RAF veterans have been “lured to China” to assist with their air force training, a Tory MP has revealed. Tobias Ellwood, who chairs the Defence Committee, said former RAF pilots should be banned from being recruited by the Chinese military as he revealed the MoD admitted 31 Chinese citizens had received training at UK Armed Forces training establishments between 2016-17 and 2019-20.
Mr Ellwood made the discovery as he submitted a written question to Defence minister James Heappey.
He told the Commons: “Today, the reply to my written parliamentary question confirms that Chinese officer cadets have recently been attending courses at Sandhurst, Shrivenham and Cranwell.
“So could the Secretary of State confirm that we’ll update our security strategy towards China and will the law be changed to prevent former RAF pilots from being recruited by the Chinese military?”
Mr Heappey replied: “We have revised our policy around Chinese attendance on key courses since but it’s important to note that in none of those courses is anything taught or compromised that might be above the threshold for the Official Secrets Act.”
Speaking to The Times, Mr Ellwood continued: “It’s very simplistic to say there’s 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.”
It comes as tensions between China and the UK rose on Monday after Trade Minister Greg Hands held talks in Taiwan aimed at at “boosting trade” and promoting UK expertise in hydrogen and offshore wind.
Mr Hands met President Tsai Ing-wen and co-host the UK-Taiwan 25th annual Trade Talks in Taipei during his two-day visit, the first in-person trade talks since the pandemic. Recalling his visit to the country 31 years ago, Mr Hands said: “Boosting trade with this vital partner is part of the UK’s post-Brexit tilt towards the Indo-Pacific and closer collaboration will help us future-proof our economy in the decades to come.”
Talks with minister Chern-Chyi Chen looked at “tackling barriers to trade in sectors such as fintech, food and drink and pharma, aimed at helping more UK firms export and invest in Taiwan”, DIT said, adding Mr Hands “will also promote UK expertise in offshore wind, hydrogen and electric vehicles”.
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The UK’s £8billion trade partnership has risen 14 percent in the last two years, according to DIT, with UK exports to Taiwan going up by 12 percent during that period.
Amid the trade talks, Innovate UK, the UK’s national innovation agency, will sign a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Economic Affairs in Taiwan, “pledging to increase collaboration on technology and innovation”, the DIT added.
Ahead of the talks, China lashed out at the UK Government insisting that “official contacts” with the self-governing island republic must cease.
Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its own territory and has threatened to annex the island by force, has urged Britain to back off.
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China has sought to isolate Taiwan diplomatically, imposing visa bans and other forms of retaliation against foreign officials and governments that have reached out in the past.
Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing that the UK should uphold the so-called “one-China principle” and stop “any forms of official contacts with Taiwan”.
The island is excluded from the United Nations at Beijing’s insistence, with only 14 official diplomatic allies.
However, it has drawn increasing backing from major nations, including Japan, Australia, the US and Canada, and across Europe.