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Germany to probe report of Chinese pilot training

June 2, 2023

Several former German air force officers have been training Chinese pilots for years via companies in the Seychelles, German media reported. Defense Minister Boris Pistorius promised a full investigation.

A German pilot sits in a Panavia 200 Tornado fighter jet
Der Spiegel and ZDF reported that several ex-Luftwaffe pilots have been training their Chinese counterpartsImage: Christophe Gateau/dpa/picture alliance

Germany will investigate reports that former Bundeswehr pilots have been training their Chinese counterparts, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Friday.

Speaking in Singapore, Pistorius said that each individual case "must be examined" and that "all transgressions will be punished."

His comments follow a joint report in Der Spiegel magazine and public broadcaster ZDF that former German fighter pilots have been training pilots in China .

Hired 'for years' as trainers

The media outlets described how at least a handful of former German Luftwaffe officers are employed as trainers in China for several years.

Often their payments are made through shell companies in the Seychelles.

The report said one of the pilots worked for the company of an exposed Chinese spy.

Der Spiegel said security officials believe it is likely that the pilots could have revealed top-secret military expertise and even Bundeswehr and NATO deployment tactics.

Taiwan threat heightens concerns

They may have even practiced attack scenarios that would be helpful in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, the magazine said.

The media outlets said one pilot had denied the allegations, while others were unreachable.

Pistorius said while soldiers are allowed to take on other activities after leaving the Bundeswehr, these activities must be within the law and their obligations to the military.

"There are clear rules in the Soldiers' Act about what a soldier may and may not do after the end of their service period and what they must report. There are also clear rules about confidentiality obligations and much more," the minister added.

The chair of the German parliament's defense committee, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, told Der Spiegel that "It's time for this naivety and German naivety to end."

"The fact that we are indirectly helping China to upgrade its own air force is unacceptable," she added.

Strack-Zimmermann said soldiers should be limited in the training they can offer to purely NATO countries and strategic partners.

Scholz seeks to balance China ties

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government has sought to balance strong trade ties with a recognition that China is increasingly a competitor and a threat.

His three-party coalition has pledged to draw up a "comprehensive China strategy," though it's not yet clear when that will be ready.

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mm/sri (AP, dpa)