges if any evidence emerges. He also said the department is “actively taking measures to deter future recruitment as well as engaging with the individuals already involved.”

The minister told Sturdy and Ellwood that the government’s new National Security Bill is expected to “capture a range of relevant activity” and deal with “the wider changing threat.”

Clark told The Epoch Times that while Heappey said the Official Secrets Act wasn’t breached, training of the Chinese military personnel still “leaves much under the threshold which can still compromise national security.”

“At the least, aiding China militarily significantly compromises the findings of last year’s Integrated Review, let alone in accordance with the likely soon-to-be readjusted security tone towards China by the British government,” he said. “Instances like this are not compatible with British national security, and those of our allies.”

The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, published in March 2021 by then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government, described communist-ruled China as a “systemic competitor” while calling Russia “the most acute threat.”

Downing Street in October said Johnson’s successor Liz Truss had commissioned an update to the strategy, while Tom Tugendhat, who was appointed security minister by Truss and kept in the post by current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, confirmed on Nov. 1 that China has become a “long-term strategic threat” to the UK.

‘One of the Purest Forms of Espionage’

Fisher, a senior fellow at U.S.-based thank tank International Assessment and Strategy Center, said that “China’s ‘purchase’ of British and American military personnel” for training is “one of the purest forms of espionage as well as constituting a forced British and American subsidy for China’s military buildup.”

In an email to The Epoch Times, Fisher also said the British and U.S. military pilots who took up the lucrative training jobs in China are “worse than mercenaries” as their own training has costed taxpayers “millions of dollars.”

“They are traitors, as the skills they are giving to Chinese pilots and others are helping them to kill Taiwanese, Americans, and Japanese in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan,” the China expert warned, adding the UK and the United States should return the favour and encourage the defections of Chinese military personnel.

Victoria Kelly-Clark contributed to this report.
Lily Zhou is an Irish-based reporter covering UK news for The Epoch Times.
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