Xi Seeks to Reinvigorate Military-Civilian Integration
Publication: China Brief Volume: 23 Issue: 7
In a speech to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the People’s Armed Police Force (PAP) delegation to the National People’s Congress (NPC) on March 8, Chinese President and Central Military Commission Chairman Xi Jinping called for accelerating the development of “integrated national strategies and strategic capabilities” (INSSC:一体化国家战略体系和能力) (Xinhua, March 8). Xi defined the key elements of developing INSSC in the defense and military portion of his political report to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 20th Party Congress last October. He stated that:
“We will consolidate and enhance integrated national strategies and strategic capabilities. We will better coordinate strategies and plans, align policies and systems, and share resources and production factors between the military and civilian sectors. We will improve the system and layout of science, technology and industries related to national defense and step up capacity building in these areas. We will raise public awareness of the importance of national defense. We will improve our national defense mobilization capacity and the development of our reserve forces and modernize our border, coastal and air defenses. We will better motivate service personnel and their family members through military honors and do more to protect their rights and interests. Better services and support will be provided to ex-service personnel. We will consolidate and boost unity between the military and the government and between the military and the people” (Xinhua, October 25, 2022).
While Xi’s vision of INSSC is extremely comprehensive and all-encompassing, it has also been persistent. The concept was raised in Xi’s work report to the 19th Party Congress in October 2017. At that time Xi, stated:
“We will accelerate implementation of major projects, deepen reform of defense-related science, technology, and industry, achieve greater military-civilian integration, and build integrated national strategies and strategic capabilities. We will improve our national defense mobilization system and build a strong, well-structured, and modern border defense, coastal defense, and air defense. We will establish an administration for veterans; we will protect the legitimate rights and interests of military personnel and their families; and we will make military service an occupation that enjoys public respect…” (Xinhua, October 27, 2017).
Rooted in Military-Civilian Integration
It should be noted that in Xi’s political report to the 19th Party Congress, military-civilian integration (MCI)—or Military-Civil Fusion, the term used by the U.S. State Department—also appeared (U.S. State Department, June 2020; Xinhua, October 27, 2017). Clearly, a link exists between INSSC and MCI. Xi clarified the relationship between INSSC and MCI at the 2018 NPC annual meeting. He told the PLA and PAP delegation to the NPC that “implementing the strategy of MCI is a prerequisite for building INSSC” (Xinhua, March 12, 2018). This means that INSSC is the goal of MCI and that in order to fulfill the former, the latter must be accomplished. As a result, MCI is a tool with which to achieve INSSC.
Key questions include: why has Xi emphasized INSSC and what makes it notable? Despite widespread perceptions to the contrary, MCI has not yet fully succeeded to the extent that Xi aspires, at least not in some of its programs. Consequently, INSSC remains a distant goal. Xi’s current emphasis on INSSC signals his intent to defer the objective of achieving MCI further into the future.
Progress Stalls on Xi’s Core Defense Policy
On June 20, 2017, Xi established the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Commission for Integrated Military and Civilian Development (CCIMCD) (中央军民融合发展委员会) with the goal of comprehensively promoting MCI (Xinhua, June 20, 2017). MCI is Xi’s core defense policy. One of its key goals is to improve China’s defense technology S&T capacity and the PLA’s warfighting capability by integrating societal resources into the defense sector in order to solve long-lasting problems in China’s defense industry, such as bureaucratic inertia and poor efficiency.
Xi’s emphasis on MCI can be assessed based on his speeches to the PLA and PAP delegation to the NPC each March. From 2013 through 2018, at each annual NPC, Xi mentioned and outlined his thoughts and goals for MCI. One concrete program set forth by Xi was to establish Innovation Demonstration Zones of National Military-Civilian Integration (IDZNMCI) (国家军民融合创新示范区) first raised in 2015 in the 13th Five-Year Plan (CCTV, March 17, 2016). This was followed by the release of an official list of approved IDZNMCI in early 2018 (Xinhua, March 2, 2018). Based on Xi’s remarks in the 2018 CCIMCD meeting, IDZNMCI is a model through which to carry out all aspects of MCI, including, but not limited to systems innovation; enhancing the resource and policy integration between the military and localities; and local defense industry reform.
Nevertheless, from 2019 through 2022, MCI has been omitted in Xi’s instructions to PLA and PAP delegations at NPC annual meetings. Moreover, progress in implementing the IDZNMCI program, along with other MCI programs, has seemingly stalled. These indicators have generated speculation that MCI has not been a policy priority for Xi in recent years.
The stagnation of the IDZNMCI program could be confirmed as the Chinese government has never made the IDZNMCI list public since it was first announced in 2018. Media reports indicate that many local governments did prepare for the program, but obviously, they may have failed to meet the standard set by the central government. The only exception is Guzhenkou, Shandong (山东古镇口), which reportedly was the only place approved, outcompeting more than 20 other local governments that also applied for the IDZNMCI program. 
Old Wine in New Bottles
Since the 20th Party Congress in October 2022, MCI has re-emerged as a priority for Xi. In his report to the 20th Party Congress, Xi stressed that China will enhance INSSC. In his remarks to the PLA and PAP delegation to this year’s NPC, Xi also called for strengthening INSSC in order to build a strong country with a strong military (Xinhua, March 8).
Furthermore, Xi’s speech this year implied that the reform of the local defense industry was a priority for MCI. In discussing “defense technology,” Xi has typically spoken in terms of “defense technology innovation” (国防科技创新) indicating that achieving technological, R&D breakthrough was a priority. This year, however, Xi emphasized the importance of “defense technology industry” (国防科技工业) for the first time, implying the improvement in the industry as vital to facilitating R&D advances through MCI.
Secondly, Xi emphasized that China would reorient its defense industry to serve a stronger PLA and win wars. Xi also stressed the need to improve organizational systems and innovate an effective development model. The wording resembled the goal of IDZNMCI, meaning that it, or at least its development model and goal, constitutes Xi’s main area of focus for MCI. Critical factors that led to the approval of Guzhenkou in Shandong province as the only IDZNMCI were military demand, which led to the formation of China’s first Military-Local Joint Coordination Meeting (军地工作协调联席会议) and the need to develop local defense industry for the naval port logistics (People’s Daily, February 19, 2017; Sohu, April 16, 2017).
Compared to other IDZNMCI applicants, such as Zhongguancun, Beijing (北京中关村) and Mianyang, Sichuan (四川绵阳), that have been developing their local defense industries for decades, Guzhenkou only started to develop its industry in 2008, indicating that its defense technology S&T capacity and resources are not likely the foremost in the nation (Xinhua, February 21, 2017). Nevertheless, having a well-developed defense industry implies the existence of rooted conventions and vested interests that could impede any reform effort to meet the MCI standards centered on serving a stronger PLA capable of fighting and winning wars and innovating a new development model. On the contrary, an area with less established development, like Guzhenkou, could be suitable for testing out the best ways to implement the directions of the central government and to develop a new innovation model.
For instance, Zhongguancun, which also applied but failed to become an IDZNMCI, is known for its decades-old information technology industry, which has yielded a robust civilian orientation. As a result, perhaps authorities assessed that it might be difficult for Zhongguancun to quickly pivot to providing the PLA with warfighting support. Based on publicly available information, Zhongguancun has developed many dual-use technologies, such as mobile internet, integrated circuits and high-end intelligent manufacturing, and invented multiple novel dual-use products before 2018, including airplane, rocket, and satellite parts manufactured with 3D printing technology. 
As Zhongguancun’s original development model has yielded tremendous policy accomplishments and wealth, local officials and business people would be reluctant, if not fiercely opposed to any major change in government-business and military-locality relations that might cause a decrease in expected output and revenue.
Mianyang in Sichuan province provides another example of an inefficient local defense industry. Even if the Mianyang government sought to reform its defense industry system, the effort would be futile. The city has some critical defense S&T institutes, but many of them, such as China Academy Engineering Physics, which is designated a vice-ministerial level unit, are at the same rank as the local government in the bureaucratic hierarchy. This would impede the local government’s efforts to innovate its own reform plan. Furthermore, most of these historic defense S&T institutes are still categorized as “public institutions” with strict budgets and mission rules that local governments cannot override (China Brief, January 19).  Due to these limitations, Xi now appears determined to promote the Guzhenkou model, as noted in his speech this March, as the template for the PRC’s efforts to achieve its MCI goals.
As the PRC faces an increasingly challenging international security environment, MCI has reemerged as a priority for Xi. These efforts seek to improve China’s defense technology S&T industry capacity and the PLA’s warfighting capability. It is vital to note that China’s recent novel weapons were developed against the backdrop of a poorly operated defense industry that has largely failed to reform. If this new round of MCI succeeds, China’s defense technology development will undoubtedly become far more efficient, which will pose a much greater military challenge than before to China’s neighbors and the U.S.
Dr. Arthur S. Ding is a professor emeritus at National Chengchi University (NCCU), Taipei, Taiwan. He now teaches part-time at both the NCCU and Taiwan’s National Defense University. His research focuses on China security-related fields, including China’s defense, party-military relations, as well as China’s defense industry. Dr. Ding holds a Ph.D. in Government and International Studies from the University of Notre Dame.
Tristan Tang is a graduate student at the Department of Political Science, National Taiwan University. His research focuses on defense economy and China’s foreign policy.
 For related details; see: 孙浩翔、李湘黔、孟斌斌、汤薪玉, “军民融合创新示范区产业集聚问题与对策,” 国防科技, 2020; 冯静、顾雪松、韩立岩, “我国军民融合示范区创新能力评价,” 科技进步与对策, 2018.
 For related details; see: 成卓, “我国军民融合创新示范区建设模式、问题和对策,” 中国经贸导刊, 2018.
 For related details; see: 李晖、陈丽娜, “成德绵军民融合一体化之绵阳路径研究,” 成都工业学院学报, 2019.