British news agency Sky News disclosed that the UK sent government pilots to China and accepted Chinese students at UK military colleges in the past.

In 2016, Britain sent over four fighter pilots to Beijing to conduct the Aviation English Course. A military college in Cranwell, Lincolnshire, also offered at least three Chinese nationals basic officer training that year. A year earlier, when ties were good, the school provided training to China’s Lieutenant G Huang and Captain S Tong.

The college was still teaching a Chinese officer as of 2019 when relations began to sour over multiple issues, including espionage, mobile phone technology, Hong Kong, and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

About the Aviation English Course, a source believed the name was only a misnomer, considering that frontline military aviators in current flying practice were explicitly involved.

The source asked, “why send military pilots rather than teachers?”

The person suspected the course might have been assisting the Chinese air force in running military deployments abroad. 

A defense source says Britain would offer such training to various nations, counting friendly ones and those with which the UK is looking to forge diplomatic ties. China was one of many participants.

The British government has only paid attention to the risks of their pilots giving the Chinese air force lessons. Acknowledging up to 30 pilots were teaching Beijing how to combat Western aircraft, officials in early October called it a threat to UK interests. 

But Sky News noted that such exchange programs were still going on as of September this year, raising the question of what took Britain so long to act on the risks. 

A source says, “So, on the one hand, the Ministry of Defense is happy to provide international defense training opportunities when the political agenda suits, but now will critique individuals for similar actions.”

The outlet previously reported that with current legislation, the UK seems helpless to stop the ex-servicemen from working with China. But it has promised to amend the law to criminalize such behavior.
The Telegraph reported on October 25 that Britain’s freshly elected prime minister Rishi Sunak was launching a ban on Chinese institutes at UK universities. The measure was part of his election campaign pledge.

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