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This essay examines how China has come to value Military-Civil Fusion (MCF) as a critical strategy for next-generation military-technological innovation and how the country is attempting to apply MCF to its weapons development process.
main argumentMCF is part of a long-term and broad-based strategic effort by Beijing to develop China into a technological superpower by pursuing both guns and butter and using them to mutually support each other. Chinese leaders, particularly Xi Jinping, are using MCF to position the country to compete militarily and economically in an emerging technological and strategic competition with the U.S. In this respect, current efforts are far more ambitious and far-reaching than previous initiatives, particularly in their determination to fuse China's defense and commercial economies. At the same time, China is only at the beginning of an arduous, multiyear process to leverage advanced commercial technologies for military modernization, and there is no certainty that MCF will work any better than earlier efforts. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Xi, the Chinese Communist Party, or the People's Liberation Army will abandon MCF anytime soon.
Despite the availability of advanced technologies in the commercial sector, MCF is a gamble, and it will require considerable effort and resources to adapt and apply these technologies to military innovation. Legal, regulatory, and cultural hurdles could impede the pace and intensity of MCF.
Nevertheless, should China successfully implement MCF and achieve significant results, the resulting "world-class" military could pose a worrying challenge to the U.S. and its allies in the Indo-Pacific.