China's Military-Civil Fusion program: CNAS fellow Elsa Kania on the myths and realities
Military Civil Fusion (MCF) is a key aspect of China's approach to military innovation, involving the integration of commercial enterprises and national defense objectives. This episode explores the history, challenges, and potential advantages of MCF, as well as its impact on US-China relations. It also discusses the risks and benefits of collaboration with Chinese companies and researchers, and the evolving policies and perceptions surrounding MCF. The episode highlights the importance of striking a balance between recognizing risks and maintaining collaboration in order to address security concerns while fostering scientific progress.
MCF aims to reshape China's military innovation
China's military civil fusion seeks to involve commercial enterprises more deeply in military innovation, taking inspiration from successful American programs like DARPA and In-Q-Tel. The potential advantage lies in its systemic approach and widespread implementation across provinces and local levels.
Challenges in implementing MCF
Difficulties in reforming procurement and acquisitions pose challenges to the implementation of military civil fusion. Bureaucracy, inconsistent policies, and issues with intellectual property protection are also barriers to military innovation.
Risks and benefits of collaboration with Chinese companies
Collaboration with Chinese companies can support national defense objectives, but it is important to balance the risks and benefits, especially for dual-use technologies. Not all Chinese enterprises are actively involved in military-civil collaboration.
Evolution of policies and perceptions
Chinese policymakers have reduced explicit discussion of military civil fusion in official policies due to reactions from other countries. The tone and substance of discussions have changed over time, with efforts made to refine policies and avoid collateral damage to American innovation capability.
US-China collaboration and competition
US-China collaboration in fields like artificial intelligence and biotechnology has been extensive and critical to progress in both countries. The United States is shifting from decoupling to de-risking in its approach to China, but it is important to recognize unique strengths and avoid reactive policies.
- Military Civil Fusion (MCF) and its Importance
- Efforts and Challenges in Military Civil Fusion
- Focus Areas and Risks in Military Civil Fusion
- Collaboration, Risks, and Policy Developments
- Evolution and Challenges in Military Civil Fusion
- Militarism, Fusion, and US-China Relations
Military Civil Fusion (MCF) and its Importance
00:09 - 08:15
- MCF gained attention in American discourse on China policy after the announcement of the Made in China 2025 industrial policy.
- The scope of problematic dual-use technology widened, leading to calls for stricter export controls.
- Revelations of China's use of advanced surveillance technologies in Xinjiang added to concerns.
- Restrictions on equipment necessary for advanced semiconductor manufacturing were announced by the Biden administration.
- Elsa Kanya, a PhD candidate at Harvard University, discusses military civil fusion and its perception among analysts.
- Four main myths about military civil fusion are debunked in Elsa's policy brief.
- The concept predates Xi Jinping, but he elevated its importance and resourcing.
- The history shows a continuity of leveraging commercial resources for national defense objectives.
- Barriers to cooperation between private enterprises and state-owned defense companies have frustrated earlier leaders.
Efforts and Challenges in Military Civil Fusion
07:48 - 16:47
- The US military has initiatives like the defense innovation unit to build bridges with Silicon Valley and prototype new technologies.
- The PLA has a similar initiative called the agile innovation defense unit (AIDU) that works with Chinese startups on rapid response projects.
- Barriers to military innovation include bureaucracy, inconsistent policies, and issues with intellectual property protection.
- China's military civil fusion aims to reshape how China approaches military innovation by involving commercial enterprises more deeply.
- China's efforts in military civil fusion are inspired by successful American programs like DARPA and In-Q-Tel.
- However, there are challenges in implementing military civil fusion, including difficulties in reforming procurement and acquisitions.
- The potential advantage of military civil fusion lies in its systemic approach and widespread implementation across provinces and local levels.
- This could be consequential for national defense mobilization and resource allocation from commercial purposes to the military.
Focus Areas and Risks in Military Civil Fusion
16:18 - 24:17
- Military civil fusion focuses on new domains and emerging technologies such as space, cyberspace, maritime technologies, robotics, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence.
- China aims to be a first mover in these domains and achieve an advantage through investments and advancements.
- Chinese commercial companies are entering the space domain with efforts to develop constellations like Starlink.
- The PLA is envious of Starlink and seeks to disrupt or subvert it by developing capabilities in Leo and AI-enabled satellite communications.
- The infamous balloon incident involving Wu Jia highlights the risks of military civil fusion without central oversight or readiness for prime time.
- There is no specific law on military civil fusion, but there are laws that require companies to support national security.
- Military civil fusion is driven more by incentives and benefits rather than coercive elements like forced technology transfer.
Collaboration, Risks, and Policy Developments
23:57 - 32:25
- The transfer of technologies from Chinese technology companies to the PLA is not a regularized or sustainable mechanism.
- Incentives and policies play a more consequential role in the routine functioning of the ecosystem.
- Not all Chinese enterprises are actively involved in military-civil collaboration, and collaboration with Chinese researchers does not necessarily support military modernization.
- The risks and benefits of collaboration with Chinese scientists need to be balanced, especially for dual-use technologies.
- Some larger Chinese technology companies have been less visibly engaged with the PLA due to concerns about foreign markets.
- The number of Chinese companies actively supporting national defense is estimated to be around 2%.
- More data is needed to identify which companies present the most risks in terms of military integration.
- Restrictive policies towards individual researchers may drive them into the arms of China's national ecosystem.
- Chinese policymakers are aware of how policies like military-civil fusion are perceived in the United States, but there has been less explicit discussion of it in official policies.
Evolution and Challenges in Military Civil Fusion
32:02 - 40:30
- Chinese policymakers are aware of the reaction to military civil fusion and have reduced explicit discussion of it in official policies.
- The concept of military civil fusion is still important and not going away.
- There have been restrictions on access to information and a closing down of data accessibility in the US as well.
- Information availability is crucial for the success of military civil fusion strategies.
- Public mentions of military civil fusion have decreased since 2015-2018.
- The concept of military-civil unity has also been discussed, but it is related yet distinct from military civil fusion.
- Military-civil fusion will likely remain important for China, but policymakers are aware of sensitivities associated with it.
- In the Biden administration, there has been continuity and change in thinking about military civil fusion.
- Efforts have been made to refine policies and avoid collateral damage to American innovation capability.
- Striking a balance between recognizing risks and maintaining collaboration is challenging.
- Chinese campaigns of industrial espionage remain an urgent threat that can exploit academic research collaborations and commercial partnerships.
- The openness and collaboration critical to scientific progress need to be retained while addressing security concerns.
- The tone and substance of discussions on military civil fusion have changed over time due to new research findings and policy developments.
Militarism, Fusion, and US-China Relations
40:23 - 48:43
- Militarism and fusion encompass a smaller proportion of the overall Chinese technology ecosystem.
- Focus should be on companies and technologies where militarism and fusion are actively implemented.
- Chinese companies are developing drones across every domain and supporting every service of the PLA.
- China's efforts to develop a smart ocean system and apparatus for maritime domain awareness are important.
- Military civil fusion can be overhyped but also highly concerning.
- There may be aspects of the system that don't live up to Xi Jinping's ideal, but still have important capabilities.
- The United States is shifting from decoupling to de-risking in its approach to China.
- There is concern that the US may try to compete with China by emulating their policies, such as industrial policy.
- It is important for the US to recognize its own unique strengths and not react out of anxiety or envy towards China's system.
- US-China collaboration in fields like artificial intelligence and biotechnology has been extensive and critical to progress in both countries.
- Policies should be implemented regardless of what China is doing, rather than being reactive in response.