China’s Evolving Conception of Civil-Military Collaboration

Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics > Trustee China Hand 

By Audrey Fritz

The world is paying close attention to China’s expanded efforts at civil-military collaboration. Much of this effort is directed at examining specific projects and technologies. But another important yardstick is the language China uses to frame their plans.

As the strategy of military-civil fusion (MCF, 军民融合) has been increasingly promoted under Chinese leader Xi Jinping, it has also become more frequently conveyed throughout China’s Five-Year Plans (FYP) and academic literature, replacing the previous term, civil-military integration (CMI, 军民结合). This linguistic adjustment suggests a shift in the government’s strategy on civil-military relations from focusing on defense technology to more comprehensive coordination.

MCF can be defined as a strategy that strives to reinforce the PRC’s ability to build the country into an economic, technological, and military superpower by fusing the country’s military and civilian industrial and S&T resources. The strategy is aimed at promoting the sharing of resources and collaboration in research and applications, which ensures the mutually beneficial coordination of economic and national defense construction. MCF evolved from the former, more limited approach of CMI, which emphasized combining the military and civilian sectors. What distinguishes MCF from CMI is an increased level of coordination of military and civilian relations, a more balanced emphasis between military and civilian developments, and an institutional upgrade from simple combination to comprehensive integration.

The first authoritative reference to MCF as a guiding principle appeared in former Chinese leader Hu Jintao’s report to the 17th Party Congress in 2007, in which he urged the country to “take a path of military-civilian fusion with Chinese characteristics.” Eight years later, the Central Military Commission under Xi Jinping’s leadership codified MCF as an official military strategy, which connoted an intensified push to innovate and advance implementation of MCF.

Figure 1: Occurrence of MCF and CMI in FYP's Documents

Starting with the 8th FYP (1991-1995), China began to reflect this shift of importance from CMI to MCF. Figure 1 illustrates the spike in usage of MCF, making its first appearance in the 12th FYP (2011-2015) with four references. Five years later, the 13th FYP (2016-2020) referenced the MCF strategy ten times. This suggests a shift in the government’s promotion from CMI to MCF, as Hu and Xi have vigorously promoted MCF as a key strategy for realizing the “China Dream, Strong Military Dream.”

Figure 2: Occurrence of MCF and CMI in Academic Pulbiations

Figure 2 illustrates the simultaneous decline in the usage of the term CMI and the increase in the term MCF in academic publications. This trend in term usage follows the same pattern found in China’s FYP. The increasing discussion of MCF in academic literature suggests that the central government’s promotion of MCF has reached the academic community.

Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics > Trustee China Hand 

 Audrey Fritz was a research intern with the Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS.          

Additional Resources

Chinese Military Innovation in Artificial Intelligence, Before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission Hearing on Trade, Technology, and Military-Civil Fusion, (2019) (statement of Elsa B. Kania, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Technology and National Security Program, Center for a New American Security)

Daniel Alderman, “An Introduction to China’s Strategic Military-Civilian Fusion,” in China's Evolving Military Strategy, ed. McReynolds, Joe (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2016).

Xinhua, “Xi Jinping: Solidly promoting the deep development of military-civil fusion to provide a powerful driving force and strategic support for realizing the China dream, strong military dream.” March 12, 2018.