by Orlanda Gill
Military-Civil Fusion (MCF) is a Chinese state-directed strategy which seeks to modernise the Chinese military by creating a distinct Chinese military-industrial complex. The MCF strategy effectively seeks to eliminate the barriers between the civilian and military sectors, which consist of legal, political, communicative, and bureaucratic divisions. Once eradicated, the result is a fused civil-military sector which allows for simultaneous military and economic growth. Whilst similarities can be found in the Civil-Military Integration (CMI) of the United States in that it shares the same goals of the civilian and military industry working closely together, CMI demands co-operation either within the military industry, or with a civilian company, rather than a complete removal of barriers between the civilian and military industry. The goal of the MCF is to have a ‘world-class military’ by 2050. Whilst the exact meaning is unclear, it can be interpreted to mean China desires to be amongst the world’s greatest military powers. How this would be realised can be understood by analysing China’s strategic guidelines which can be most closely translated to operational doctrine in the West. Realisation of this aim can also be examined through China’s attitude towards the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) which for China has placed and will place technological and scientific innovation at the center of war. The MCF therefore must be understood with regards to China’s strategic guidelines and the RMA. Overall, it can be demonstrated that the MCF is about having a modernised military which can fight and dominate in wars that demand technological and scientific superiority.
The MCF is not a new concept. The idea that economic growth cannot be without military is found in Deng Xiaoping, in the early 1980s, who focused on economic development before military equipment modernisation. It was, however, not until the ascension of President Jiang Zemin in 1993 when focus started to shift back more towards defence than solely economic growth. Jiang emphasised dual-use technologies, combining military facilities and civilian infrastructure to streamline military and econoomic spending. These core components, which are at the heart of the MCF, have endured from Jiang until the present, under Xi Jinping. The MCF, however, shares the most similarities to the policies of Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao whose Civil-Military Integration (CMI) in 2009 sought to integrate the civilian and military sectors.
Whilst this brief historical overview demonstrates the evolution of a concept, the MCF is best understood at the implementation level. The strategy can be seen at work at many different levels: institutional, provincial, and local. At an institutional level, there is a growing number of the former and current senior defence industrial cadre serving in prominent party and state posts, while President Xi Jinping leads the Central Commission for Integrated Military and Civilian Development to monitor Military-Civil Fusion policies. Outside of government, the MCF also extends to universities for research. Currently, Tsinghua University is pursuing human-machine interaction with funding from the CMC Science and Technology Commission, which will likely contribute to China’s modernised military and concept of intelligentised warfare. At the provincial level, among production facilities, beginning in 2019, ten provincial-level governments are investing money into research and overseas acquisitions through guidance funds. At the local level, looking towards Tianjin, an AI Military-Civil Fusion Innovation Center was set up next to the National Supercomputer Center. This was coordinated with the Academy of Military Science. The MCF, therefore, should be understood as a guiding principle enforced and supervised by the state to guide the civilian sector to military usages, whilst retaining the civilian economic benefits from technologically innovating and supplying dual-use technology.
President Xi Jinping has remarked that the MCF strategy is instrumental, and this view is supported by China’s prioritisation of technology in contemporary warfare. The Gulf War (1990-1991) and Kosovo War (1998-1999) for China indicated a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) and therefore a new standard and future trend which puts information superiority and thus the quality of technology as a key factor in military victory and for what constitutes a powerful military. This understanding continues in the PLA’s strategic guideline in ‘winning informatised local wars’ in July 2014. An important (although not the only) aspect of this strategic guideline is the role of information. Informatisation ‘refers to the collection, processing, and utilization of information in all aspects of warfighting in order to seamlessly link individual platforms in real time from across the services to gain leverage and advantage on the battlefield.’ The demand for information superiority therefore places importance on the ‘cyber, space, and electromagnetic domains’. The importance of advanced information technologies is thus heightened and the MCF is made a crucial process for the PLA to advance technological innovation at a rapid pace in comparison to its adversaries to gain information superiority. Additionally, the MCF allows China to capitalise from the tech-dominated global RMA and to become a ‘world-class military’ by 2050.
The MCF is also important in what appears to a new and emerging concept known as intelligentised warfare. This may be understood as a ‘uniquely Chinese concept of applying AI’s machine speed and processing power to military planning, operational command, and decision support’. In President Xi Jinping’s report to the 19th Party Congress in October 2017, intelligentisation was elevated to a guiding principle for China’s military modernisation. This conceptualisation of future warfare marks an evolution from informatised warfare. Differences can be analysed in that intelligentised warfare involves an ‘algorithm confrontation’ rather than ‘systems confrontation’ that characterises informatised war. Winning would therefore come from having an ‘algorithm advantage’. Furthermore, whilst informatised warfare recognises the importance of the space and cyber domain, intelligentised warfare would expand the domain of warfare into the cognitive domain which concerns ‘the field of decision-making through reasoning’. Superiority in this domain would be achieved through enhanced cognitive capacity of human combatants via integrated human-machine intelligence. The expansion of warfare into new domains and the potential Revolution in Military Affairs through AI would certainly help produce a ‘world-class military’. The connection of intelligentised warfare and MCF is made explicit when we observe that the PLA’s Science of Military Strategy, an authoritative book on the PLA compiled by the PLA’s Academy of Military Science (AMS), states the intention to ‘Promote deeper military-civil fusion, and leverage societal resources for the development of military intelligentisation’. The MCF is thus integral to China’s capacity to leverage science and technology to bolster their combat capabilities as well as to lead in what China envisions as future wars.
Overall, the Military-Civil Fusion is an ambitious concept and strategy that seeks to modernise the military to great heights by fusing the civilian and economic sectors. The question of its success perhaps depends on whether the PLA is a world-class military by 2050. Nevertheless, the strategy has further implications; it promises China a technological edge, the strengthening of economic security and domestic and international prestige. Therefore, rather than becoming overly attached to what may be perceived as an end goal, it is important to remain open so as to see where the fusion is leading China.
Orlanda Gill is a MA National Security Studies student at the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London. Her interest is in East Asian security with a key focus on China’s foreign and domestic policy. She is also currently exploring the technology-security nexus especially with regards to China.
Orlanda is a part of Strife’s Women in Writing programme.
You can find her on Twitter at @orlanda_gill.