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Australian police investigate SAF flying school exec over Chinese military training

Australian authorities are investigating a former British military pilot, for his suspected involvement in the training of Chinese People’s Liberation Army pilots at a flying school in South Africa.

The Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA), where Keith Hartley serves as the chief operating officer, is under scrutiny after federal police searched Hartley’s Australian home in November 2022.

According to the warrant presented to the court, Hartley is accused of organizing and facilitating military-style training for Chinese military pilots. While Hartley has not been charged, he is taking legal action to challenge the validity of the search warrant and to recover materials seized from his home by Australian police.

This case comes amid growing concerns in Australia and the UK about the involvement of former military pilots in training Chinese fliers. In October 2022, another ex-military pilot who previously worked for TFASA was arrested in Australia and is fighting extradition to the United States, where he faces charges of training Chinese military pilots to land on aircraft carriers.

British air force chief, Sir Mike Wigston, recently warned that intelligence agencies in the UK and Australia have shared information to discourage pilots from working for Beijing. Both countries announced crackdowns on former military pilots working to train Chinese fliers, with the UK vowing to change its national security law to stop them from working for intermediaries such as the South African flying school.

The investigation into Hartley and TFASA comes amid a broader geopolitical context of heightened tensions between China and the West. The US and its allies have been increasingly concerned about China’s military modernization and territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.

The training of Chinese military pilots by a South African flying school raises questions about China’s growing influence in Africa and highlights the need for vigilance by Western governments to prevent China from acquiring advanced military technology and know-how.

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