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China’s military-civil fusion strategy: what to expect in the next five years

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As a new administration takes power in Washington, Beijing is preparing its next five-year plan, which will set broad guidelines for national development policies and goals through 2025. The final version is expected in March, but the world has received a teaser on political priorities for the next five years and beyond when the Communist Party of China Central Committee issued its Recommendations on the plan last October. One section of the recommendations is particularly relevant to China’s military-civil fusion strategy, whose future trajectory is a key question for the new Biden administration.

As one of the landmark political initiatives of the Xi Jinping administration, the MCF is contemplated as a state governance tool to balance security and development goals, directly supporting China’s ability to compete in long-term strategic competition. In the short term, Beijing is trying to have both guns and butter, creating a synergy between central and local government regulatory agencies, military end-users, and defense, civilian and commercial R&D ecosystems in areas. reviews. The longer-term goal is to unify the various security and development strategies of governments to create a strategic posture, a unified system of strategic strategies and capabilities that can bring all of China’s capabilities to support competitions with other nations. By design, the MCF is not just yet another national plan, but rather a strategy whose components are to be integrated into China’s other national strategic priorities, advancing the overarching security and development objectives of China. RPC.

The MCF strategy has featured prominently in Party, state and military policy discussions and documents since 2014, but since the start of last year, the strategy has went into stealth mode. Part of the reason is growing interest, even direct critical, current and former senior US leaders, and members of the political community. Their main concern is that the MCF’s policy, together with China’s National Intelligence Law and other laws, can help the PLA absorb critical and emerging technologies from civilian channels. As a result, he has become enveloped in debates on everything from supply chain security to Chinese investment in Western technology companies.

Publicly, China has responded with a declaration by a foreign ministry spokesperson that its MCF strategy is completely out of whack. But the Recommendations for the 14th five-year plan, in particular deleted the explicit references to the MCF. Instead of using the more sensitive term, the Recommendations refers to the unity between the PLA and the people, recalling Mao Zedongs early writings on civil-military relations.

While slightly modifying the framing of short-term strategic objectives to avoid referring directly to MCF, the Recommendations moreover remained in line with the strategy. The document continued to call for the coordinated development of critical and emerging areas, an important component of the MCF’s ambitious strategy. development framework formulated in 2016 and 2017. It also reiterated the long-term strategic objective, as Speak clearly by Xi Jinping in 2017: to build a unified system of strategic strategies and capacities in China. One way to interpret this statement is that the MCF strategy has achieved its short-term goal of building the institutional infrastructure and connective tissues that support its implementation and has entered its next stage of development.

However, we should not take this as proof that the implementation of MCF has been a complete success. Elsa Kania and Lorand Laskai noted in Defense one that MCF is hardly a done. As a relatively new strategy, the Chinese authorities are developing their own metrics to assess the progress of MCF implementation. The National Bureau of Statistics of China, for example, launched campaigned around June 2020 to collect data on MCF development in key provinces, but notes the results will not be made public due to national security concerns.

Potentially important to China’s future and to any major power competition with the United States, the Recommendations highlighted several efforts from the original MCF development framework for the new five-year plan, including reforming the defense S&T industrial base, which was described as a top priority by MCF researchers and government officials. The reform includes a series of measures aimed at restructuring state-owned defense enterprises and removing barriers to entry for commercial enterprises in order to strengthen manufacturing capacities and capacities and stimulate innovation in the field of defense. defense. (U.S. defense executives would note the parallel challenge in their own system.) Such restructuring, privatizations and mergers and acquisitions of major defense contractors and their subsidiaries in China will have another side effect: it will be more difficult for them. foreigners to follow and understand China’s Defense Industrial Landscape. This will force the United States and its allies to devote more resources to the continued monitoring of these trade activities.

The Recommendations also highlighted coordinated development in key regions and called for concerted efforts on national defense megaprojects. September visit by senior government official Liu He in Mianyang, Sichuan, offers clues as to what that might entail. Sometimes described as an MCF Highland of Innovation, Mianyang is a hotbed of defense innovation and is home to the Chinese equivalent of the Chinese Academy of Physical Engineering at Los Alamos National Laboratory. This indicates that regions and areas like Mianyang, which have concentrations of defense industries and related research institutions, are likely to receive more support over the next five years. It also fits China’s model of investing in developing technology clusters and attracting top talent to give it an edge in S&T development for the next five years and beyond.

In particular, the Recommendations makes standardization a priority, perhaps to coordinate with the Chinese standards 2035 action plan. Since the mid-2010s, the MCF effort has sought to improve the overall compatibility between defense and civilian infrastructure and systems. This effort to resolve incompatibilities between China’s national technical standards and military standards that have slowed the integration of defense and civilian R&D ecosystems has ramifications for the United States and its allies. By setting global standards for the next generation of technology, in accordance with their own military standards, China’s leaders see themselves as ensuring that China occupies a leading position in both technology and world affairs.

Finally, the Recommendations a renewed emphasis on developing the national defense mobilization system, which was previously the least articulated part of the original MCF strategy. The Recommendations called for building a stronger border defense, national defense education for all and a stronger sense of solidarity between military and local authorities and civilians. Chinese leaders believe that harnessing all these strengths will be essential to maintain a war footing and prevail in conflict.

In summary, while the term itself may have disappeared from Chinese government statements, military-civil merger remains a central part of China’s five-year planning and grand global strategy. Therefore, as they plan theirs, American policymakers in the new Biden administration should have a clear vision of what this means for China and the United States.

Alex Stone is an analyst at BluePath Labs, a DC-based consulting firm that focuses on research, analysis, disruptive technologies, and wargaming.

PW Singer is a strategist at New America and author of several books on technology and security.



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