The China Programme, IDSS, RSIS, held a workshop “Military-Civil Fusion and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army” on 7 February 2020. The workshop sought to understand China’s Military-Civil Fusion initiative (MCF) from multiple angles. Being a national strategy established in the Xi era to reinvigorate the state-dominated defence sector with non-state input, MCF achieved the status of national strategy in 2015, at par with projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative.
Government policy support and funding have been directed towards MCF participants to encourage greater cooperation between state-owned and non-state entities in order to strengthen China’s defence industrial capacity. Consequently, MCF will have lasting implications for regional and global security. The workshop brought together 12 speakers from Singapore, the United States, Russia, India, United Kingdom, Australia, Israel, and Taiwan to dissect MCF by exchanging perspectives on MCF overview, outcomes, challenges, implications, and responses.
Participants concluded that MCF does have historical precedents in contemporary China in the forms of the Third Front Movement and the civil-military integration. Viewed as a critical strategy in the global geopolitical competition, the Chinese leadership puts strong emphasis on MCF’s success. MCF not only affects the development of traditional defence enterprises, but also impacts other diverse sectors such as, (i) scientific research, (ii) national defence mobilisation, (iii) cybersecurity, (iv) national space projects, and (v) talent recruitment.
China has allotted ample funding for MCF projects, and this has led to intense competition between state and non-state actors. Yet, the opaque resource allocation process could create opportunities for corruption and undermine MCF’s development.
Foreign responses to China’s MCF are varied. While Taiwan sees MCF as a threat, India has leveraged its defence industry’s international partnerships to counterbalance MCF. In sum, participants agreed that MCF is still at its nascent stage and full of uncertainties. The overall degree of fusion between state and non-state sectors remain low presently, but is expected to rise steadily as MCF completes its formation stage from 2016 to 2020. Although difficulties are inevitable, MCF will surely result in positive outcomes that will benefit China’s defence capability.