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A Republic of China Air Force F-16V fighter jet taxi on a highway used as an emergency runway during the Han Kuang military exercise simulating the China's People's Liberation Army invading the island, in Changhua, Taiwan, on May 28, 2019.TYRONE SIU/Reuters

Canada’s top soldier says reports of three former Canadian fighter pilots training students in China are alarming and serve as a testament to “great power competition” taking place today.

General Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff, said Canadians who have served in the Canadian Armed Forces have a responsibility to safeguard confidential information even after they leave the military.

Gen. Eyre was reacting to a Globe and Mail story on how the RCMP are investigating three former Royal Canadian Air Force fighter pilots who are training military and civilian pilots in China. Their employer, a South African flying academy, insists no sensitive information is being passed on to Chinese authorities.

The work the three pilots are doing in China has also come under scrutiny from Canadian security officials, who reached out to the former top guns in late August.

“Given the allegations are under investigation by the RCMP, who have jurisdiction, I cannot comment on the specifics,” Gen. Eyre said in a statement to The Globe.

“That said, these very disturbing allegations serve as a stark reminder to all that we are in an era of great power competition and confrontation where some are willing to go to great lengths to gain any advantage they can to harm our country and its interests. This is real.”

He said military veterans must not divulge any confidential information they learn in the course of their service.

“We in uniform have been entrusted with sensitive and coveted skills and information, and we must remain vigilant and unwavering in our commitment to safeguarding our nation’s interests, both while we serve and after we retire,” Gen. Eyre said.

“As the security environment deteriorates, we and our allies are updating our tools to deal with these ever evolving threats. We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure the defence and security of our country.”

Test Flying Academy of South Africa, which is based in the Western Cape town of Oudtshoorn, has confirmed that former RCAF pilots Paul Umrysh, Craig Sharp and David Monk are under contract to train pilots in China, adding that the company would speak for its employees.

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In recent statements to The Globe, TFASA said the training involves unclassified procedures, and materials are derived from open sources or the clients themselves. The company said it has protocols to prevent employees from sharing details that might be sensitive or classified and that it doesn’t include information about NATO.

The issue of Western military pilots instructing Chinese students arose last fall after media reports that as many as 30 former British top guns were working as instructors.

In June, the U.S. government targeted TFASA by imposing export controls on it and other companies for allegedly “providing training to Chinese military pilots using Western and NATO sources.” This activity “is contrary to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests,” the U.S. Department of Commerce said at the time.

Retired RCAF lieutenant-general Tom Lawson, a former top gun fighter pilot who once served as chief of the defence staff, said he knows the three former pilots working for China and strongly disapproves of what they are doing.

“Ethically, they are specialists who have been trained to a very high level by Canadian Forces, ethically is it supportable to be now passing on some of those skills to the PLA and I think the answer is clearly no,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Lawson said the government should take seriously that China is actively seeking out highly qualified fighter pilots in the West to help give the People’s Liberation Army an edge over Canada and its allies.

“We should be really concerned that any time the PLA is using financial incentives to lure those with specific knowledge, like fighter pilots, to gain advantage,” he said. “Certainly if there is any information that classified information is being transferred, well I would expect the RCMP or CSIS to investigate and press charges as they see fit.”

Mr. Lawson said Ottawa should consider changing post-employment rules for military personnel to prohibit them from taking their specialized skills to work for countries such as China, Russia and Iran.

“We could say there will be no trained specialists ever providing training or assistance anybody who comes from these countries, but it is not something we have done to date,” he said.

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