Made in China 2025, first announced by premier Li Keqiang in 2015, is the comprehensive plan to modernize the country, bringing it to a new stage of development and industrialization, with the final objective to quickly transform China from a big manufacturing country to a strong manufacturing one (加快从制造大国转向制造强国 – jiakuai cong zhizao daguo zhuanxiang zhizao qiangguo). This project will unfold in three main phases: the first one focuses on the Chinese overall industrialization process. The objective is to reach, by 2020, the minimum sufficient level of industrialization and, by 2025, the first stage of an advanced industrialization, which should also incorporate at that point the informatization dimension. The second phase, to be reached by 2035, should allow China to join the club of the world’s manufacturing powers. Finally, the third phase overlaps with China’s one-hundred-year anniversary of its foundation (2049), which should take the Middle Kingdom to the forefront of world industrialization. The Chinese government has also set 2049 as the year in which Beijing should accomplish the Chinese dream of becoming a strong military power(中国梦强军梦 – zhongguo meng qiang jun meng).
Made in China 2025 then touches upon several aspects and sectors related to industrialization ranging from production quality and industrial reorganization to artificial intelligence and nanotechnology. Needless to say, the overall objectives of Made in China 2025 inevitably have a direct impact on national security, since it aims at transforming domestic digital and physical infrastructures. As a consequence, these industrial developments exert spillover effects, among others, on the military domain. The necessity to develop the industrial sector in tandem with the military one has encouraged the strengthening of an institutional synergy between the military and civilian sphere to the extent that Xi Jinping set forward – at the 18th National Congress held in November 2012 – the institution of the junmin ronghe (军民融合), which can be translated as “military-civilian fusion”. Its objective is to accelerate the process of “military transfer to the people” (军转民 – jun zhuan min) and the “civilian participation to the military” (民参军 – min can jun); in other words, the so-called “two-way technological transfer and transformation” (技术双向转移转化 – jishu shuangxiang zhuanyi zhuanhua).
Since then, the junmin ronghe has become a national strategy. It represents a true holistic strategic principle rather than a simple political guideline. In order to reach this omni-comprehensive strategy, the Chinese President established, during the third plenum of the eighteenth Congress of the Communist party in November 2013, the Military-Civilian Fusion Leading Small Group (军民融合领导小组 – junmin ronghe lingdao xiaozu) whose objective is to study what administrative and logistical formulas would be necessary to achieve the military-civilian fusion on multiple operational levels. In July 2016, the Chinese government issued the “Opinions on the Integration of Economic and National Defense Building” (关于经济建设和国防建设融合发展的意见 – guanyu jingji jianshe he guofang jianshe ronghe fazhande yijian), a document, which explains all the different areas where the level of interdependence between the civilian and the military sphere could take place.
The so-called “Opinion” (意见 – yijian) touches upon several topics which could be summarized into three main directions: the first concerns the creation of forms of interdependence between the military and the civil-industrial sector, whose main objective concerns the development of a deeper synergy between the industrial and military field, in order to pursue Chinese national interest. For example, state-owned companies (SOEs) should be able to create an economy, which could immediately turn into a military-oriented one if circumstances require it. The junmin ronghe also envisages the widespread penetration of the military sector into the industrial one, so that the purely industrial development could also help achieve national strategic objectives. In this way, the Chinese economic expansion at a global level will not only benefit purely business-related activities, but also politico-strategic ones. Therefore, the industrial sector, intertwined with the military one, would assume an increasingly strategic character for national security.
At the same time, the fusion between the military and the industrial sector also concerns the infrastructural and logistical dimension. The overarching idea is to make sure that civilian logistics are made available for military objectives. This would allow for a rapid national mobilization. This type of infrastructural fusion is considered by Chinese strategic analysts a fundamental “strategic delivery platform” (战略投送场 – zhanlue tousong chang) for military operations in future conflicts. On this specific topic, the PLA has recently established a partnership with JD.com (京东 – jingdong), the Chinese giant enterprise for ecommerce, which is becoming a leader on Artificial Intelligence and drones’ production. Through this cooperation, the army is gaining sophisticated technological means for its overall operational development. The next firms to be included in this section of the civil-military fusion plan are Huawei and ZTE, the two Chinese leading enterprises in the telecommunications sector.
The second direction of the junmin ronghe inevitably concerns actual military operations and how they should be carried out. On the one hand, its application is conceived as a means to strengthen joint operations between the various army groups (navy, army, and aeronautics). It also goes forward as to envisage the implementation of interoperability systems, that is, the ability to conduct simultaneously military operations at different operational levels. This is a strategic-tactical planning that takes into account land, maritime, air, cyber, and space dimensions all at the same time.
The simultaneous application of military operations in different war theatres also envisages the diffusion of the military spirit within civil society, in a form reminiscent of the historic People’s War Doctrine, which has characterized Chinese military mobilization since the Maoist era onwards. This means that the civilian sphere – conceived in its broadest sense – and the military one will have to move towards a progressive interpenetration, creating a single large organizational-operational system. In this way, the civilian sector as a whole – such as civil society at large, students, and public officials – would quickly respond to military mobilization if asked to embrace arms in case of conflict. In this regard, two cases are particularly relevant: the case of the maritime militia composed of fishermen – whose function is to assist navy military operations through asymmetric warfare – and the so-called cyber warriors – which mainly consists of university students who are experts in computer science – whose purpose is to launch military operations in the cyber sphere on behalf of the government.
The third and final direction concerns the national educational system. In other words, thanks to the Made in China 2025, China should be able to develop advanced educational systems necessary for both the civilian and the military sector. In so doing, the Chinese government could rely on professional military personnel and a well-educated population. An advanced educated military sector would not only deal with military affairs in a more competent way, but it could also gain more expertise on civilian affairs. At the same time, a well-educated population could be easily mobilized both for military and for civilian/entrepreneurial objectives. It is significant, in this case, the promotion of the so-called double innovation (双创 – shuang chuang) by the Chinese government in 2015. Its objective is to encourage the entire population to become entrepreneurs and innovators of the national productive and industrial system (大众创业，万众创新 – dazhong chuangye, wanzhong chuangxin).
Hence, the junmin ronghe is meant as a means to boost the Made in China 2025 at the infrastructural, economic, military, and societal level. As it represents a holistic national strategy, its major objective does not only concern the development of all the necessary resources for a strong and powerful national mobilization, but also the consolidation of what has been, historically, one of the major characteristics of the Chinese strategic culture: the interdependence between the civilian and the military sector.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)